The idea that we might be unwittingly ingesting metal seems virtually unthinkable. However, due to the relatively recent advent of the use of nanotechnology in food production, most of us are probably ingesting some sort of metal on a daily basis. A recent article on the subject, written by Tom Philpott for Mother Jones, explains that when metals are broken down into the form of nanoparticles the behaviour and qualities of the metal can change entirely - silver, for example, becomes a useful antimicrobial material - which leads to their inclusion in consumer products including food and drink.
Granted, the amounts of metal that we ingest in food and beverages are truly tiny — Philpott, in order to provide perspective, states that a particle qualifies as "nano" at the width of a hundred nanometres wide or less; by comparison, the average human hair is around eighty thousand nanometres wide. However, the inclusion of metal in foodstuffs is concerning, because the long-term effects on the human system are unknown. Certainly two of the more common metals to be found in food and drink, titanium dioxide and silver respectively, have been labelled as severely carcinogenic and as having the potential to cause permanent discolouration of the skin respectively.
Certainly, the bigger risk in terms of the use of nanotechnology in food production is the potential contact with the tiny particles of the metal during the actual production process, especially in the case of titanium dioxide, which is most dangerous when made contact with via the skin. Breathing in this material is also enormously problematic, given the properties it contains which have been linked to causing cancer. Although these dangers are so far proven to be much more extreme than those involved in ingesting the materials, the fact that they are so prevalent in numerous popular foods, some marketed at children and at mothers, is to say the least worrying. This list compiles ten common and not so common products that involve nanotechnology in their production.
10 Hershey's milk chocolate drops
Hershey's. One of the most popular chocolate companies in the US today. However, even they aren't immune to the inclusion of metal in their ingredients; titanium dioxide is listed in the ingredients of their milk chocolate drops. Titanium dioxide is a metal oxide, and is listed by the American Cancer Society as one of the five most carcinogenic materials on the earth. It has been linked to various conditions such as asthma, fertility loss and cancer.
9 Junior Mints
Junior Mints are another Titanium Dioxide offender. In the case of this particular food the material is used to intensify and maintain the white colour of the mints themselves. The placement of Titanium Dioxide on the list of Junior Mints ingredients is high up, indicating that the product has a reasonably high amount of the material in its make up.
8 Maternal Water — La Posta del Aguila
Maternal Water, a product belonging to brand La Posta del Aguila, admits to the use of collodial silver in its make up. Silver is said to have the potential to cause permanent discolouration of the skin if ingested. This condition is known as argyria, and can manifest in a greyish or bluish tinge on the skin, the membrane of the eye, the nails and the gums. While it is not physically dangerous, it can, obviously, have negative effects on a person's psyche or general well being. Argyria can develop quickly, if silver is ingested in a large amount over a short period of time, or over a longer time span. The fact that this product is specifically marketed at mothers and their children makes its content particularly worrisome.
7 Nanotea — Shenzhen Become Industry & Co., Ltd.
The influence of nanotechnology on the production of tea has been large and unparalleled. Nanotea is one of the products which uses the technique of nano-ball milling in its production. This stems from the belief that if tea is pummelled into nano-particles its positive properties will be better released. However, as this process of pulverisation involves the use of metal balls, there is a concern that the milled product may include nano-particles of metal as well as of the tea itself.
6 Trident White Peppermint Gum — American Chicle
Another mint-based product is in at number six, this time Trident White Peppermint Gum. Manufactured by American Chicle, the gum contains titanium dioxide, to whiten its appearance. A report on the dangers of the inclusion of said ingredient in the chewing gum reinforces the toxicity of the material, saying that it can cause cancer merely from contact with external skin, and reminds the consumer that all of the gum's ingredients absorb directly into the body's bloodstream through the mouth.
5 Ragu Classic Alfredo — Unilever
The Unilever brand is notorious for using nanotechnology in its cosmetics range, which includes the use of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in products such as make-up and deodorant. However, there's also the surprising inclusion of titanium dioxide in the brand's Ragu Classic Alfredo sauce; the nanoparticles are used, in this instance, as a means of colouring the product, but may also be used as a method of "brightening" the appearance of the sauce.
4 Vanilla Milkshake Poptarts — Kellogg's
The inclusion of titanium dioxide in products such as Kellogg's Vanilla Milkshake Pop Tarts is emblematic of the problem of children ingesting larger amounts of the material than adults - it is an additive which sees more frequent inclusion in foods marketed at a younger age group. This is a particular worry as some studies suggest that one of the potential effects of the material on the human body is brain damage, which would prove devastating to the developing mind. Titanium dioxide is present in this product as a colouring agent.
3 Canola Active Oil — Shemen Industries
Israel-based company Sheman Industries produces Canola Active Oil, the purpose of which is to lower cholesterol. The product uses nanodrops in its makeup to transport vitamins, phytochemicals and minerals, which would otherwise dissolve in the oil. While this arguably means the oil boasts health benefits that would otherwise be lost due to the natural consistency of the oil, the make-up of these nanodrops leads researchers to question the viability of its involvement in terms of long-term health.
2 Minute Rice — Riviana Foods
Minute Rice, produced by Riviana Foods, is a popular and well-liked instant meal component that is marketed as a healthy food. It comes in numerous different varieties, and according to the 2014 Friends of the Earth report on Nanoparticles, all of these contain titanium dioxide. Similarly to the mass consumption of Kellogg's poptarts by children, the convenience of Minute Rice would seem to indicate that it is widely and regularly consumed, which makes its inclusion of the material a little alarming.
1 Primea Ring — Saeco USA Inc.
An unusual entry is at number one: the Primea Ring coffee machine, produced by Saeco. The machine includes a silver ion coating, and the concern amongst those against nanotechnology in food seems to be that there is potential for the drinks prepared in the machine to include micro-particles of the metal, which could prove harmful to the drinker if ingested in large doses.