Size does matter when particles are added to our food and cosmetics that are so tiny they may penetrate our cells and potentially cause havoc. These engineered micro-particles are less than 100 nanometers wide. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter or to put it another way, a human hair is 80,000 nanometers thick.
Advocates of believe it will lead to improvements in food and cosmetic quality and result in better function and bioavailability of nutritive substances such as vitamin, nutrients, and minerals.
Many regulatory authorities are now trying to figure out whether their traditional regulation and approval of food ingredients to ensure safety fully encompasses the use of nanotechnology in food and food-contact materials. What alarms some scientists certain nanoparticles possess the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and can serve as carriers for other molecules into cells. The blood-brain barrier protects the brain from unwanted chemicals in the blood, but presents a huge challenge for getting drugs into the brain. Nanoparticles theoretically could overcome the barrier with good medicines or carry infections and other bad stuff into the brain.
Then there is the lack of Information on the bioaccumulation and potential toxic effects of inhalation and/or ingestion of free engineered nanoparticles and their long-term implications for our health, according to the FDA and the European regulators . How do you measure the amount of Nanoscale materials to which we may be to exposed and how does anyone know how many nanoparticles are within our food and within our bodies?
In the past, approval systems for food additives have not generally taken into consideration the particle size of the additive. For nanoparticles, this is obviously an important aspect since nanoparticles may be handled differently in the body than their previously approved, larger counterparts. Future food regulations may therefore need to be more specific in relation to such issues.
There are already a number of nanotechnology components approved for use in food contact materials. The particular types of materials and their conditions of use vary among the different countries. The FDA cautions as with any new food contact material it is important to assess the potential release of nanoscale particles into food products and, if exposure is anticipated, the safety of those particles with respect to human health needs to be assessed. The environmental consequences associated with the ultimate disposal of these materials also need to be evaluated carefully.
The FDA which is uneasy about nanotechnology is in charge of regulating its use in foods, drugs and cosmetics. The agency has been holding meetings internationally with scientists. The public now worries about GMOs ,Genetically Modified Organisms and Acrylamide, a potential cancer-causing agent in produced in certain foods when they are cooked at high temperatures. The next big thing on the horizon may be the tiny nanoparticles in food and in our bodies.