Nanotechnology to be applied to food safety

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December 31, 10:20 AM

by Meg Marquardt, Omaha Science Examiner

Photo Credit AP

Nanotechnology is one of the fastest growing fields in science.  Working with materials that are approximately one billionth of a meter (or about 100 thinner than a human hair), scientists have been able to create the some of the smallest processors and sensors in the world. 

A new application is being thoroughly investigated.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is helping with the research into a way to use nanotechnology in food safety.  Nanoparticles that can attach to fluorescent proteins (like those that won this yearís Nobel Prize in chemistry) can be used for screening purposes. By using nanoparticles that fluoresce under special lights (like ultra violet), scientists at the USDA will be able to quickly and efficiently spot meats that are contaminated with the likes of Salmonella.

The plan is elegantly simple.  Tiny nanoparticles are spread over the surface of a particle food product--for this example letís assume itís a shipment of chicken.  The nano-coated chicken is then illuminated by UV lights.  Those pieces of meat that light up have nanoparticles that have attached to dangerous substances such as Salmonella.  The meat that lights up are taken off the conveyor belt and destroyed while the meats that pass the test are then thoroughly washed, packed up, and shipped across the country with a provable stamp of good health.

In light of recent outbreaks of E. coli and other food-related diseases, it is essential that new and more thorough means of ensuring the safety of food.  Though it is unlikely that this technology will be appearing at a meat packing plant near you any time soon, it is a good step towards an efficient and foolproof way to make sure that what we eat is safe.





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