Novel foods

Nanotechnology in food

Guide

Food consisting of, or containing, engineered nanomaterials is considered novel food. As such, it requires pre-market approval and authorisation before it can be legally placed on the EU market.

What is nanotechnology?

Engineered nanotechnology is a developing science. It is the manufacture and use of materials and structures in very small sizes. This means those using the 'nanometre scale'. A nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre.

Use of nanotechnology in food

Nanomaterials are not new. They could be used in food production to enhance the taste, colour, flavour, texture and consistency of a variety of foods, as well as their shelf life and traceability. A number of new processes and materials derived from nanotechnology can provide answers to such needs.

Regulation of nanotechnology in food applications

Before any novel food or ingredient made using nanotechnology can be legally marketed, it must undergo a safety assessment and EU Member States must approve them.

At present, the Novel Foods Regulation doesn't state that EU member states need consider particle size as part of the assessment. Updates to law may change this to make the stance on nanotechnology clearer.

As well as the Novel Food Regulation, several other regulations cover the use of nanomaterials in the food sector, including:

  • The Food Information to Consumers Regulation that sets the rules for the labelling of food ingredients. It requires that you must clearly indicate any engineered nanomaterials in food with 'nano' in brackets after its name in the ingredient list.
  • The Food Additives Regulation lays down a list of approved food additives, enzymes and flavourings. If there are changes in the production process or in the starting materials of an already approved food additive, it will be considered a different additive and will need to be re-evaluated. A significant difference in the starting materials is, for example, a change in particle size, including through the use of nanotechnology.
  • several regulations that aim to make sure that harmful chemicals are not released into the food, such as the general food contact materials legislation, as well as the Plastic Food Contact Materials Regulation.

In the EU, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is responsible for the risk assessment of the use of nanomaterials in food and feed, as well as in food contact materials. Read more about nanotechnology in food.

Research into nanotechnology

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has carried out research into new ways in which nanotechnology might affect food in the UK. The research considered:

  • the potential chemical migration into food when materials and articles in contact with food use the technology
  • the possible use of nanomaterials as food additives or ingredients
  • consumer safety
  • the need for regulatory controls

Read the FSA's reports on consumer attitudes towards emerging technologies, potential use of nanomaterials as food additives or food ingredients, and applications of nanotechnology for food contact materials and food safety.

  • Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland
    028 9041 7700
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