3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a type of computer-controlled production that creates three-dimensional objects by connecting layers of material together, using a digital file as a blueprint. This innovative method of manufacturing can be used in the creation of various tools, components, and objects that were normally created using human labor or assembling. Recently, 3D-printing technology has been used to manufacture food and food-related supplies, such as cups, mugs, containers, and other utensils.
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3D printing is different from robotics-based food manufacturing in both the use of initial components and the technology required to do so. The process has the potential to revolutionize food manufacturing by allowing endless possibilities for shape, color, flavor, texture, and nutrition customization (Lipton 198). 3D printing typically revolves around the use of three types of materials, which include natively printable materials, non-printable traditional food materials, and alternative ingredients. Sun et al. report two types of recipes used in 3D-food printing, which include element-based recipes and traditional recipes (“An Overview of 3D Printing Technologies for Food Fabrication” 1606). The former is typically implemented in the production of simple foods and components, whereas the latter is used in combined culinary, with the implementation of both natural and printed ingredients.
The creation of 3D-printed food carries massive implications for food activism and solving world hunger. The production of nutritious foods in large quantities, as well as meat-like substances, is capable of reducing humanity’s reliance on animal farms and transferring to an ethically wholesome diet (Liu 87). In addition, it would enable impoverished nations susceptible to drought, climatic catastrophes, and wars to facilitate domestic food production. Lastly, there is the potential to significantly streamline and cheapen foods for the majority of people worldwide, freeing up goods and materials for other pursuits (Liu 89).
Nevertheless, the creation of foods and food-related products also comes with significant administrative and health risks. Due to the relative novelty of the technology, the long-term effects of 3D-printed foods on humans are not studied enough. Primary concerns include the use of dangerous substances and materials in the machine and its components, which may contaminate food (Sun et al., “3D Food Printing – An Innovative Way of Mass Customization in Food Fabrication” 29). These include ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds, which could be dangerous to the producers and consumers alike. Costa et al. report that microparticles are associated with increased chances of developing asthma and lung cancer, whereas volatile organic compounds can be caught ablaze and cause explosions, should their concentrations be critical enough (260). However, these issues could be found in other organic products, such as flour.
The potential to contaminate food is expressed in a myriad of ways. The first and most obvious way for that to happen is through the use of unsafe components. Many 3D printers have brass nozzles, which can lead to particles of metal entering foods. Only the use of organic-approved materials in 3D-printer production would make it safer. The second issue lies with 3D-printed vessels, such as plates, mugs, and other containers. The surface of most structures created using the technology is rugged and unpolished, creating numerous micro-fissures that would grow to contain bacteria. These fissures are notoriously hard to wash and could lead to the spread of dangerous microorganisms and eventual food poisoning. The proposed research addresses the issue of the growth of bacteria E. Coli in fissures and micropores in 3D-generated cups, plates, and other food vessels over a period of time.
Costa, Michael Carlos, et al. “Risk Identification in Food Safety: Strategy and Outcomes of the EFSA Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN), 2010-2014.” Food Control, vol. 73, 2917, pp. 255-274.
Lipton, Jeffrey I. “Printable Food: The Technology and its Application in Human Health.” Current Opinion in Biotechnology, vol. 44, 2017, pp. 198-201.
Liu, Zhenbin, et al. “3D printing: Printing Precision and Application in Food Sector.” Trends in Food Science & Technology, vol. 69, 2017, pp. 83-94.
Sun, Jie, et al. “3D Food Printing – An Innovative Way of Mass Customization in Food Fabrication.” International Journal of Bioprinting, vol. 1, no. 1, 2015, pp. 27-38.
“An Overview of 3D Printing Technologies for Food Fabrication.” Food and Bioprocess Technology, vol. 8, no. 9, 2015, pp. 1605-1615.