So..How Allergic Are You?

Trust Your Food With Nima, the Portable Allergen Tester.

Nima, Food Allergen Tester

I hate to say that we’ve learned the hard way, but my husband and I have discovered that even when ordering a dish that we think will be “safe” from a restaurant, it’s critical to inform the restaurant and our server about his life threatening nut allergies. While it can be (very) uncomfortable if I ingest gluten, it isn’t a life or death situation, and I prefer the focus to be on him and ensuring that his food is free of nuts when we dine out. I’ve mentioned before about unfortunate dining out experiences where nuts were present in his food even after we were re-assured multiple times that his dish was safe (read: pesto with pine nuts drizzled over his steak on the first night of our honeymoon). Fun! After this incident, I have to admit that I find it hard to trust the responses we receive about the ingredients of his food, however life must be lived and we’ve found places that we feel are safe to eat.

One of the most irritating questions that we’re asked by waiters, restaurant owners, friends, etc. is “How allergic are you?” While I know that there are many people claim allergies in order to avoid a food they don’t want to eat, it’s an awkward when we have to respond that we’re talking deathly allergic. The whole tone of the conversation changes, and it becomes very negative and scary, in addition to having to quantify that we’re serious and not trying to be high maintenance.

Nima, Food Allergen Tester

San Francisco-based 6SensorLabs Founder Shireen Yates felt the same way when being asked about her gluten allergy. She wished that she could just take a sample of food and test it herself, rather than having to go through 100 questions with her waiter. Taking action into her own hands, Yates created 6SensorLabs, a company that has developed a portable allergen detector. Smithsonian writes:

The device, Nima (meaning “just” or “fair” in Persian), has two parts: a test tube-like disposable capsule to hold a food sample and a small sensor with a triangular base. You put a piece of a questionable food in the capsule, click it into the base sensor and wait about two minutes for a result. The sensor conducts a quick chemical analysis for gluten and will either read yes or no, letting you know if it’s safe to go ahead and eat

Nima is small enough to slip in a purse or backpack pocket, and discreet enough to hold in your lap at a restaurant table. You don’t want to make too big of a show when you’re at the table,Yates says. At the moment, Nima has been developed specifically to test for gluten, the final version of the device, slated to be on the market in 2016, will be able to detect gluten in as little as 20 parts per million, the FDA standard for gluten-free. Versions of Nima capable of detecting peanuts and dairy products are under development, Yates says, and eventually the company hopes to have devices capable of testing for all of the other major allergens.

The company is also developing an app that would allow users to share results, letting other food allergy sufferers know what restaurant meals or processed foods are really safe and warning them about those that are not. This is important, as mislabeling is a major problem for the gluten-avoidant. One study showed five percent of foods labeled gluten-free on the U.S. market actually contain gluten.

Food Allergen Testing Process

It’s important to note that Nima only tests the piece of food inserted into the tube, meaning if your allergen was present in another part of the dish, it may show that the sample of food you tested was safe, however allergens appear in another potion of your meal.

The Nima can now be pre-ordered for $199 + shipping for the main sensor, which comes with three disposable capsules which can only be used once. While we’re still in the early days of developing this technology, I would pay anything to be able to test food for allergens and not only rely on someone’s word. While I’m sure that extensive testing would need to be completed in order for those with allergies to feel safe about relying on the results, this could be life changing, literally.

What do you think about food allergen testers? Would you trust them?

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