Oct 26, 2015 | By Kira

At a consortium in Brussels last week, European experts in the fields of 3D food printing, dysphagia, and personalized food presented the result of three years worth of work: the PERFORMANCE (Personlized Food for the Nutrition of Elderly Consumers) project, which uses Foodjet 3D food printer technology to create appetizing, nutritious, and easy-to-swallow 3D printed meals for the elderly. With marketing underway, these 3D printed meals could be on our plates in the very new future.

After the population surge of the Baby Boomer era and in our current age of declining fertility rates, many countries in the world are faced with the reality of rapidly aging populations. In 2015, Canada crossed the threshold of having more citizens aged 65 and over than 15 and under, joining the ranks of other elderly-skewed countries such as Japan, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. The effects of this trend will be felt in all sectors, from slowing economic growth and shrinking the labor market, to increasing the demand for support care and products (in Japan, there is currently a higher demand for adult diapers than baby diapers).

In terms of caring for our elderly, however, nutrition and feeding present a particularly unique challenge. Conditions such as strokes, dementia, or Parkinson’s often make chewing or swallowing prohibitively painful or difficult, leading to the risk of choking, food ending up in the lungs, or malnutrition. Up to 60% of nursing home residents suffer from dysphagia, the difficulty to swallow food, and that number is set to rise. Current solutions include serving pureed or mashed-up food, which are both unappealing and de-moralizing for already-frustrated patients, and often lead to loss of appetite and eventual malnutrition.

To solve this problem, 14 countries form the EU have spent the past three years, and roughly three million euros, devising a holistic, automated and personalized food supply chain using 3D printing technology. Using FoodJet 3D food printers, scientists have been able to re-create classic comfort foods, including peas and gnocchi, mimicking their taste, texture, and even incorporating additional nutritional value. Not only are the elderly more inclined to want to eat these meals, but the soft, pureed texture makes it easy for them to swallow, and each meal is algorithmically optimized to deliver the specific nutrients and portions each patient requires on a weekly basis.

The PERFORMANCE project involves countries such as Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark, and is headed by German food innovation company Biozoon. “Printed puréed food needs to be firm after printing, but liquid enough to dispense from the printing heads,” explained Pascal de Grood of Foodjet, Netherlands. ‘We use a printing technology based on jet printing. A gelling agent supports the shaping of the puréed and strained food.” Essentially, they take natural, pureed ingredients, and then use a special 3D printer and gelling agent to restore their natural texture and shape. The process is capable of supporting food matrices such as meat, carbohydrate and vegetables in order to create well-balanced, nutritious meals.

Rather than just creating the 3D printed meals, the PERFORMANCE concept was designed to cover the entire food supply chain, from food producer to ready-to-eat-meal. This includes the development of ‘active packaging’ that ensures even heating, and an algorithm created by German IT company Sanalogic that actually monitors the nutritional needs of each patient based on their size, weight, gender, and health needs, and automatically enriches the 3D printed meal to ensure a well-balanced diet.

At their presentation in Brussels, the PERFORMANCE consortium announced that they concept is already being tested in care homes with generally positive preliminarily results: 54% of respondents rated the meal’s texture as good and 43% would choose the PERFORMANCE meal in the case of swallowing or chewing difficulties. Though not overwhelmingly high numbers, for the increasing number of patients in need, PERFORMANCE is a promising and life-saving solution. And though the entire supply chain concept still has a way to go before it can be commercially launched, project coordinator Matthias Kück insisted that PERFORMANCE stand-alone solutions could be hitting the shelves very soon.

3D printed food is one of the most exciting and promising applications of 3D printing technology and seems to be the inevitable future of food. A 2015 Health & Food survey found that 79% of respondents would be excited to try food that has customizable nutritional value or calories, and 69% would be excited to try a 3D printer that can make any food you want from scratch. Clearly, consumers are ready for the 3D printed food revolution, and if it can save lives and help protect the environment while serving up savory and nutritious version of our favorite meals, we’re even more for it. Although to date, many consumer-oriented 3D printed food companies focus on decorative chocolates or fanciful fine cuisine, NASAhas recently shown a marked interest in 3D printing meals for astronauts, and in the Netherlands, 3D printed beef burgers could be sold in supermarkets by the year 2020.

 

 

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MOISES M. CARRASCO wrote at 6/11/2016 12:53:45 AM:

I WOULD LIKE TO GET INVOLVED IN THIS PROCESS. I THINK IT ALSO HAS GREAT POSSIBILITIES FOR SOLVING PROBLEMS FOR THE OVERWEIGHT POPULATIONS. PLEASE LET ME KNOW HOW TO GET INVOLVED.



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