You’ve probably already heard about nanoparticles, because they are trendy and are used in various sectors—tires, cosmetics, solar panels, clothes, etc. But you probably don’t know they’re also found on our plates. Is there reason to worry?
Nanoparticles (NPs) measure less than 100 nanometers (nm). The nanometer unit is used to describe a measurement of a billionth of a meter (10-9) — more specifically, a nanometer is 30,000 times smaller than the thickness of a hair.
NPs are added to a variety of foods to improve their texture, color, taste or shelf life. They are also used in food packaging, especially silver nanoparticles, which have antibacterial properties. Since December 2015, European regulation requires that the word “nano” appear on foods that use them. But it seems that to date no product has been labeled as containing nanoparticles.
And yet an investigation by the French organization Agir pour L’Environment, published on June 15th, reveals that four popular products sold in French supermarkets all contain nanoparticles. Three samples (chocolate biscuits, chewing-gum, a can of veal blanquette) contained titanium dioxide (TiO2) and the other sample (a spice mix) contained silicon dioxide (SiO2). The first is used to bleach foods, and the second is used to fix humidity and stop powders from clustering.
The problem is that the toxic effect of nanoparticles on health and on the environment is still not well understood. If on the one hand nanoparticles’ Lilliputian dimensions offer physical, chemical and biological properties that are highly prized, on the other hand these enable them to easily enter our organism.
To date, in vivo studies in animals have been few and sometimes performed with controversial methodologies and results. What’s more, human studies are practically non-existent. It’s not possible to reach a definite conclusion on the toxicity or safety of NPs.
At this present moment, there is no regulation on the subject in Canada and in the United States, but certain environmental groups want to make labelling of NPs compulsory like in Europe.