3D printing of food offers a great potential for the realization of personalized diets for older people suffering from chewing and swallowing difficulties. This may sound like a vision of the future, but the first production line for personalized meals for elderly was now presented as part of the ‘PERFORMANCE conference’ in Brussels. Participants from all over the world listened intently to what the speakers presented and watched with great interest the demonstration of the first production line for the manufacture of 3D printed food for people with chewing and swallowing problems.
The technology as well as other important developments emerged in the context of the European interdisciplinary research project PERFORMANCE (Development of Personalized food using Rapid Manufacturing for the Nutrition of elderly consumers), funded with € 3 million by the European Commission. The launch of the project fell within the scope of a first meeting of all project partners in November 2012 in Bremerhaven under the coordination of the SME biozoon Food Innovations GmbH in Bremerhaven, Germany. Some of the innovative developments – from the app-based detection of the nutritional situation of the persons and the 3D printing to a new packaging concept for the regeneration of personalized meals in the microwave, have now been presented in Brussels after 3 years of intensive research and development.
The Smoothfood Concept
Based on the so-called smoothfood concept, the idea for the project came up in 2011/12 and has aroused a great interest among the public. Due to the consequences of e.g. dementia, cancer or stroke, people can be permanently dependent on mashed food that often implies loss of appetite or could even lead to malnutrition. However, those should get the possibility of visually appealing meals which are at the same time safe for consumption. Handmade smoothfood is already successfully freshly prepared in kitchens of many smaller care facilities. However, because of technical and logistical reasons or due to lack of knowledge with regard to an adequate nutrient supply, commercial kitchens and private persons often cannot benefit of this concept. Hence, the consortium of the project PERFORMANCE made it its task to look for a solution for this target group by developing an entire value chain from order until delivery of personalized meals for people with chewing and swallowing difficulties. ‘It is important that only fresh products are processed and the quality of these products does not differ from the manual produced ones’ said Matthias Kück – Coordinator of the PERFORMANCE project and Managing Director of biozoon GmbH; only the shaping of the food items should be brought to an industrial level, which comes the first time along with personalization of the meals.
Meals can be enriched with the necessary nutrients and adapted depending on the health, nutritional deficiencies or choice of portion size, so that an appropriate and balanced supply is guaranteed. The enrichment and monitoring of actual food intake is controlled via software and an app developed within the project by the German IT company SANALOGIC. The developed application was now presented among others in Brussels on 16 October 2015, within the ‘PERFORMANCE Conference’. The data on the personalized dishes is generated by the software and forwarded to the production. The individual enriched components can be produced by means of 3D printing. Pascal de Grood, founder and Managing Director of Foodjet explained the individual steps of the printing process as well as the difficulties that have been overcome in the context of development with reference to the production line that was installed at the conference. Thus, the food material to be printed, the gelling system for stabilizing the shape which was developed by the German company Biozoon and the University of Applied Sciences Weihenstephan-Triesdorf, and the printing technology must match exactly to one another but still be flexible with respect to different recipes. The complex printing process is based on jet printing and requires defined viscosity properties to assure best printing results. While freshly produced and strained food material is transported into the print head, the necessary gelling system but also any required nutrient is brought into the material, controlled by the before mentioned software. The necessary mixing concept to assure proper and fast mixing of all components before printing was specially identified within the project under the lead of the Dutch technological research centre TNO. Finally, the custom-made dishes would be packed and transported frozen to the respective consumer.
All the developments are part of an integrated supply concept which was validated at the end of the project through consumer tastings in nursing homes. The positive feedback from the validation tests strengthens the project partners in their vision that the production of personalized meals for people with chewing and swallowing difficulties is a part of Industry 4.0. Matthias Kück closed the PERFORMANCE conference mentioning that although the overall concept PERFORMANCE cannot be introduced immediately in the market, it can be assumed that some of the developments will find their way as stand-alone solutions quickly into the market.’