Food safety and quality

Nanotechnology and food safety

Nanotechnology offers considerable opportunities for the development of innovative products and applications in the food and agriculture sectors and Governments, industry and science are investing significantly in its application to food production. However, owing to limited knowledge of the effects of these applications on human health, the need for careful consideration of the food safety implications of the technology is recognized by stakeholders.

Science and technology at the nanoscale promise to be among the most innovative fields in decades. Nanotechnologies allow for the possibility to control and modify material and systems at the nanoscale level to obtain significantly altered characteristics from those present at larger scale.

A number of emerging nanotechnologies seem to have the potential to provide significant benefits in various fields including the food, water and agriculture sectors. New and emerging applications such as water purification systems, rapid pathogen and chemical contaminant detection systems, and nano-enabled renewable energy technologies applied along the food chain are expected to provide developing countries with new tools to address some of the challenges to sustainable agricultural and irrigation development as well as food safety and food security.

Research and development on nanotechnologies have been growing worldwide both in the public and private sectors within developed as well as emerging countries. However, it is important to ensure adequate upfront attention to some important issues that nanotechnologies pose to the global community.


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organizations (WHO) have published several technical papers and convened meetings and international conferences on nanotechnologies in the food, water and agriculture sectors. Topics covered include applications of nanotechnologies, risk assessment and risk management of nanotechnologies, and applications of nanotechnologies and their potential food safety implications.

Many countries have identified the potential of nanotechnology in the food and agriculture sectors and some are investing in its applications. However, owing to our limited knowledge of the human health effects of these applications, many recognize the need for early considerations of the food safety implications of the technology. In response to such requests, FAO and WHO have considered it appropriate to convene an expert meeting in 2009 on the topic in order to identify further work that may be required to address the issue at a global level. This publication, FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on the applications of nanotechnologies in the food and agriculture sectors: potential food safety implications - Meeting report (FAO & WHO, 2010), summarizes the results of the expert meeting.

Following up on one of the recommendations of the 2009 FAO/WHO expert meeting, the report entitled, State of the art on the initiatives and activities relevant to risk assessment and risk management of nanotechnologies in the food and agriculture sectors - FAO/WHO Technical Paper (FAO & WHO, 2013). reviews national and international activities on the risk analysis of nanomaterials in the food and agriculture sectors that have been carried out since the meeting.

The publication presents national and international risk assessment and risk management approaches that identify and implement strategies to address potential hazards associated with the use of nanotechnology-related products or techniques.