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The Role Of Nanotechnology In Food

Introduction

Technology is continuously evolving and changing as new and sophisticated innovation components find their way in the field. Considering the benefits that different technologies bring to humanity, many scientists have doubled their efforts in research work. The world has changed, and life becomes easier and more enjoyable every day than before because of different technologies. Nanotechnology is one of the latest technologies that encompass science, engineering, and technology (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 2006). People in the past have been dying because of consumption of unsafe foods, but with nanotechnology, the future is likely to be extremely minimal. More research is being done in nanotechnology, and this will be crucial in the future to ensure that food safety is enhanced with cases of diseases and deaths, resulting from the same being mitigated. This paper will focus on nanotechnology as a whole; however, it will eventually narrow down to application of technology in food safety.

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What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is a branch of engineering that deals with the operation of matter at a molecular and atomic scale. It works with structures and materials, whose dimension size ranges from at least 1 to 100 nanometres. Alternatively, this branch involves understanding, manipulation, and control of matter at dimensions below 100 nanometres. This is a recent development in scientific research, but it has taken years to develop its central concepts. This was not until the 1980s when some innovations, such as the discovery of scanning tunnelling microscope, were made. However, commercial applications of nanotechnology began in the early 2000s. Although nanotechnology is a branch of engineering, it highly encompasses science and technology (Clute 2008, p.83). Nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modelling, manipulation and control of matter at the nanoscale. Different products widely rely on nanotechnology, and it is clear that many of them would not exist today without the materials and processes of this crucial technology. Even though the process is hugely significant, it is an area that is primarily still in the research phase. Consequently, many researchers and professionals in the field have gained more interest in nanotechnology (National Nanotechnology Initiative, 2006). Nanotechnology is a key innovation for a brighter future, and governments and organizations that recognise it have heavily invested in the research sector; for instance, in the United States of America there is National Nanotechnology Initiative, in which the government has heavily invested in order to enhance profitable and reliable research.

Many industries and technology sectors have increased their reliance on Nanoscience, which improves and revolutionizes many their operations. This is especially evident in information technology, food safety, transportation, security, environmental science, and medicine among many fields. Most of the nanotechnology benefits have enhanced and encouraged research even in other areas of innovations. Nanoscience is highly applied to everyday materials and processes (Koster 2009). Consequently, some researchers estimate that there are over 800 commercial products that rely on nanoscale materials and processes on a daily basis.

Applications of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is broadly applied in diverse areas. Virtually all of its applications bring many benefits to lives of most of the world’s population. One of the most prominent and recognised application of nanotechnology is in information technology systems and electronic devices. In these sectors, nanotech is used in fast computing, high-speed communications, and other electronic applications. The aim is to offer fast, small-sized, and portable systems that store and at the same time manage higher amounts of information than in the earlier years. This is especially through the use of nanoscale transistors, which have proved to be faster and more powerful than other transistors.

Currently there are flash disks with large memories, but there are projections that in the future there will be single tiny chips that would be used to store the whole memory of a computer. Another application under information technology is the magnetic random access memory, short formed as MRAM. MRAM allows for the production of nanometer-scale magnetic tunnel junctions in order to save data quickly, when a system shuts down or crashes. All data is gathered and restored to this memory according to how it was initially stored. This technology is also being applied in new models of televisions, laptops, digital cameras, and cell phones, which “utilize organic light-emitting diodes, also called OLEDs” (Regan et al 2005). OLEDs offer bright images in a wider format as well as zooming in and out options, higher or lower picture density, little power consumption, and more durability than other models. Lastly, there are flash memory chips for iPod Nanos and other products that have changed and advanced information technology and electronics. A computer that was made in the 1970s is totally different from one that has been manufactured this year. The functionality of the latter is far much better than of the former one because of the developments in nanotech.

Another area of nanotech application is the sustainable energy. One of the utmost challenges the world is facing is high energy demand. The situation has provoked many scientists to engage in profound researches aimed at developing clean, reliable, and renewable sources of energy. This comes in the wake of efforts to reduce the toxicity of dirty energy sources, particularly, fossil fuels. In sustainable energy, there are sample solar panels that incorporate nanotechnology, and they are more powerful than older models in changing sunlight to energy. There are also nanostructured solar cells that are cheaper to produce and install than older models. In fuel production, nanotech is used to improve the efficiency of production of oil from normal raw petroleum producing materials to better end products through improved catalysis. Fuel consumption in vehicles, machines, and power plants is also controlled through better and efficient combustion and lower friction than other use of other technologies. Nanotech is also applied in enzyme Nano-bioengineering to convert cellulose from wood remains, corn stalks, and pure perennial grasses, among other materials, into ethanol fuel (Martin et al. 2005). Nanotechnology is also used in making batteries less combustible, quicker in charging, weigh less, and that can store electrical charge for longer than ordinary batteries. This technology is also being advanced to allow the conversion of wasted heat from homes, computers, power plants, and automobiles into reliable electrical power in the nearby future. Similar technology is also applied to ensure that an epoxy, containing nanotubes made from carbon, has longer, firm, and lighter blades than other epoxies to increase the energy generated in windmills. On the other hand, nanotechnology is employed to offer less resistance; thus controlling the amount of energy that is lost through transmission in high-tension wires.

