3D Printing

The Elderly Get the First Taste of 3D Printed Future Food

You may have been pondering the exact purpose of 3D food printing, especially when you see the foods that have been 3D printed so far. It’s mainly goop stuffed into a syringe and squirted into the shape of a star or something. Who eats goop anyway?

As it turns out, one in five people over the age of 50 probably do, according to the EU’s Horizon Magazine, as they suffer from a condition known as dysphagia. Dysphagia, characterized by the inability of the larynx to close properly while swallowing, can cause food to be redirected to the lungs, instead of the stomach, and lead to such problems as renal failure, pneumonia and even death.  It is because of this condition that 60% of nursing home residents eat liquified food and why 3D printing could contribute greatly to their quality of life.

3d printing food for the elderly
An example of a gelatinous food prepared for the elderly by Biozoon.

According to chief executive of Biozoon Food Innovations in Germany, Matthias Kück, “porridge-like food” has often been the solution to feeding people with dysphagia. But, he points out, “This can feel frustrating – especially when the plates of fellow residents are filled with chicken fillets and vegetables. Meals are the most important social event in a nursing home – it is when they meet together, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.”  As the coordinator of the EU-funded PERFORMANCE project, Kück hopes to make eating easier and more enjoyable with 3D printing.

In some ways, the PERFORMANCE project will be an extension of Biozoon’s previous work.  The company’s scientists currently prepare foods for those with swallowing issues by performing such processes as pureeing and straining cooked items, such as a fillet of chicken, and using the resulting liquid to create a filet in jelly form that can be safely eaten.  As you might guess, such reconstruction methods are time consuming and can only serve a limited number of people, as the meals are prepared by hand.

3d food printing for the elderly

The PERFORMANCE project seeks to expedite this process through the development of a 3D food printer, to be finished in 2015.  2D food printers are already used to decorate cakes and to apply tomato sauce to pizzas.  The 3D food printer will add a third axis using a gelling agent, so that the print material – liquefied food stored in cartridges of vegetables, meat and carbs – will adhere with each layer.  As the printer builds layer upon layer of food material from its 48 nozzles, the shape of a food object, such as a chicken wing, will emerge.  Kück says,

The result is that when you bite on the reconstructed food, it is very soft – it melts in your mouth.”

3d printing food for the elderly
Another example of a gelatinous food prepared for the elderly by Biozoon.

By 3D printing the food, not only will Biozoon be able to cater to the swallowing issues of the elderly, but they may be able to compensate for dietary specifications, too.  Each week, nursing home residents will be able to select from a variety of menus, which will be created at a processing plant.  During the process of printing each meal, the food can be tailored to specific people through the inclusion of different vitamins and nutrients.  Kück explains, “If you have people who don’t want vegetables, you might fortify the meat with certain vitamins – there really are no restrictions in terms of what food can be recreated.” 

It may not be the real thing, but it’s certainly better than porridge.  Moreover, the PERFORMANCE project may prove to be a proof-of-concept for the future application of 3D food printing, while still having a real, present impact on the elderly.  I encourage you all to head over to the Biozoon website for a very real look at what your food future might look like.

Source: Horizon Magazine