Imagine a world in which food poisoning no longer exists, which is a situation that would eliminate 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States.
A key to that idea becoming a reality is copper nanoparticles embedded in food packaging. The brainchild of the idea is Jaroslaw Drelich, a professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University.
His team’s tests have produced positive results. The copper nanoparticles, which are incorporated into vermiculite — an inert compound found in mixtures like potting soil — killed all of Escherichia coli bacteria in a sample of local lake water, reports Medical Daily. Other tests showed that the copper material was effective at killing Staphulococcus aureus, the bacteria responsible for staph infections.
How would the copper material work with food? Medical Daily explains further:
The material could be incorporated into food packaging materials like cardboard, plastic, and even cellulose based egg cartons. At about 25 cents per pound, Drelich’s innovation could prove a cost-efficient way to dramatically improve the safety of fresh produce as well as other foods.
Drelich is trying to commercialize the product through his business, Micro Techno Solutions, which won the 2012 Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest Food Safety Innovation Award, reports Nanowerk. He believes the cost of the product makes it attractive to packagers. He is planning on further tests on the material and eventually license it to companies that pack fresh food.
The copper composite is effective against other pathogens besides bacteria. It can work against viruses and fungi, and other bacteria that cause food poisoning, such as Listeria and Salmonella, and MRSA, a bacteria that is particularly difficult to treat with antibiotics. This is why Drelich believes that the nanoparticles could prove effective against the entire spectrum of food-borne diseases.
“When you make a discovery like this, it’s hard to envision all the potential applications,” Drelich says. “It could even be mixed into that wad of dollar bills in your wallet. Money is the most contaminated product on the market.”
He believes the copper could have other uses as well, such as with drinking water and sewage plants. “I’ve had inquiries from companies interested in purifying water,” he says.
Source: “Copper Nanoparticles Could Prevent Food Borne Illness, Viruses,” Medical Daily, 7/24/13
Source: “Copper nanoparticles could protect food from bacteria,” Nanowerk, 7/24/13
Image by Jurii.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.