Toxic Nanoparticles in Food Supply May Put Human Health at Risk

First Posted: Aug 23, 2013 12:44 PM EDT

Nanoparticles have continued to increase in our environment over the years. This isn't all that surprising, though. The use of nanomaterials for water treatment, food packaging, pesticides, cosmetics and other industries has continued to rise. As it does, though, there's the potential for these particles to pose a health risk to humans. Now, scientists have developed a reliable method for detecting silver nanoparticles in fresh produce and other food products, which may help humans avoid these risks.

According to researchers, more than 1,000 products currently on the market are nanotechnology-based. This raises some concern since scientists are still unsure what the toxicity of nanoparticles exactly is. That's why researchers decided to design a new method to detect these nanoparticles in food and study them a bit more closely.

In this latest endeavor, the scientists studied the residue and penetration of silver nanoparticles on pear skin. First, they immersed the pears in a silver nanoparticle solution, which is similar to a pesticide application. Then, the pears were washed and rinsed repeatedly. Four days after the treatment, though, these nanoparticles were still attached to the skin of the pears, and the smaller particles were even able to penetrate the skin and reach the pulp.

"The penetration of silver nanoparticles is dangerous to consumers because they have the ability to relocate in the human body after digestion," said Mengshi Lin, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Therefore, smaller nanoparticles may be more harmful to consumers than larger counterparts."

In fact, nanoparticles can pass into the blood and lymph system when ingested. From there, they can circulate through the entire body and reach potentially sensitive sites, such as the spleen, brain, liver and heart. The use of silver nanoparticles in particular is worrisome. Yet this new research does provide a new way to counteract these particles.

"This study provides a promising approach for detecting the contamination of silver nanoparticles in food crops and other agricultural products," said Lin in a news release.

This new method may be crucial in the future. As the use of nanoparticles continues to rise, it may be necessary to determine how many of them have infiltrated the food supply.

The findings are published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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