Nanotechnologies in Food Packaging
The main function of food packaging is to protect and preserve the food, to maintain its quality and safety, and to reduce food waste. Other desirable attributes have come to the fore recently including packaging that is sustainable with a low environmental footprint, is “active” and/or is “intelligent.” As materials and applications of nanotechnologies can help meet these requirements, they are rapidly becoming a commercial reality in the area of food packaging. Example applications include the enhancement of mechanical properties to allow development of further light-weight materials, and using nanocomposites or nanocoatings to improve barrier properties. An especially interesting area of application is using nanotechnology products to increase the performance of some biobased and biodegradable materials so that they can be used for a wider range of food applications and not only dry foods. There are also a number of products under development for active packaging – which can release or absorb chemicals – or as intelligent (smart) packaging materials that incorporate nano-sensors. Consequently, nanotechnology products and applications could revolutionise some areas of the food packaging sector, providing innovative, sustainable, strong, lightweight and active and intelligent materials. Market uptake will however be impeded by any uncertainties on consumer and environmental safety. Based on theoretical considerations, and the results of limited testing that has been carried out so far, the expectation is that due to the fixed or embedded nature of nanomaterials in plastics, they are not likely to pose a significant risk to the consumer. However, further research addressing the safety issues of nanotechnologies is needed.