The technology is attractive to the food industry as it promises to yield new solutions to key challenges. Research and development underway includes the development of functional food, nutrient delivery systems and methods for optimizing food appearance, such as colour, flavour and consistency.
In the food-packaging arena, nanomaterials are being developed with enhanced mechanical and thermal properties to ensure better protection of foods from exterior mechanical, thermal, chemical or microbiological effects.
The new containers, being marketed to consumers by Sharper Image in the US, are infused with naturally antibacterial silver nanoparticles. This keeps foods fresher three or even four times longer than normal, Sharper Image claims.
The containers can be used to store fruits, vegetables, herbs, breads, cheeses, soups, sauces and meats while maintaining color, flavor and nutritional values much longer.
Silver is naturally anti-germ, anti-mold and anti-fungus. In tests comparing FresherLonger to conventional containers, the 24-hour growth of bacteria inside FresherLonger containers was reduced by over 98 percent because of the silver nanoparticles, the company claimed.
To further preserve flavor and nutrients - and to delay and reduce spoiling - the FresherLonger containers have an airtight silicone-gasket locking system.
The containers are made of air- and odor-impermeable polypropylene.
The silver nanoparticles average about 25nm (nanometers) in diameter, or about 200 thousandth of a human hair. Their natural color gives FresherLonger Miracle Food Storage containers a distinctive golden hue.
The Sharper Image is a specialty retailer.
A variety of other companies are also pioneering developments in food packaging, including techniques to improve food safety and supply chain tracking. Some nanotech products, such as anti-microbial films, have already entered the market.
For example nanotechnology, in the form of nanoparticles, could be used by companies to target nutrients to specific areas in the body, according toscientists. A variety of companies are also pioneering developments in food packaging, including techniques to improve food safety and supply chain tracking. Some nanotech products, such as anti-microbial films, have already entered the market
However public and scientific concern about the health effects of the technology, which due to its nature is difficult to understand, could hold back its development.
Worldwide sales of nanotechnology products to the food and beverage packaging sector jumped to US$860m (€687.5m) in 2004 from US$150m (€120m) in 2002, according to a study by consultant Helmut Kaiser.
The German firm predicts that nanotechnology will change 25 per cent of the food packaging business in the next decade leading to a yearly market of about $30bn (€24bn).
Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and manufacture things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide.