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Making “Food” from 3D Printers

I recently saw a blog post from Steve Moran at The Senior Housing Forum. He proposed an interesting question “Would you serve food straight from a 3D printer to your residents?”  

He refers to an article “Transforming Mealtimes for Elderly People with 3D-Printed Food”.

Is this for real? Seriously?  My first thoughts bring me back to a movie watched in childhood called “Soylent Green”. Why do I find the concept of printing foods from foodlike and nonfood gelatinous substances somewhat similar?

From the chief executive of Biozoone Food Innovation in Germany, Matthias Kuck explains in more details how 3D printing of food for our elderly works and why it might be a good idea. 

“The 3D printer will be able to create easily digestible food, which not only maintains the shape and taste of the real thing, but can also be fortified with specific nutrients.

Studies suggest that more than one in five people over the age of 50 have problems swallowing their food – a condition known as dysphagia. Those with this problem have difficulties eating because the larynx fails to close properly during swallowing, so that food ends up in the lungs instead of the stomach.

Sometimes, this can happen silently without any sign that food has gone into the lungs. This can lead to serious health complications, such as a type of pneumonia and renal failure, sometimes resulting in death.

In nursing homes, it is estimated that up to 60 % of people suffer from the condition. People are often fed ‘porridge-like food’ which has been pureed and mixed together from a variety of ingredients. 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.

Scientists at Biozoon have already helped to cater for those with swallowing problems by reconstructing food items into a more digestible form. For example, a chicken fillet will be cooked, pureed and strained and the liquid then used to produce a jellified portion of chicken that can be safely digested.

Kück expects that elderly residents will be able to choose from different menus each week and the meals will be prepared in a processing plant before delivery. It is hoped that the new technology will also mean that food can be personalized, adding specific vitamins or nutrients – for example folic acid – as required by residents.
‘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,’ he said.

The 3D printer will work in the same way as a conventional inkjet device – except the cartridges are filled with liquefied food, instead of ink.

Two dimensional food printers are already widely in use, for example they might produce the decorations on the tops of cakes, or spread the tomato layer evenly on a pizza.

The 3D model takes the technology a step further. Instead of having separate cartridges for black ink and for color, the printer will have cartridges filled with liquefied food – one for vegetables, one for meat and one for carbohydrates.

The printer will create the first layer of the food, for example, the two-dimensional form of a chicken wing, with liquid from the meat cartridge and shaped by 48 nozzles in the printer head.

A gelation agent, which is currently being developed, will be added to the liquid in the cartridges, so that the food sticks together. Eventually, after many layers have been printed, the finished product emerges: the jellified chicken wing – or any other type of food such as carrots or pudding.

‘The result is that when you bite on the reconstructed food, it is very soft – it melts in your mouth,’ Kück said. “

So there you have it – it melts in your mouth- a yummy gelatinous chicken wing.  It may have the look of a chicken wing but the taste? Not buying that one! With the rising move towards organics and the push to eat a less processed and healthier diet- I have to ask myself is this the step in the right direction?  As a firm believer in Hippocrates statement of “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – I would emphatically say I would never feed this to any elderly person – don’t they deserve real food too?

So I will have to ask as well, would you ever serve food straight from a 3D printer to your residents?

Pedagogy blog written by Capra Dalton, RN,CEO. 
Capra has more than 28 years of experience in infusion therapy and the instruction of licensed nurses in infusion therapy continuing education. Her experience comes from multiple infusion settings: acute care, ambulatory infusion centers, home infusion, long term care continuing education provider, and long term care pharmacy quality assurance consultant
Posted: 4/29/2014 8:09:28 PM
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