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Environmental remediation is another area, where nanotechnology is significantly applied. The technology is applied in the production of clean and affordable drinking water achieved through rapid detection of insoluble impurities infiltration and water purification processes. For instance, scientists invented magnetic interactions between ultrasmall specks of rust that are crucial in removing tetrachloride which is found in water. They are also developing cheaper and lower energy consumption means than other methods of removing salt from water. There is the nanofabric “paper towel” made from palates of potassium manganese dioxide, which absorbs up to 20 times its own weight in oil, that’s is why it is good for cleaning applications (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 2006). Additionally, there are air filters that are nanotech based, such as the airplane cabin that allows mechanical filtration. This allows the system to trap materials that are larger than pores of the air filter. Many cars in the United States also have built-in systems that use this application.

Nanotechnology and nanobiosystems, are also widely applied in, pharmaceutical, and health matters and also in engineering and science. It is applied in quantum dots that enhance biological imaging for health professionals to do diagnostics. The application is done through illumination with ultraviolet light where an extended spectrum of vivid colours is used to identify different cells and their biological activities; thus providing more significant information. Nanotech is also applied in the early stages of atherosclerosis diagnosis; a stage of arteriosclerosis involving fatty deposits in the arterial walls. The process is affected through an imaging technology that helps physicians measure the amount of antibody-nanoparticle complex that accumulates, particularly, in plaque (Helmut Kaiser Consultancy 2005). This is the same case at the start of treatment, when doctors can measure the disappearance of plaque. Gold nanoparticles are also used in detecting early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

In consumer foods, nanotechnology is applied to manufacture high quality and safe foods through efficient and sustainable means. There are biosensors that are used in identifying bacteria in food to avoid toxicity. There are also active and smart food-packaging systems together with Nanoencapsulation of bioactive food compounds that highly rely on nanotech (OilFresh Corporation 2005). Currently there are also non-food products that are tested and are harmless for human consumption and that are highly flocking the market.

Nano Packaging

Nanotechnology is poised to have a significant impact on food and beverage packaging. This application has eventually resulted to the term “Nano packaging” (Hillie & Hlophe 2007). This technique is widely employed in Japan, although other countries, such as the U.S. and Australia, have also effectively applied Nano-based packaging to extend the shelf life of products. A relatively low level of nanoparticles can change the whole properties of packaging without significant alterations in density, processing characteristics, and transparency of the materials. This packaging is usually focused on food safety (Foxell, Goldsmith & Brown 1998). Nano packaging is usually achieved through control of microbial growth, delaying oxidation, and improving tamper visibility.

There are different ways, in which Nano packaging is employed in food and beverages. One of the ways is through barrier protection as seen in production of plastics used to make beverage bottles, whereby nanomaterials are used as filler materials. This process improves the barrier protection of the beverage bottles. Beer manufacturing industries use this technology to prevent gases from escaping after packaging. Nano-clays that make beer have the same taste even after long storage are employed during this process (Clarkson et al. 2007). On the other hand, this technology is employed to prevent tampering with temperature in packaging of warm water. In addition, there are sensors that are used to detect the temperatures of the water to ensure that the required level is maintained.

Nano packaging has also been achieved through packaging reduction. The application usually aims at reducing the amount of plastic used in packaging through the use of clays in the processing method. Clays enhance the strength of the plastic so that less amount is used in packaging as compared to the use of traditional materials. The application is possible because clay platelets are forced to move apart, hence giving a large exposed surface area by the plastic. On the other hand, nanotech has allowed the creation of lighter and stronger bottles used in packaging. These bottles ensure better thermal performance and less gas absorption. It makes transporting and shipping of such containers relatively cheap, because of reduced amount of packaging materials.

Another way of Nano packaging is an anti-bacterial way, which involves the use of the silver nanoparticles as anti-bacterial agents in food. The nanoparticles are usually coated to ensure that food does not go bad easily inside the plastic containers (Das et al. 2004). They are also incorporated in food storage boxes that people use at home. There are also other coatings aimed at blocking the rays of the sun from reaching the packed food to ensure that it remains fresh and flavorsome.

Nano packaging technology is under extensive research; however, there are a number of safety, ethical, environmental, and regulatory issues that have risen, regarding packaging of consumer products. Many of the efforts are geared towards food safety, which has affected many people in the past (Koster 2009). Food safety is crucial in Nano packaging as it will transform food retailing within a large and increasing global customer base. The technology is also helping towards globalization, as Nano packaging will ensure longer shelf life of products exported to be sold overseas.

Nano Encapsulation

Nano encapsulation is the “process of coating various substances within another material at sizes on the nanoscale” (AzoNano 2007). Nowadays this procedure is widely used in industries; however, scholars say that only 10 percent of its potential applications have been utilised.

