Novel foods

Nanotechnology in food

Nanotechnology is an emerging science. EU member states must approve novel foods and processes developed using nanotechnology under the Novel Foods Regulation. This helps ensure they're safe.

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology 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.

Nanomaterials are not new. However, recent technological developments mean that industry could develop manufactured (engineered) nanoparticles and add them to foods.

New food materials manufactured with small particles measuring up to 100 nanometres in diameter may become 'novel' because of a change in their composition. The Novel Foods Regulation would cover these.

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

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.

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 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. 

The Food Information Regulations requires that you must clearly indicate any engineered nanomaterials in food with 'nano' in brackets after its name in the ingredient list.