Novel foods

Nanotechnology in food

Nanotechnology is an emerging science. Novel foods and processes developed using nanotechnology must be approved under the Novel Foods Regulation to make sure they're safe.

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the manufacture and use of materials and structures in very small sizes - at the 'nanometre scale'. A nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre.

Nanomaterials are not new. However, recent technological developments mean that manufactured (engineered) nanoparticles could be developed and added to foods.

New food materials that are manufactured with small particles measuring up to 100 nanometres in diameter may become 'novel' because of a change in their composition. These would be covered by the Novel Foods Regulation.

Research into nanotechnology

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

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

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 been approved by EU Member States.

In the UK, safety assessments on novel foods are normally carried out by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.

At present, the Novel Foods Regulation doesn't specifically require particle size to be considered as part of the assessment. However, the regulation is currently being reviewed and new legislation will make it clearer that foods produced using nanotechnologies do fall within the remit of this regulation.

The Food Information Regulations requires that any engineered nanomaterials in food shall be clearly indicated with 'nano' in brackets after its name in the ingredient list.