There are different techniques that are used in Nano encapsulation. It is crucial to point out that more techniques are still being developed, since it is an emerging field that has attracted many researchers and scientists (Paull & Lyons 2008). The broadly used techniques include fluid bed coating, spray drying, wax and lipid coating, spray congealing, hydrogel encapsulation, and melt extrusion.

The basic use of Nano encapsulation technique is protection of the core materials and their release when required. This technique is applied in different areas, for example, in target drug delivery systems. The technology is applied in such a way that the drug is only released when it arrives at the appropriate site in the body, for instance, in the nasal delivery of insulin. The process is usually done through calculated measures so that the nano encapsulation material allows the drug to be released slowly in the body. The material used can also be customised to determine the rate of delivery of the drug (Lapshin 2011). The technique is also used to increase shelf life and stability of products like vitamins. Such products are coated to prevent them from any microbial processes that may shorten their shelf life.

This technique is also used to improve the solubility and pharmacokinetic profiles of insoluble drugs. The application is achieved through delivery of the drug to the organ rather than taking it with water as it is done with soluble drugs (Cristina, Ivan & Kevin 2007). The application is evident from the case of insoluble anti-cancer drugs, which are directly delivered to a tumor. This process is crucial as it ensures that the toxic effects of the drug are mitigated.

This technique is also used in odour masking, for instance, fish oil is coated with some material and then added to foodstuffs to ensure that the odour of the core product is lost.

Food Safety

Food safety is a discipline that incorporates science, engineering, and technology among other techniques to ensure that food is handled, prepared, and stored in ways that are appropriate for human consumption (Andrew 2006). Food safety is usually aimed at preventing food borne diseases and hazards. Cases of food poisoning have been regularly reported as a result of contaminated food. Consequently, the issue raised many concerns that facilitated the need of food safety regulation enactment. At international level, there is the ISO 22000 standard developed to enhance food safety by the International Organisation for Standardisation (Bryne 2009). On the other hand, there is the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the United Nations that deals with food safety. At the national level, we have regulatory agencies, for instance, the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom. This is an independent department of the government that is responsible for food safety across the country. The agency aids in producing safe food through working with businesses. They also help to enforce the food safety regulations that have been passed by the policy makers by working with local authorities (Becker 2010). For a person to run a food business in the U.K., he/she is required to have a documented food safety management system based on the principles of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) (Becker 2010).

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nanotechnology is widely employed in enhancing food safety (Atkinson 2007). This starts from agricultural production until the product gets to the final consumer. Nanotechnology has a great impact on food safety, and this is seen through many of its applications. First of all, nanotech enhances pathogen detection. It is necessary to point out that there are different markets that have collapsed because of an outbreak of diseases. For instance, in the U.S., all raw and packed beef products were banned for sale after a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) had been found in an old cow that was imported from Canada (Andrew & Shepherd 2006). Scientists in the University of Michigan are developing non-invasive biolatycal nanosensors that will be used to identify a single particle of BSE in a cow’s salivary gland long before any other symptoms are visible. Additionally, scientists from the University of Rochester Medical Center came up with a new technology, which accurately detects presence of E. coli bacteria. There is also a handy device developed to identify toxins, chemicals, and pathogens in foodstuff. This device has nanowires and normal antibodies to help in indicating not only the presence, but also the type, and concentration of the contamination.

Food engineering has also been enhanced to ensure food safety and canola oil is one of the developments, used to reduce the amount of cholesterol in food products. This technology is called nano-sized self-assembled structural liquids (NSSA) (Alderson 2006). Nanotechnology is also used to enable chocolate consumers enjoy chocolate with minimal amounts of sugar in the diet industry (Alderson 2006).

Nano packaging, as used in food and beverage packaging technologies, has enhanced food safety because it ensures that food products are not affected during storage or transportation (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 2006). There are also other devices that are used to test bacteria in the packed food products.

Conclusion

Nanotech is a crucial discipline as it encompasses science, technology, and engineering. It is the latest and attractive field that guarantees a brighter future because of its significance in medicine, electronics, and energy and food industries among other sectors. Nanotechnology is applied in different areas, with consumer foods being among the major sectors. Consumer foods are crucial, and they have to be safe for human consumption. Nanotech has been widely used in enhancing food safety as seen from the discussion. The literature review has showed that nanotech can be used to lengthen the shelf life of food products. Nano encapsulation is one of the methods, used to enhance the shelf life of food products and medications. This technology is also used to detect pathogens that may be harmful to human beings. It has being observed that some of the pathogens may not be visible through other methods, but only with the help of nanotechnology. This technology is also used to ensure that food products retain the same characteristics after many days due to Nano packaging. It ensures that food products are not affected by any microbial processes after packaging. This is usually achieved by ensuring that gas is not allowed in until the time the products are being consumed. Food safety is crucial to all human beings, and it must be considered at all times. Nevertheless, Nanotech needs more in-depth research to enhance its effectiveness in food safety.