ZnO NPs have good antimicrobial activity that can be utilized as agents to prevent harmful microorganism growth in food. However, the use of ZnO NPs as food additive is limited by the perceived high toxicity of ZnO NPs in many earlier toxicity studies. In this study, surface modification by silica coating was used to reduce the toxicity of ZnO NPs by significantly reducing the dissolution of the core ZnO NPs. To more accurately recapitulate the scenario of ingested ZnO NPs, we tested our as synthesized ZnO NPs in ingestion fluids (synthetic saliva and synthetic gastric juice) to determine the possible forms of ZnO NPs in digestive system before exposing the products to colorectal cell lines. The results showed that silica coating is highly effective in reducing toxicity of ZnO NPs through prevention of the dissociation of ZnO NPs to zinc ions in both neutral and acidic condition. The silica coating however did not alter the desired antimicrobial activity of ZnO NPs to E. coli and S. aureus. Thus, silica coating offered a potential solution to improve the biocompatibility of ZnO NPs for applications such as antimicrobial agent in foods or food related products like food packaging. Nevertheless, caution remains that high concentration of silica coated ZnO NPs can still induce undesirable cytotoxicity to mammalian gut cells. This study indicated that upstream safer-by-design philosophy in nanotechnology can be very helpful in a product development.
Chia, S. L., & Leong, D. T. (2016). Reducing ZnO nanoparticles toxicity through silica coating. Heliyon, 2(10). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2016.e00177