A new senior-focused food product promises to make meals safer and more appealing for elders by utilizing one of the most exciting recent inventions: the 3D printer.
The culinary world is no stranger to using 2D printing technology to create custom designs and food decorations, but the potential of 3D printing extends far beyond fancy cake toppings. 3D printers have been used to make everything from toys to textiles. Now, the scientific brains behind Biozoon, a food innovation firm based in Bremerhaven, Germany, are developing a new line of food texturizers (called “seneoPro”) that are meant to make 3D-printed soft food products more appealing.
In nursing homes and other care facilities, elders who have trouble chewing and swallowing (a symptom known as dysphagia) are often fed unappetizing meals of mushy, pureed fare. These foods are challenging and time-consuming to prepare, aren’t fun for seniors to eat, and don’t offer a well-balanced nutritional mix.
The dangers of dysphagia
About 20 percent of adults over age 50 deal with dysphagia, which can be caused by a variety of different conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, a stroke, etc. For these individuals, the dangers of aspiration—inhaling bits of food into the lungs—are very real and can be very deadly.
The risks associated with aspiration go beyond the obvious perils of choking. Aspiration pneumonia is a potentially fatal condition in elders, which is caused by breathing in pieces of food, liquid, vomit or saliva. These foreign particles can irritate and infect a senior’s lungs and airway, making it hard for them to breathe, and potentially triggering long term damage to their lungs. In the especially frail, pneumonia can even cause death. Indeed, aspiration pneumonia is one of the main conditions that cause a person with advanced Alzheimer’s to sicken and die.
Pushing past the puree prototype
Feeding a senior with dysphagia soft foods is one way to cut down on their chances of aspiration but convincing an elder to eat pureed meals can be a hard sell.
The hope is that 3D printers can be used to create soft foods that look, feel and taste like their more solid versions, and infuse meals with extra vitamins and minerals, based on each senior’s individual needs.
Essentially, the printer cartridges will be filled with a combination of liquefied real-food products, additional nutrients and texturizers meant to make everything literally “gel” together. Instead of ink appearing on a page, a ready-to-eat sample of any kind of food—from a fish fillet to beef roulade—will gradually be sculpted by the device. These foods will appear solid but will literally “melt” in the person’s mouth.
The seneoPro texturizer line is currently undergoing testing as part of the PERFORMANCE project (PERsonalized Food using Rapid Manufacturing for the Nutrition of Elderly ConsumErs), an ongoing EU-funded initiative aimed at developing healthy and holistic food sources for seniors dealing with dysphagia. The project hopes to have a working process for efficiently creating soft foods by using a 3D printer sometime in 2015.
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