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Role of Nanotechnology in Food industry

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Currently, nanotechnology is considered the backbone of modern technology, and it has emerging areas of interest with several new possibilities for the fast-growing food industry. Based on the rising interest of the consumer, nanotechnology has emerged with several applications in the development of the food industry which include the improvement of the limitation of plastic materials, advanced and eco-friendly packing, sensing, and monitoring of several health standards. In addition to that, nanoparticles are highly used for antibacterial and antioxidant properties of food items which help to prevent the spread of foodborne pathogens like bacteria and fungi in food items and hence improve the shelf-life and quality of food and food products.

Nanotechnology provides great benefits not just within food items but also around food items to make available safe and contamination-free food with enhanced functional properties. We can say that innovation in the food industry is rapidly increasing due to nanotechnology as the bio-synthesized and bio-inspired nanomaterials are believed to withstand high temperatures and pressures offering a complete solution right from manufacturing to packaging In this article, we aim to highlight the basic importance of nanotechnology in the food industry. The important application of nanotechnology includes the packing of food items and food products which have nanosized ingredients with a claim to provide enhanced food taste, texture, and consistency of the food material. Bacteria identification and biosensing for food quality monitoring, smart and active food packaging are a few important applications of nanotechnology in the food industry focusing on the decreased extent of food wastage owing to the microbial incursion.

Nano food packaging has gained tremendous attention as it alerts consumers about food contamination, detects and helps repairs tears in packaging, may even release preservatives to increase food’s shelf-life, use Nano-barcode safety labeling in the monitoring of food distribution, and value-added encapsulation techniques for sustainable nutritional (Nano supplements) drug delivery systems.

Currently, extensive research on the industrial use of nanocomposites especially in the field of food packaging has been conducted to explore pathogenic microbes, adverse environmental conditions like dust, gas, light, and moisture, and chemical contamination due to storage and food distribution. The distribution chain and storage of packaged food are quite sensitive areas in the food industry which are needed to be addressed more precisely to ensure food safety and increased shelf-life. Low production cost, inertness, easy disposal, and reusability of the polymeric materials are the primary target in the food industry which, unfortunately, is not obtained most of the time these days due to their non-biodegradability and plausible unacceptable health hazards. The knowledge of green synthesis of various nanoparticles with improved thermal, mechanical and electrochemical properties has significantly assured the improvement in food safety and quality parameters.

Our research group recently published an article in the Polymers journal in which using a novel, low-cost, and eco-friendly approach, we synthesized Manganese-Doped Zinc Nanoparticles using Carica papaya leaves and studied its Catalytic, Antibacterial, and Antioxidant Activities (Alam et,al 2022). The results show that the bimetal oxide Mn-Zn NPs exhibited promising dye degradation activity in wastewater treatment and have substantial antibacterial and antioxidant properties.

Nanotechnology enables the sensing of small molecules like glucose by using various nanotubes, zinc oxide nanowires or palladium nanoparticles, and carbon dots. These small and relatively inexpensive nanoparticles can sense a few gas molecules based on a change in their electrical properties on the absorption of such molecules. The change in the resistance or capacitance of these sensors allows the detection even in very low gas/chemical vapor concentrations. This phenomenon is used in food sensing where the information regarding food quality, origin, or the degree of food contamination is being studied with a special emphasis on improved food accountability during its distribution and food-waste reduction by recognizing the high food waste.

An improved decision making has always been required and focused on preparing such nanotechnology-based food packaging materials during food production, distribution, and consumption owing to the consumer’s interest in sensory properties smell, taste, sound, appearance, and texture like properties of the food and food packaging materials. Ying et al. in 2011 prepared non-enzymatic nano nickel oxide modified glucose sensors with a response time of even less than 5 seconds and demonstrated an excellent electrocatalytic activity for sensing glucose samples.

The current lifestyle of this generation emphasizes the intake of ‘ready to eat’ nutrition-rich food. Thus, the technique of fresh-cut vegetables and fruits has gained attention in the food processing industry offering comparatively less preparation/processing time but increased risk of food wastage as the mechanical processing may lead to the damage of the tissues of vegetables and fruits which decrease their shelf-life due to the food spoiling pathogens. The consumption of minimal processed or raw food (fresh-cut food) has led to the increased incidences of microbial/food-borne pathogenic human infections.

Recent research is focusing on applying various modern processing assays which offer greater stability/safety to food and food packing materials such as polymer-based antibacterial films and coatings. The antibacterial activity induced in the form of coatings or even if applied to the whole bulk material enhances the food stability thus making the consumers more confident about the freshness of food. Many synthetic biocides including metallic nanoparticles confer new surface properties such as the antimicrobial capacity for creating new bioactive food packaging materials. Oxidants, the reactive oxygen species, are a class of compounds that offer a series of diseases and aging. Researchers are working on this class of compounds whereby they may develop such nano-scaled inorganic particles which must offer antioxidant effects in a variety of applications such as medicine or food additives. Potential antioxidant properties have been observed in titanium oxide, cerium oxides, and iron oxide nanoparticles due to their low toxicity.

Xuemi Ge et al., (2022) in their recent study have reviewed the mechanisms of antioxidant effects in terms of modified nanoparticles, enzyme-mimetic activity, and reactive oxygen species scavenging activity following various biosynthesis and green synthesis for the fabrication of inorganic metal nanoparticles. These particles were developed to show antioxidant applications where they exhibit antioxidant effects once decorated or fabricated together with antioxidant moieties.

Finally, I would like to thank Al Bilad Bank Scholarly Chair for Food Security in Saudi Arabia, the Deanship of Scientific Research, Vice Presidency for Graduate Studies and Scientific Research, King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia for supporting this project under project grant No CHAIR72.

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