Health Impacts of 3D Printed Food


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The age of 3D printed food has arrived and there’s no doubt about it. According to one of the tech companies producing it, it’s just a matter of time when will this technology become accessible in majority of the kitchen in the world. 3D food printing, from Wikipedia, “is the process of manufacturing food products using a variety of additive manufacturing techniques”. This means that preparation of this food can be done remotely using only Smartphones, laptop computers, and other devices that can run the apps for designing – choosing colors, textures, shapes, ingredients or flavour and nutritional content. That was impossible then but now it is already available in different parts of the world.    

As described by writer Lucas Carolo:

“Mostly, 3D printing food works much like a regular FDM 3D printer in the sense that a viscous material is deposited onto a surface to create a final object. While there have been studies with other additive processes like binder jetting and SLS with powdered foodstuffs, it’s still debatable whether these processes are viable for food printing or not.

Meanwhile, there’s a growing market of both professional and prosumer FDM-like food printing machines, as we’ll see later in this article. The process is roughly the same for most of these machines: the raw material is feed into a syringe-like container and extruded as the nozzle is moved around to trace shapes and form 2D layers one at a time.”

Most of these machines are currently expensive; therefore only very few have them for now. Besides, what it can do for now is very limited. This is the reason why the industry, of course composed of various tech and software companies, is trying their best to create demands to sell the product to the world. The big questions right here, however, are: how safe are food 3D printers, 3D printed food, and what does it mean to us as creatures that’ve evolved for thousands of years cooking manually on fire. The industry sells it as answer to our problem on the environment, our health, and to our “lack of freedom” in designing our own food; meaning that we can’t make complex food preparation and designs in our traditional way of cooking. And through these reasons, are they forcing us to abandon the proper ways we make our food – slow and natural?           

As usual, the industry-bought reports were just aimed to make this technology seem very in-demand or important. That’s just how marketing usually works. Therefore different media outlets paint it as very important for solving those said problems. To make it so big, therefore, different justifications have been put out by the proponents such as “it offers great opportunities” to the food industry, as if highly processed food is healthier than the unprocessed ones. They also claim it’s healthier, it is ecologically sustainable, and it’s efficient in managing food waste. Possibly. But still we can’t tell if it’s worth the trade-off.   

In addition, companies are still trying to figure out how to perfect the technology. Because another big problem is: 3D food printer is currently only good in designing the shapes of the food (?) and not really in cooking the food. One example is the 3D-printed pizza in which a separate cooking process is still needed after printing it. One way they want to answer that is by designing laser (blue or infrared) that can cook the materials while the whole product is being printed. According to Jonathan Blutinger, the Creative Machines Lab researcher who’s work “focuses on the use of lasers to cook food during printing”:

“The ultimate goal is to combine this technology coherently on a machine that is capable of extruding and cooking your food according to your wishes and needs.”

The technology is almost there. It’s all about packaging it and selling it so people will accept it. It happened with the microwave and pretty soon with food printing.”

Speaking of “cruelty-free” claim, just this month Aleph Farms and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have introduced its so-called “slaughter-free ribeye steak”, as reported by Fox News. This is another breakthrough from the technology of impossible Foods and according to their report, this is how it made:

“The “steaks” are high for the future of lab-grown meat, and an Israeli food company is leading the way with the world’s first slaughter-free rib-eye steak. On Tuesday, Aleph Farms and its biomedical engineering partners at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology unveiled the cruelty-free cutlet, in what they claim is a world first. The steak was produced using 3D bioprinting technology and real cow tissue, the food-tech startup explained in a news release.

From there, scientists incubated the cells to grow, differentiate, and interact, ultimately replicating a real rib-eye. With muscle and fat similar to a traditionally slaughtered steak, the futuristic food features “the same organoleptic attributes of a delicious tender, juicy rib-eye steak you’d buy from the butcher.”  Aleph Farms says it can produce any cut of meat with this method, as the company sets its sights on expanding its meat portfolio.”

Sounds like science weird fiction, right? But it’s not. It’s difficult to imagine people don’t care much about the limitations of genetic manipulation, especially on almost everything. Remember even the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t trust the Impossible Food. Meanwhile, estimating the possible total success for their product, the same company stated:

“We expect to achieve this goal within five years from our 2022 soft launch, which is faster than the new generation of plant-based meat substitutes.”

As of 2020, there have been dozens of food printers and several exclusive 3D printing restaurants available on the market; continuously growing while there is almost no information giving the other facts or the disadvantages in using this technology, especially on the long term impacts to people and the environment. So the era of Impossible Foods or so-called plant-based meat, which is made of pure genetically engineered soy product called soy leghemoglobin or SLH, has already began. Obviously, everybody knows there are dozens of studies regarding possible adverse health impacts of GMO; even how it can possibly change our genetic make-up. Most importantly, even the FDA did not declare “plant-based meat” as safe. Meanwhile, Lucas Carolo described about what kind of foods can be 3D print:

“The foods that can be 3D printed are limited to the processes available. Material extrusion is by far the most common process for 3D printing food, and, similar to FDM printing, requires paste-like inputs like purées, mousses, and other viscous foods such as chocolate ganache. At first, it might feel a bit restricted in terms of options, but think of all the possible combinations between doughs, mashes, cheeses, frostings, and even raw meats…”

As of 2020, there are only a handful of professional-grade food 3D printers being used for home or birthday catering events while some for restaurants. However, according to reports, most of these 3D printers are in desktop versions and still no industrial-size equipment or capacity. And some of the companies or inventor as of 2021 is MMuse, Foodini, and Mycusini. The MMuse chocolate 3D printer, for example, “processes chocolate chips up to 4 mm in diameter and melts them for extrusion”, manufactured in China at around $5,700. Meanwhile, Foodini “one of the most hyped” food 3D printers of all. Natural Machines’ Foodini can handle almost any ingredient, “from jellies to tasty burgers, using five different cartridges simultaneously”. The Foodini is priced at around $4,000.”

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