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Development of Personalised Food using Rapid Manufacturing for the Nutrition of elderly Consumers

Periodic Report Summary 1 - PERFORMANCE (Development of Personalised Food using Rapid Manufacturing for the Nutrition of elderly Consumers)

Project Context and Objectives:
Dysphagia is a condition describing chewing and swallowing difficulties of which according to studies, more than one in five people over the age of 50 is suffering from. Diseases such as dementia or certain types of cancer can lead to eating difficulties, whereby the larynx fails to close properly during swallowing, so that food ends up in the lungs instead of the stomach. It is estimated that in nursing homes up to 20 % of residents suffer from dysphagia, often being served with ‘porridge-like food’. Nevertheless, beside the already existing pain during swallowing, this measure often implies loss of appetite and thus nutrient deficiency or sometimes even malnutrition, or dehydration as a critical consequence.
The ageing society is not a problem which is limited to any borders but rather a global challenge. Due to the size of this challenge and the special needs of this specific group, a lot of societal implications are involved such as increase of medical and care costs, needs for special products for the elderly, decrease of absolute amount of people paying into the welfare-system etc. This requires a European approach for the development of new concepts. PERFORMANCE targets the novel approach through ‘Texturising and 3D food printing’, which will contribute towards a better life quality for the elderly population.

The main idea of the PERFORMANCE project is to develop and validate a holistic, personalized food supply chain for frail elderly in nursing homes, ambient assisted living facilities or at home (served by nursing services). The supply ‘chain’ in this case will resemble a loop with the elderly consumers forming the initial link (personal preference and needs) and the final link (consumption). As a result of the PERFORMANCE project, an overall concept will be available allowing automated manufacturing and supply of personalized, specially textured food for frail and elderly. The concept will cover the whole supply chain from the personalised food producer using innovative 3D printing technology, packed up in an novel and personalised packaging and shipped frozen to the place of consumption (both in nursing facilities and at home) at which simple preparation of the individual meals can be assured. As nutrition is strongly correlated with aspects of health, physiological and psychosocial status, PERFORMANCE can be seen as a great step forward not only for the personalised food processing innovations but also in social innovation by improving quality of life for many consumer groups (especially for elderly).
During the first project period (Month1 – Month 18), already promising outcomes have been generated with the progress and main achievements of the different Work Packages (WP) being summarised in the following sections.

Project Results:
First of all, in WP1 the framework for the subsequent work packages has been established including the definition of a common nomenclature, product specification sheets focusing on nutritional requirements of the target group and on consumer preferences and expectations with regard to the products and technologies to be developed. Besides, specific supply chains have been identified, mapped and assessed in order to define the necessary logistics and distribution requirements. Studies were performed on ethical, legal and social aspects to be considered in the project. Describing an important role in the project, standard methodology was defined for the LCA.

WP2 focused on extensive screening experiments followed by investigation and subsequent combination of texturisers with promising properties. This lead to the successful development of a mixture that enables the conversion of various food matrices into printed gelled food and foam gels. The successful developed and implemented texturising gel system allows the production of personalised freeze/thaw and heatstable gelled food by means of 3D printing from natural puree resembling the original food. The foam gel system enables the conversion of pureed food into stable foam gels with improved flavour release. For both systems the influence of different parameters (e.g. nutrients, salts and pH) were investigated.

Within WP3 a mixing unit, printhead and motion mechanism has been developed and integrated to form a combined system for 3D printing of the food items. Main challenges were the determination of ratios of puree, gelling agent, and macronutrients such as oil and whey protein that can be mixed, development of a new pinch valve printhead to prevent clogging of the system, optimisation of the internal print head design for minimising dead volume and overflow between subsequent meal items and a 3D motion mechanism for creating the required 3D shapes. These unit developments have been tested in a prototype setup to analyse the integrated design to be transferred to WP6. In order to realise the functionality, a dedicated control software has been developed.

WP4 objectives targeted the development of the PERFORMANCE packaging concept, including the selection of plastic materials for the plate intended for microwave and cultivated consumption of personalized meals. Further, WP4 focused on the selection of coating materials and patterns for controlled microwave transmission as well as the evaluation of durability and recyclability of the developed packaging. Physical requirements to ink-jet printed electro-conductive metallic coatings were defined. Measurements of dielectric constants and specific heat capacity of the different food matrices were carried out. It enabled comprehensive FEM 3D simulations of the microwave heating. Several types of microwave-transmitting patterns were studied, whereas the pattern of square type of perforations was selected providing the highest heating homogeneity. Several types of conductive inks were tested for deposition of microwave-active patterns, and one particular type was selected after successful tests in the microwave oven.
The PERFORMANCE IT system architecture includes a data model established within WP5. Database and software are installed on the SANALOGIC data centre. A secure access from the partner site has been established via the internet using a VPN and RDP protocol. No additional software has been installed on the partner site. Further, WP5 defined a unique identification code system to identify menu orders across the supply chain via an individual QR code, printed on each plate. The interface for the data transfer and storage was developed by using common tools such as csv or XML technologies. In addition, WP5 developed and prototyped software, to capture the consumption of food by each resident by using mobile devices (with iOS or Android operating systems). For backup and test purposes WP5 produced a desktop version of the software.

Potential Impact:
The new technologies and products being developed in the PERFORMANCE project will allow a new and innovative way of food processing, preparation and monitoring of consumption with regard to a specific target group – the frail and elderly, suffering from dysphagia. Actual intake of diets with modified texture (usually thickened up or mash-type food) is often reported to be poor. There are a number of problems associated with the existing diets with modified texture which includes the texture itself, influencing taste and flavour as well as appearance and nutritional adequacy [A. Hoffmann, M. Biedermann, 2005]. An often neglected problem is the psychological effect when serving only mash-type food to the frail and elderly as this demonstrates to them their own bad physical condition.
PERFORMANCE is an ambitious project that will have a major impact on the development and manufacturing of special textured food for frail and elderly persons, realized through a fully automated manufacturing process direct applicable at industrial level. Industrial manufacturing of personally tailored meals can address more or less every person being affected by chewing and swallowing disorders, which shall be achieved through the novel 3D-printing approach, integrating necessary and individual parameters such as individual portion size, specific caloric and nutritional values or texture preferences. Beside the visual appearance, especially nutritional deficiencies can be targeted as a very important aspect with regard to sometimes even undernourished persons.
Furthermore, the personalised meals which will be delivered to the individual consumer (private or nursing home), are accompanied by a completely new packaging concept allowing individual, rapid and simple heating of the meals. Interfacing of the individual steps within the PERFORMANCE supply chain allows simple identification of the personalised order and meals at every point in the supply chain and even enables the consumer or nursing staff to monitor the real food consumption which is realised through a special developed software system.

PERFORMANCE will be the first project, focusing on a disruptive technology approach such as 3D printing of food and combining nutritional data, novel food processing technologies and packaging & distribution solutions into a personalised food supplying concept which could serve more than 10 million frail and elderly persons in Europe. This unique approach of an economic valuable personalisation of food represents a new opportunity in an underexplored, but fast growing industrial area, opening innovative gates for new business concepts and increased competitiveness.
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