Is Food 3D Printing safe? Analysis from the specialist George Anthony Mediema

Food 3D printing gives many advantages and we write often about them in this blog. But there are also some hazards. Better to know them well at the beginning.

For this, we had the chance to chat with one of the experts of this field: George Anthony Mediema. He just finished his thesis at the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences. He done right after a Bachelor degree in Food safety and Health.

The subject?

With the emerging market of the 3D-food printer, new issues concerning have been food safety have been emerging likewise. Safe to consume 3D printed food is necessary to upscale the market and ensure the safety of table size 3d-printers for households. Literature in food safety concerning 3D-Printers is scarce. Because of the scarcity of scientific research concerning food safety, in this case, many laboratories tested have to be done to determine the safety of the products.

The products have to have acceptable levels of microorganisms, and that organisms will not accumulate in biofilms in the device. Cleaning procedures of the 3D-printer have to be sufficient to eliminate and decrease hazards to an acceptable risk. 3D-printer products should not have a significantly lower best before date then similar products. Lastly, allergens management within the 3D-printer has to clarify. All these food safety issues should be defined and managed with the help of a Risk assessment based on the HACCP (Hazards Analysis Critical Control Point).

Extract from George Anthony Mediema’s Thesis

We decided to ask him more details and ask for advice. He kindly agreed to answer us and present his work to us.

How did you get interest in Food 3D printing ?

During my study food technology I have seen other students doing research on 3D food printing, mainly on product development. Because of my specialization in food safety, I looked up articles that are related to the safety of 3D food printing. A 3d food printer is in the grey area of buying a miniature processing facility and kitchen utensil. Both perspectives give a different way of looking at the device considering food safety.

Which type of 3D printing technologies have you already tested ?

I have mainly used the printers that print on a layer by layer extrusion method, mainly the ByFlow. I have worked a bit with the 3dPrinterforYou and the Chocpro.

Do you print food regularly yourself?

I did not use it for consumption purposes after finding salmonella in the system considering my personal health.

Could you tell us more about your thesis ?

During the thesis, I looked at different hazards that could occur during 3d food printing with the devices I used.

I mainly looked at the following hazards and made a risk analysis which one are most dangerous considering the end consumer. My research showed that, allergy management and cross-contamination are the most likely to occur. Debris of formerly printed particles are likely to stay in the system. It can be minimized by using an ultrasonic bath to reduce density of allergens, however it is not a guarantee to completely eliminate the hazard of allergens, traces can still be found, of allergens, like gluten, milk protein etc.

How do you evaluate the printers that are now available on the market ?

I think the printers that are present on the market are still limited in features and are rather fancy extruders with or without a heating function then really 3D printers that could alter the structure of ingredients. There are some promising printers that may alter that. The pixel printer from a Japanese company has almost endless possibilities in printing different products, with the use of different gelling agents.

Looking at the market right now from a more business perspective, 3d food printers are rather expensive compared to normal 3d food printers. 3D food printers now have similar prices as norm 3d printers 10 years ago. I would not dare to bet. However, there could be future with a similar trend line for 3D food printers.

Is there some ingredients that are more suitable for food printing from a safety perspective ?

Using animal-derived ingredients are always more prone to bacterial growth. It is not the biggest threat personally in the 3D printing world. Especially, because there is so much research on printing plant-based protein with the help of 3d food printer.

These 3 issues are worrisome for me with future 3d print models

  1. No clean in place system to keep the 3d printer small and compact. In this way the printer cannot clean itself and the chance of particles of former products still be present is high. For that regular cleaning is needed to prevent cross-contamination.
  2. Printers with a heat feature still using a plastic tube. First of all, a metal tube has a way higher heat conductivity, it would be a waste of energy to use plastic ones. Secondly, it is unsure how many microplastic particles could come into the human body after heating plastic and how it will harm us and nature by extracting the food in feces.
  3. Allergen management is key. To be 95% by using a printer in your restaurant is safe, has an extra set of nozzles and tubes to be allergen-free. If you are willing to go the extra mile purchase a second allergy-free printer to maintain the safety of the end consumers.

Which advice would you give to people who 3D print food at home?

You know the allergies you have so it is not likely to print products your allergic from.

Be careful with guests I would reckon. And clean the machine thoroughly especially when working with raw ingredients.

How do you see this food 3D printing industry evolving in the future ?

I see many opportunities, however, the perfect 3d printer we all want does not exist yet. The main percentages of the 3d food printers are fancy extruders, then mini processing facilities. It is still a novel product. with imperfections, one day there will be a 3d food printer as revolutionary as the iPhone.Right now the 3D food printers are still prototypes of that iPhone worthy printer. It is not yet available for the mass as the microwave and the oven and that should be the end goal.

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