Food packaging specialists (turns out they exist!) are now using nanotechnology to develop "smart" packaging—meaning it can respond to environmental conditions, repair itself, or even alert consumers to the presence of pathogens.

The A to Z of Nanotechnology reports on some of the crazy ideas now penetrating food packaging: Bayer has created a plastic film filled with nanoparticles of clay that are able to block oxygen, carbon dioxide, and moisture from reaching the food inside the film—thus preserving it longer. Similarly, it looks like nanotechnology may help the beer industry's quest to use plastic bottles, attempts at which have been thwarted by spoilage and flavor issues. Nanocrystals are embedded into the plastic, creating a molecular barrier to block oxygen from passing through. There is currently a plastic bottle that can give beer a six-month shelf life, but efforts are underway to increase that to 18 months.

Antimicrobial food packaging is available from Kodak—the company we all know for camera film (or knew, when we used cameras that needed film). And packaging embedded with sensors that can detect food pathogens is a project of Kraft and university research teams. The idea is for the packaging to change color if food has been contaminated or has begun to spoil. Taking that a step farther, Dutch researchers have used nanotechnology to develop packaging with a bioswitch that can release preservatives when food begins to spoil. No word on whether it undoes the spoiling that's already taken place...

All of these sound great, but they (industry-admitted) will not address any of the root causes or problems inherent in industrial food production. Fundamental food safety cannot be replaced with smart technology, no matter how smart it is.