Nano Zinc Oxide (nZnO) has been shown to display antimicrobial effects which have lead to its application in a number of areas such as antimicrobial surface coatings, anti bacterial wound dressings and more recently in polymer composite systems for use in food contact materials. Concerns have been raised due to the incorporation of nanoparticles in food packaging stemming from the possibility of repeated low dose direct exposure, through ingestion, primarily due to degradation and nanoparticle leaching from the polymer composite. To address these concerns, composites consisting of nZnO and polyethylene were formed using twin screw extrusion to mimic commercial methods of food contact material production. A leaching study was performed using Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy in order to determine the concentration of nZnO leached from the composite. Composite stability studies were performed and a leached nZnO concentration was evaluated. This concentration range was then utilised in a series of tests aimed at determining the toxicity response associated with nZnO when exposed to an intestinal model. In this study two human colorectal carcinoma cell lines, HT29 (ATCC No: HTB-38) and SW480 (ATTC No: CCL-228), were employed as a model to represent areas exposed by ingestion. These lines were exposed to a concentration range of nZnO which incorporated the concentration leached from the composites. The cytotoxic effects of nZnO were evaluated using four cytotoxic endpoints namely the Neutral Red, Alamar Blue, Coomassie Blue and MTT assays. The results of these studies are presented and their implications for the use on nano ZnO in direct food contact surfaces will be discussed.
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