EFSA-Nano - Physico-chemical characterisation and exposure analysis of nanoparticles in food additives in the context of risk assessment

Last updated on 6-5-2021 by Jill Alexandre
October 1, 2018
September 30, 2020

In short

To identify and characterize nanoparticles in food additives in a regulatory framework, a major challenge is the development of analytical methodologies for control and risk identification purposes. Such analytical methodologies should combine a high spatial resolution to measure particles down to 1 nm, with enough sensitivity to identify particles e.g. based on chemical composition. In addition, there is a need for characterization of nanoparticles in the context of risk identification, with a focus on the metrological sound validation of the developed and applied methods. In this context, the EFSAnano project delivered standardized and validated methods to characterize E 171, E 174, and E 175 food additives in their pristine state and in food products.

Sciensano carries out this project on behalf of the European Food Safety Autority EFSA (Grant agreement for an action with multiple beneficiaries – Agreement number GP/EFSA/AFSCO/2017/06). This project’s results will be published in the EFSA Journal.

Project summary

This project implements methodologies developed in the Nanofood@ and NanoAg@ projects for characterisation of the nano fraction in food additives E171, E174 and E175. We use these methodologies in a systematic and larger scale examination of food additives and items available on the market. Based on these elaborated examples, we formulate a generic approach to identify and characterise nano fractions of particles in food additives. In addition, we evaluate the exposure to food additive E174 when taken up as food.

Specific goals are to:

  • provide science-based data and filling identified knowledge gaps for a follow-up on the (re-)evaluation of food additives
  • validate the methodologies in a wider scope
  • improve the guidelines for characterisation of nanomaterials in food in a regulatory context, based on specific examples
  • assess the exposure of consumers to the nano-fraction of selected food additives

This work will support the control (regulators), application (consumers) and implementation (producers) of EC Regulations for nanomaterials in the approved food additives E171, E174 and 175.


The nanofood@ and EFSAnano projects developed analytical methodologies that allow identification and characterization of nanoparticles in food additives in their pristine state and in food.

The results of the EFSAnano and nanofood@ projects are complementary and are therefore jointly presented. Within the nanofood@ project an innovative analytical strategy with analytical transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and single-particle inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (spICP-MS) was developed, providing a proof of principle for the detection and characterization of nanoparticles in food additives. Within the EFSAnano project, this strategy was applied on pristine food additives and on real food samples to demonstrate the useful application of these methods in a regulatory context, for control and for risk analysis purposes.

More specifically, the project developed standardized and validated methods to characterize E171 (titanium dioxide), E174 (silver) and E175 (gold) food additives in their pristine state and in food products. The project focused on TEM and spICP-MS based method development, standardization and validation, preparation of an E171 reference material, and the application of these methods in a wider scope, for market surveys of and for risk assessment of E171, E174 and E175, in support of EFSA and the Belgian food safety authorities.

The developed methods are standardized as standard operating procedures (SOPs). The results and measurement uncertainties obtained from the validation studies are necessary for applying these methods for official controls and enforcement of the legislation.


Associated publications

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