EU funds 3D-printed ‘smoothfood’ for care homes

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The European Union is funding a project to develop 3D-printed "smoothfood" for people in care homes who suffer from problems related to mastication and swallowing.

The project, called PERFORMANCE, is hoping to build on the success of German company Biozoon, which first created the smoothfood concept in 2010 and has since seen it be adopted in over 1,000 care homes across Germany.

For people who have trouble masticating or swallowing, meal times often become such a chore that loss of appetite and subsequently malnutrition can be a huge problem, as they start to dread rather than look forward to their next meals. Smoothfood has proven an effective solution to this, as it not only makes food easier to eat, but keeps it palatable and varied.

A smoothfood meal consists of deconstructing elements of a dish and then reconstructing them in a form that makes them both safe and easy to chew and swallow. Biozoon does this by cooking, pureeing and straining food, before mixing it with a solidifying agent and moulding it into the shape that would resemble its original form.

"The look and taste of the end product matches the original food item," says Mathias Kück, PERFORMANCE project coordinator. "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."

Using Biozoon's original concept, the project has brought on board 10 private partners and four research institutions in order to develop a 3D-printing process that can construct food items layer by layer, along with a new solidifying agent to hold them together.

The EU has invested nearly €3 million (roughly £2.5m) in the project with the hope of improving quality of life for frail and elderly people living in care facilities. Specific focus will be put on adapting the meals to suit the taste, dietary requirements and nutritional needs of individuals. The naturalistic taste and appearance of the dishes is designed to make sure that people who struggle to eat retain an interest in food, rather than being discouraged by being fed blended-up meals, which are often seen as a solution to mastication problems.

As blended dishes take less time, effort and money to prepare, care homes have sometimes been unwilling to adopt the smoothfood concept, says Kuck. "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."