Nanomaterials in our food

Nanomaterials can be found in the food that we eat. They can be used to increase the nutritional value of food or to lower the amounts of additives such as sugars, salts, flavours and colourants used in a product.

Some nanomaterials have been used as additives in our food for decades. Two such examples are titanium dioxide, commonly referred to by its food additive code E171, and synthetic amorphous silica (SAS), or E551. SAS is used as a clarifying agent for removing suspended solids from the liquid in beverages, as well as to prevent the formation of lumps in powdered food. When used in these applications, as a result of the manufacturing process, a fraction of the particles of SAS and titanium dioxide found in the food products, will be in the nanoscale size range.

One area under development is the use of nanomaterials to improve the uptake and delivery of nutrients and other substances such as vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in supplements. Nanomaterials can also help to disperse substances that are not soluble in water on their own.

Despite many interesting applications, there are potential concerns related to consumer safety. To protect consumers, a rigorous legal framework is in place, which establishes that the use of nanomaterials in food must be approved by regulatory authorities before they are commercialised and that their potential risks must be thoroughly assessed.

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