At the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Society of Food Science and Technology held in Las Vegas, Dr. Chen participated in the discussion on nanotechnology and packaging.
Dr. Chen said that for the applied research of nanotechnology in the food industry, the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture has invested more than 100 million U.S. dollars in the past few years. The origins of nanotechnology can be traced back to a speech by Richard Feynman (theoretical physicist, Nobel Prize winner) in 1959.
Dr. Chen pointed out that packaging is the nanotechnology stage of industrialization. Packaging has multiple roles, including sealing, protection, preservation, marketing, communication and convenience.
Examples of nanotechnology applications in packaging include: reduced moisture absorption, antibacterial coatings, time temperature specifications (temperature range based on guaranteed freshness and shelf life).
Compounds that have been used for nanoparticles include gold, silver, zinc oxide, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, and silicon dioxide. In recent decades, this technology has been widely used in the world.
Dr. Chen mentioned New Zealand's research on the safety of nanotechnology. There is no evidence that nanotechnology packaging poses a health risk. He pointed out that another study showed that the number of particles that the nanotegulation migrated into food was far below the legal limit.
From raw materials to tables, there are several steps that can lead to contamination along the way. Microbial contamination usually begins on the surface of the food. Dr. Jin pointed out that many foods are non-lethal to microbes and that antimicrobial packaging is the "last defensive."
Methods of using nanotechnology include coated food, food packaging, or film packaging. Some edible substances can carry nanoparticles, including pectin, cellulose and gelatin. Zinc oxide is one of the viable materials for this technology. Zinc oxide meets the generally recognized safety certification (GRAS) and has been shown to kill both E. coli and Salmonella. Magnesium oxide is also a viable material. However, Dr. Jin acknowledged that there are still some concerns about this technology.