Printing meals the elderly can enjoy again

3D printing creates meals personalised to individual eating ability; a breakthrough for elderly with chewing and swallowing problems is the key finding of the PERFORMANCE project, with experts currently involved in the Digital Food Processing Initiative (DFPI) responsible for the equipment development .

The world population is ageing; an increasing number of fragile elderly live in care homes. Many are suffering from malnutrition due to difficulty with chewing and swallowing. Pureed foods are available, but not well appreciated. PERFORMANCE – with 15 partners (mainly SMEs) from five countries across Europe, from caterers to ICT companies and research organisations like TNO – explored whether automated production and supply of personalised (for example, with extra energy, protein and vitamin D), specially-textured meals could provide an alternative. Biozoon Food Innovations coordinated the overall project, whereas experts currently involved in the DFPI were leading the workpackage on equipment development.

Good alternative

The partners developed an inkjet-based machine that could print soft, appealing and nutritious meals based on six components: pasta, potatoes, salmon, chicken, broccoli and green peas. Experts currently involved in the DFPI were responsible for the development and testing of the inkjet printer. Together with the company Foodjet they made the equipment capable of mixing the different components and processing the material into nice looking food objects. The meals were tested among fragile elderly - people without chewing and swallowing issues, as individuals with these problems are often suffering from dementia and incapable of filling in a questionnaire - in a German care home for two weeks. People responded positively, saying that these meals would be a good alternative.

Flexibility in 3D printing

The project also highlighted the importance of flexibility in printing functionality. The machine must be able to handle a wide range of ingredients, in order to provide enough variation. Whereas the different materials (also including variation in properties of the same material over time) require different process settings a smart printer is needed to determine the correct settings. Moreover, batches of the same type of ingredients can vary in flavour and texture. This issue is being further investigated in a public-private partnership called Personalised nutrition and health.

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