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Reports on the use of nanotechnology in food additives and packaging

(June 2016)

In 2015 an expert toxicologist prepared two reports for FSANZ on the potential use of nanotechnologies in existing food additives and food packaging. The reports were then peer reviewed by an expert pharmacologist and toxicologist to evaluate whether the conclusions for each of the reports were supported by the weight of evidence in scientific literature.  The peer review agreed with the overall conclusions of the reports.

Scope of the work 

The consultant was asked to review publically available scientific literature on whether there is reasonable evidence of health risks associated with oral ingestion of titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide and silver in food.  These food additives may contain a proportion of material with at least one dimension in the nanoscale range. 

As an extension of this work, evidence of risks to health from nanomaterials used in food packaging was also investigated.

Key findings 

  • The consultant reviewed the evidence on nanoscale silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide and silver in food and found the weight of evidence does not support claims of significant health risks for food grade materials.
  • Titanium dioxide and silicon dioxide are used internationally in a range of food products and have been used safely for decades. They are approved food additives in Australia and New Zealand. Silver is also an approved additive in Australia and New Zealand but is permitted in very few foods.

  • Overall, the findings of the report are consistent with recently published information in the OECD's Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials Sponsorship Programme for the Testing of Manufactured Nanomaterials toxicological dossiers on silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide and silver.

  • There is no direct evidence to suggest novel nanomaterials are currently being used in food packaging applications in Australia or New Zealand, with most patents found from the United States.

  • From the case studies on the use of nano-clay and nano silver in packaging, the report concludes that there is no evidence from the literature of migration of nano-clay from packaging into food.  The nanoscale nature of nanosilver (whether used in packaging or food) is also not likely to be dangerous to consumer's health. 

  • An independent peer review agreed with the overall analysis and conclusions of both reports stating that they were appropriately balanced in their reporting and that none of the nanotechnologies described are of health concern.

Potential health risks associated with nanotechnologies in existing food additives

Includes case studies on approved food additives: titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide and silver, and addresses concerns about the safety of these additives.

Nanotechnologies in food packaging

Identified the types of nanotechnologies used in packaging and summarised evidence of: 

  • application of nanotechnologies to packaging
  • whether the use of nano-clay or nano-silver in food packaging poses a risk to public health and safety due to migration and subsequent ingestion
  • an overview of how nanomaterials in packaging are regulated internationally

Why did FSANZ commission the reports?

These reports were commissioned as part of our ongoing program looking at the issue of nanotechnology in food. The report on packaging will help to inform our work on chemical migration from packaging into food. 

What are the implications of these reports for our food supply? 

The current regulatory approach for food additives and food packaging relating to the use of nanotechnology in the manufacture of new or novel food products is considered valid by FSANZ and is consistent with international best practice.

FSANZ recognises that this is a rapidly evolving science and conclusions may need to be reviewed as the sophistication and application of nanotechnologies to food and food packaging advances.

FSANZ continues to monitor this rapidly evolving science and will amend its regulatory approach as appropriate.

Expert advice

FSANZ has set up a Scientific Nanotechnology Advisory Group (SNAG) comprising experts in the fields of nanosafety, pharmacology, nano-food technology, toxicology and nanometrology.  The SNAG will advise on the development of guidance for a range of stakeholders, future uses of nanotechnology in food and food packaging and national/international legislation and policy.

More information 

Page last updated 6 December 2023