“Free-From” Business Spotlight: Allergy Amulet, a Rapid, Portable, Food Allergen Detection Device
A few years I saw an exhibit on designs of the future where a prototype of a pen which could detect the presence of allergens in food was on display. I became obsessed with the idea, and dreamed of a reality where this object would exist in reality. The Allergy Amulet is making my dream come true! I spoke with the founder of Allergy Amulet, Abi Barnes, a lifelong food allergy sufferer who dreamt of creating a fast and portable food allergen detection device which would allow individuals like herself to feel safer about the foods they eat.
In the United States alone, food allergies cause about 200,000 emergency visits each year, and one study estimates that one in five food-allergy hospitalizations is due to accidental exposure of “hidden allergens.”Â Here, she tells us in her own words more about Allergy Amulet, which Slate calls “a chic line of wearables-necklaces, watches, and cellphone cases-that cleverly conceal chemical-based allergen detection strips.”
AFW: What is The Allergy Amulet?
Abi: The Allergy Amulet is a rapid, portable, point-of-consumption food allergen detection device that connects to a patent-pending disposable test strip. The device enables simple, mobile measurements to help individuals avoid ingesting target allergens. It’s intended to serve as a supplement“ not a substitute“ to the standard precautionary measures someone living with food allergies would typically take when dining out or eating foods prepared by others. We marry fashion with function, and have designed the device so that it may be configured as a wearable (e.g., necklace) or integrated into everyday products (e.g., EpiPen or iPhone)
AFW: How did you come up with the idea of developing this product?
Abi: It’s hard to pinpoint any one aha moment. When you live with life-threatening food allergies, eating presents a degree of risk that does not exist for others. To date, strict avoidance is the only approach to managing my food allergies, which has always struck me as pretty antiquated given modern technological advancements, plus I enjoy eating out and attending dinner parties hosted by friends.
On numerous occasions I have been misled by waitstaff to believe my food was allergen-free. Studies show that many restaurant workers do not have basic training in food allergies or food allergy management, which is all the more troubling. Drawing from personal experience, I can say that the status quo of avoidance doesn’t always work. The Allergy Amulet is intended to provide individuals additional assurances that their food is safe to eat, and serve as an extra check when eating foods prepared by others. The risk will always exist, and so this is a tool for helping manage that risk.
AFW: The first iteration of Allergy Amulet will allow for testing for the presence of peanut allergens. Why did you decide to begin with peanuts? Are there plans to include testing for gluten or tree nuts in the future?
Abi: Peanuts are the number one trigger of food-related anaphylaxis, and unlike most food allergies, individuals generally don’t grow out of their peanut allergy over time. It was natural then for us to choose to detect peanuts first, since a management tool like ours will plainly make a difference for peanut allergy sufferers in the long run. We intend to roll out products that test for egg, milk, gluten, and other common food allergens and ingredients as well.
AFW: When using the Allergy Amulet a disposable test strip is inserted into food to test for the presence of an allergen. How many test strips will be included when purchasing an Allergy Amulet?
Abi: We anticipate an individual will use one test strip per dish. Based on anticipated usage, we plan to supply a sample of test strips with each first device, after which point users will be able to purchase test strips either through a monthly subscription service or through a pay-as-you-go model on our mobile app or website.
AFW: Tell us more about the design of Allergy Amulet, particularly about how you are achieving marrying fashion with function.
Abi: We plan to create wearable versions such as a necklace, as well as portable non-wearable designs, some of which we intend to pair with products like epinephrine auto-injectors. We are designing our products with an eye towards discretion, convenience, and scientific accuracy. The wearable pieces will fall in line with modern fashion.
AFW: What are your hopes for Allergy Amulet in the future? When can we expect to be able to purchase the Allergy Amulet?Â Describe Allergy Amulet in three words.
Abi: Eventually our product will be custom tailored to a user’s unique allergy profile. In this way, a single disposable test strip will be able to test for multiple food allergens that are specific to the individual user. For example, my test strips would detect for peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish.
My hope is that our product will bring allergy sufferers an extra layer of comfort when dining out or traveling abroad. We anticipate that our Amulets will soon be a common sight at restaurants and dinner parties across the nation.Â We will be signing up beta users in Spring 2017. Our first products will be publicly available Summer 2018. I’d describe Allergy Amulet as Simple, Discreet, and Reassuring.
Thanks to Abi for taking the time to speak with me!