Given how the word “nanoparticle” is often defined, one could say that a lot of our food is naturally made of nanoparticles. But industry needs guidelines on which new nanoparticles are safe to put in foods and food packaging. Current regulations address such substances by chemical makeup, not size — and size makes a difference in how ingredients behave inside the body. To my knowledge, the U.S. FDA has not yet issued either voluntary guidelines or regulations in this area.
Thus it’s a good thing that the independent UK-based Institute of Food Science & Technnology has now done so. Even if these early guidelines are not perfect, they give us a starting point for further discussion.
It may be unfortunate that the term “nanoparticle” is being used to described just about anything 1-100 nm in size, even natural materials (“Food proteins are globular particles between 10s to 100s nm in size”) and more complex devices such as nanosensors, or even entire nanosystems. Perhaps it doesn’t matter: we just need to come up with much more precise terminology for the huge range of things being created in that size range, many of which will be safe and beneficial food ingredients (and others, not). —Christine