There May Be a Few Stray Nanoparticles in Your Morning Doughnut

Spot the nano-cruller.
Spot the nano-cruller.

The ever-expanding scope of manufacturing, packaging, and production methods may very well mean that in addition to monitoring the salt, sugar, and fat content in their diet, consumers might as well also start fretting about the presence of possibly deleterious chemicals known as nanomaterials in their food. The Times reports that an advocacy group called As You Sow surveyed a staggering 25,000 companies on their nanomaterials usage, but just 26 of them responded. Of those companies, only fourteen — including PepsiCo, Whole Foods, and Yum! Brands — said they do not use nanomaterials. So, is it time to head for the nano-free hills?

While the FDA is adapting to new production methods and now has a dedicated task force to investigate the use of products like carbon nanotubes, no broad findings on the safety on the rapidly expanding class of chemicals have been made. Smaller particles can pass penetrate cell membranes with ease, however, and may represent a whole new ball game for the body’s immune system.

In the meantime, under-regulation means that teensy additives can be increasingly used by corporations to make cream creamier, for instance, or Cool Ranch cooler, or to make sure that powdered white-sugar-dusted doughnuts stay whiter than snow, apparently. As You Sow found that “Hostess Donettes and Dunkin’ Donuts Powdered Cake Donuts,” for example, “tested positive for the presence of titanium dioxide materials of less than 10 nanometers.” What can titanium dioxide do? Unclear! It definitely helps Bob Ross paint happy little glaciers, but nanoparticles of the stuff may also cause your liver cells to commit mass suicide. “We’re not taking a no nano position,” the group’s chief executive Andy Behar tells the Times. “We’re saying just show it’s safe before you put these things into food or food packaging.”

Study Looks at Particles Used in Food [NYT]