3D food printing technology to help people with chewing difficulties
Food is an important part of any person's well-being. However, for people who might suffer from chewing or swallowing difficulties, eating a nutritious, balanced diet that is also appealing could be a challenge.
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For example, most retirement homes serve nondescript mashes to people with chewing problems every day, for every meal. Loss of appetite and malnutrition is a common consequence and those affected begin to dread rather than look forward to their next meal.
To improve the situation, the European Union (EU)-funded project PERFORMANCE has been working on making personalised meal plans an affordable option for any person affected by mastication (chewing) or swallowing problems. To achieve this goal, the project team is developing an innovative form of 3D printing. “Basically we want to industrialise a concept we refer to as smoothfood,” says Mathias Kück, PERFORMANCE project coordinator.
Kück is the owner of the German food company Biozoon, which develops innovative food products. In 2010, Biozoon developed the concept of smoothfood for people with impaired mastication or swallowing ability.
The idea behind smoothfood is to deconstruct a dish to the point where it is safe to ingest even without chewing and then reconstruct it into its traditional form using a plant-based solidifying agent. For instance, a carrot would be cooked, puréed and strained, mixed with the solidifying agent and then poured into a carrot-shaped silicon mould. “The look and taste of the end product matches the original food item,” explains Kück. “But the texture is soft and gel-like. It dissolves easily in the mouth so that it is safe to eat for people with mastication or swallowing problems,” he adds. Now PERFORMANCE has brought together ten private partners and four research institutions to develop a 3D printing process, where the printing head would deposit the liquid food layer by layer and thus create the individual food items, which would be held together by a solidifying agent currently in development.
PERFORMANCE technology would mean a significant step forward from the mash of blended foods typically served. “We found that because the meals are more appealing in terms of appearance and taste, people look forward to eating again,” mentions Kück. In addition, nutritional supplements can be directly mixed in to accommodate individual's specific dietary requirements. However, the preparation of these meals requires more time than simple mashes. Some care facilities have therefore been reluctant or unable to introduce smoothfood into their meal plans. “This is why PERFORMANCE wants to bring the smoothfood concept to the next level and industrialise it. Only then can we cut costs and also make it available for home care”, says Kück.
Once completed, Kück feels sure PERFORMANCE will be well received. Already now over 1,000 retirement homes in Germany have implemented the smoothfood concept and PERFORMANCE would make their job easier and the meals more affordable. “This is the time to focus our efforts on projects like PERFORMANCE,” says Kück. “Because demographic development means the number of people who would benefit from its outcome is growing larger and it is up to us to ensure they get the quality of life they deserve,” he concludes.