We’ve talked about nanoparticles and food here before on EDB in nanoparticle pesticides. Now, these little babies may be making their way into food packaging.
Coined ‘killer paper’, in the future this new food packing may help to keep foods fresh by killing bacteria. The paper contains a coating of silver nanoparticles. Silver nanoparticles are anti-bacterial agents, and you may have seen them in anti-bacterial bandaids, oinments and even in socks to prevent odors!
The paper worked well against two types of bacterial food poisoning, killing all of the bacteria in just three hours! The suggestion from the research is that is will become a food packaging material, allowing for longer shelf life.
Killer paper is a ways away from becoming commercially viable just yet, as it has proven quite difficult to make. Scientists are researching ways to make it more effectively.
Nanoparticles are small. Very small. DNA small. To get a feel for how small nanoparticles are, check out this cool animation.
Nanotechnology is exciting because controlling things on the atomic level means that we can possibly make materials with any desired properties, fight disease on the DNA level, etc.
For silver nanoparticles, a hope is that they will help overcome the antibacterial resistance, which has caused things like superbugs.
However, there are some serious concerns about nanotechnology. These silver nanoparticles may end up in the water supply and kill beneficial bacteria, such as that used in waste water treatment. Some other types of nanoparticles may act like asbestos if inhaled.
The big trade-off
Increasing food safety and shelf-life are quite important. However, what are the environmental and health trade-offs? How much energy goes into making silver nanoparticle coated paper? How damaging are silver nanoparticles to other small organisms, apart from food-borne bacteria? How damaging are they to humans and ecosystems?
There are lots of questions to be addressed, and my hope is that they are examined before I buy a sandwich wrapped in killer paper.
Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons by conbon