Experts predict 3D-printed food will soon become widespread

Advances in 3D printed technology have already found their way into many fields, but over the next 10 to 20 years, additive manufacturing processes will radically change the way food is produced, experts from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) are claiming.
In a symposium held earlier this week at an IFT-hosted conference in Chicago, researchers and industry heavyweights explained that the steady decline in the price of 3D printers will increase the availability to consumers and manufacturers. The result will be a significant impact on the industry, allowing for customized foods and quicker delivery of products to consumers.
Speaking at the IFT15: Where Science Feeds Innovation conference, Dr. Hod Lipson, professor of engineering at Columbia University and co-author of the book Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing, said that food manufacturing “could be the killer app for 3D printing,” by allowing users to choose a recipe out of a database, insert a cartridge containing the ingredients into their printer, and having the device fabricate the desired dish with the push of a button.
Focus groups already benefitting; soldiers may be next
The technology could also allow for products to be enhanced with additional nutrients, and could be used by military personnel to 3D print food while on the battlefield. In fact, Mary Scerra, food technology expert with the US Army, said the military hopes to be 3D printing custom meals for the troops within the next 10 to 15 years.
“Imagine warfighters in remote areas–one has muscle fatigue, one has been awake for a long period without rest, one lacks calories, one needs electrolytes, and one just wants a pizza,” said Scerra, who works at the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Massachusetts. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if they could just print and eat?”
However, she noted that there are still many obstacles to overcome before this can become a reality. For instance, the cost of transporting additive manufacturing technologies to remote parts of the world needs to come down, and logistical issues preventing these systems from working in those regions need to be addressed. Then there’s the issue of taste. As Scera said, “If the meals aren’t palatable, they won’t be consumed. It doesn’t matter how nutritious they are.”
In some ways, however, 3D printing is already having an impact in the food industry, according to Anshul Dubey, senior manager of research and development at PepsiCo. For instance, even though his company is not yet using the technology to fabricate food or beverages, 3D printed prototypes of different shaped and colored potato chips are already being used to show to focus groups instead of pictures. This allows for a more accurate response, he noted.
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