In 2012, the National Health Interview Survey discovered that 1 in 25 adults annually are affected by chewing and swallowing difficulties, a condition known as dysphagia. This condition is common in the elderly and can lead to pulmonary aspiration, pneumonia, dehydration, and anxiety. This leads them to want to avoid meals, which then results in malnutrition and weight loss.
So in 2014, the European Union started the “Performance” project to improve the quality of meals for home care residents in Europe. Among the researchers was the German company Biozoon, which specializes in a range of texturizers that change the consistency of food. The company created food powders, called SeneoPro, that can be mixed with pureed ingredients to make pastes and gels, which in turn can be inserted into a 3D food printer cartridge and reshaped to resemble solid food. The company has dubbed them ‘smooth foods’. So instead of relying on unappealing liquids and purees to get their necessary vitamins and minerals, a patient can enjoy a solid meal that is easy to ingest at the same time. The look and taste of the 3D product matches the original food. Pretty cool.
The Biozoon/Performance Project allows each meal to be customized for each patient, which means their favorite foods can be made to order according to their condition and their required vitamin intake. Any supplement can be included in the ingredients, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, with the purpose of improving their condition.
There are over 1000 nursing and care homes across Europe that are taking advantage of this. The nutritional requirements of each patient is recorded on a handheld or local IT device, then the information is sent to a database at a local food production unit where a QR code is printed onto a plate. The meal is 3D-printed before being sealed, frozen, and delivered to a nursing or care home, where it is then placed into a “performance pod” and then warmed in a microwave. Then when eaten by the patient, the food can be chewed without teeth and swallowed with considerable ease.
A similar program is being used in the US now at the University of Information Technology (UIT) in Utah. The university’s hospital is using Natural Machines’ Foodini to create more enjoyable meals for their dysphagia patients. According to Laura Robson, director of Nutrition Care Services at the hospital, the food they serve using Foodini is an improvement over the purees they used to serve and patients are more inclined to eat now.
3D-printed food offers new possibilities for everyone, but especially for those who have such a hard time eating. The food can be made into intricate designs, and 3D can make it taste the same as you’d expect or made very unique. 3D printed food tastes exactly the same as food prepared in any other way. It’s just another method of preparation and there are no artificial ingredients used. It’s all fresh and tasteful. The future looks good for these patients.