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LGC applies novel technology to improve nanofood research

21 Sep 2010
Tags:  ChemicalFood

LGC combines mass spectrometry technologies to improve characterisation of nanoparticles in food

LGC, the UK’s designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bioanalytical measurement, is developing novel methods to enable the rapid determination of size distribution and elemental composition of nanoparticles in food. Nanoscale structures are not new in food (for example chocolate and ice cream contain nanoscale components) but recently developed nanomaterials are said to have potential benefits in food production and food packaging; two industries which generate worldwide sales of over £100 billion.

Applications of nanomaterials in food packaging include lining beer bottles with 'nanoclay' to help prevent the brew from going flat and embedding silver nanoparticles in plastic food storage containers to keep food fresher for longer. Nanomaterials can potentially also be used to create foods with traditional taste, but with lower-than-normal levels of fat, salt and sugar. Currently, nanomaterials are not widely used in food products but this may change as the technology is developed over the coming years.

When structured at the nanoscale, materials develop unique mechanical, thermal and catalytic properties and these have driven the increased use of nanotechnology. Scientists recognise that these unique properties, while beneficial for technological innovation, could also make some nanomaterials toxic to biological tissues. The toxicity of nanoparticles is determined by, amongst several factors, their size and chemical composition, which in turn may affect their ability to cross cell barriers, enter cells and interact with subcellular structures.

There is currently a lack of scientific methodology for the reliable characterisation of inorganic nanoparticles added to food and their cellular interaction, and insufficient knowledge on the stability of such materials. With the global nanofood market estimated to be worth approximately £3.5 billion, analytical methods that enable rapid elemental and particle size characterisation are required.

In response to this need, LGC is now applying a novel technique, which combines field flow fractionation (FFF) with ultraviolet–visible spectroscopy (UV-Vis) and interference-reducing inductively coupled mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), to determine the size distribution and elemental composition of nanoparticles in food.

Commenting on this new development, LGC’s Dr Heidi Goenaga-Infante, Principal Scientist – Mass Spectrometry, said: Field flow fractionation is a powerful tool for size-fractionation and, when used in conjunction with ICP-MS, it has been proven to produce elemental size distributions with a great level of detail in the submicrometer range without the laborious and repetitive centrifugation steps of current methods. This makes it an ideal technology for the characterisation of nanoparticles in food.

LGC is using its measurement expertise to address, at an early stage, methods for measuring the size distribution and elemental composition of nanoparticles in food. This is both timely and important, following the UK Government’s announcement that food safety and strategy for nanotechnologies be a priority research area.

Funded by the UK National Measurement System, it is anticipated that LGC’s research in this area will enable industry to improve their products, enter new markets, and benefit consumers from safer and improved food products.

Notes to editors

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