The UK’s Institute of Food Science & Technology has weighed into the nano safety debate with comments that “more safety data are needed before nanoparticles can be used in foods or food packaging materials.”
As with many applications of nanoparticles, the question is not so much whether they are intrinsically safe, but what happens to them later on in the lifecycle of the products in which they are incorporated. In the case of food packaging, two rather specific issue arise.
Firstly, food is an emotive subject, as we saw with GMOs, and while many of us are content to eat a variety of chemically enhanced products, we don’t really want to think about it. However, in the case of nanomaterials, there is a significant difference between being exposed to them at low concentrations in the environment and taking them into directly into the gut at far higher concentrations.
Secondly, if you wanted to widely distribute nanoparticles in the environment, there could be few better methods than using them in food packaging, which either ends up in land fills or blowing around the streets (except in Singapore). Whereas a car bumper or a refrigerator can be easily identified for recycling, litter can not.
For the moment it seems prudent to err on the side of caution for applications of nanomaterials whose distribution cannot be controlled.