Nano packaging of food kills deadly bacteria, but government says no go.

One might think that a food-shipping container coated with nanoparticles that have been proven to destroy bacteria causing illness and death would be a coveted innovation.

Apparently not so.

William Norwood at IFT science conference

William Norwood at IFT science conference

William Norwood, president of nanoAgri Systems, said the Environmental Protection Agency told him that he wasn’t permitted to market his company’s new nanosilver, antibacterial packaging.

“This just doesn’t make any sense at all,“ Norwood told me at a recent international nanotechnology science conference convened by the Institute of Food Technologists.

Holding court at a table near the front of the conference room, Norwood ticked off recent reports of dangerous outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

He explained that extensive tests of his company’s nano coating resulted in a dramatic reduction of — and, in some tests, complete elimination of – the most virulent food-borne pathogens.

He said he couldn’t get a clear answer from the EPA on why he couldn’t move forward with the process his company developed.

Twice since the June gathering of thousands of food scientists in Anaheim, I called EPA to find out why Norwood’s product was being held off the market.

I’m still waiting for an official answer, but people in the agency who admit they don’t know the specifics of Norwood’s plight have an opinion. They tell me it may have been prompted by actions of public health activists who demanded that the EPA handle nanosilver products under its pesticide rules. The agency has been slow to react.

“Nano is now a fear word and restrictions haphazardly applied will stifle many needed advancements that can improve health and other vital areas,” Norwood said.

“Nanotechnology isn’t being given a chance by federal regulators and environmental activists,’’ he added, rapping his fist on the table.

During his formal presentation, the head of the Virginia-based company explained that the Defense Department alone wastes hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of spoiled or bacteria-contaminated fruit and vegetables that are useless and dangerous when they reach the troops.

Norwood told the scientists that he began working with nanomaterial as a way of protecting his business. Too many of his clients were being forced out of business because salmonella and other bacteria had infected large amounts of the fresh vegetables they were shipping.

“Nano science needs to be given a fair chance,’’ he said.

Norwood’s frustrations are understandable. And people that I spoke to last week at the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA privately said that Norwood’s coating could be of great value.

But, they offered, Norwood may have run into a bureaucratic buzz saw over at EPA. The agency is receiving significant criticism because it hasn’t done more to monitor and regulate nanotechnology.

The fact that Norwood’s process uses nanosilver particles may have made him a more likely target.

The frenzied marketing of more frivolous products containing nanosilver particles quickly reached absurd levels this decade.

Magazine and television ads touted the “miracle anti-bacterial agent and odor-killer” available in nano-infused bras, panties, athletic supporters, socks, pants and scores of other products.

It didn’t take long for environmental scientists to find community water treatment plants loaded with nanosilver washed from these clothing items.

Most filtration systems can’t stop these nano-sized particles from entering the water supply. More importantly, very little research has been done on the health effects from the resulting exposure to humans and animals.


Nano packaging of food kills deadly bacteria, but government says no go. — 3 Comments

  1. It’s interesting to see that you are covering silver nanotech – there is a great deal of concern about this in the environmental community, and (at least over here in Europe) increasing concern among the medical community.

    Although I sympathise with Norwood’s commercial concerns, I think you capture the chief concern there in the final paragraph: this technology hasn’t been tested for safety. As far as I know, we don’t even know what the protocols should be for testing nanotech. In light of that, I think it’s very sensible that the EPA approaches the prospect of mass-use of nanotech (especially in contact with food) with caution.

    Medical concerns seem to centre on the biocidal properties of nanosilver. Of course, there is a need to address the problems of growing antibiotic resistance, but there is an argument that to resort to technologies such as nanosilver is (a) looking in the wrong place for a solution, and (b) could conceivably make the problem worse.

    The argument for (a) is the spread of MRSA is caused by poor hygiene practices, under-staffing and misuse of antibiotics – adding silver to the mix puts a temporary patch on the problem, but won’t solve it.

    For (b), one concern is that silver could encourage antibiotic resistance, because bacteria use the same cellular mechanism for ejecting unwanted silver ions as they do for ejecting the beta-lactam class of antibiotics (currently about 50% of the antibiotics we use).

    There’s a brief overview of this issue in the May issue of our newsletter, accessible as a PDF from our archive here:

    This is an interesting and complex environmental health issue – as a new, untested technology it’s almost as though nanotech is a test for whether or not the environmental and health safeguards we are finally beginning to put in place to deal with chemical technologies are more effective than what was, in the past, basically a “suck-it-and-see” approach.

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