Nanotechnology in food production: a potential risk or a risky potential?
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The purpose of this report was to investigate the safety assessment of emulsification techniques and the variety of emulsion-based nanostructures (EBNS) that can be obtained and subsequently used in the food industry. Environmental issues will not be addressed. The number of nanotechnology applications is increasing and it is expected that the food industry will be the newest field in which nanotechnology will be applied. A conservative size definition of 500 nm was chosen for risk assessment purposes. Cells are capable of taking up nanostructures of up to 500 nm in size and nanostructures can be engineered with certain properties that could mimic effects of smaller sized nanostructures. Devices to produce emulsions and EBNS are already used in the food industry (homogenisers) while other methods are still being developed which are more efficient (low-energy methods). A large variety of nanostructures can be obtained with emulsification techniques such as simple emulsions, lipid nanostructures, solid nanostructures etc. Very little is known about the effects of nanostructures on the gastrointestinal tract. Nanostructures in the body mostly accumulate in the liver and kidneys where the effects are the most pronounced. Surface properties are very important as they can determine the fate, function and possible risks of nanostructures. More research is needed in which other non-metallic and non-carbon-based nanostructures are (orally) tested. Recommendations for a food nanostructure-specific risk assessment include the goal of the nanostructure (intended or unintended exposure), consideration of physicochemical properties relevant to food nanostructures (e.g. solubility), the history of safe use and a minimum amount of testing to ensure safety. A risk assessment paradigm is proposed which incorporates these recommendations.