As many 15 million people in the U.S. have one or more food allergies, with reactions that can range from inconvenient, to uncomfortable, to life-threatening. Even though the food service industry is becoming more and more aware of these problems, someone in this country has a medical emergency related to food allergies every three minutes. When you don’t prepare your own food, such as when you go to a restaurant, there’s no way to be certain that the ingredients your meal are safe for you to eat.
Nima is a new product that may eliminate this problem for some people with food allergies. It is a compact, battery-powered, food tester that can give you an analysis in “just over two minutes” according to the company website. The initial device will test for the presence of gluten. You place a small amount of the food to be tested in a disposable capsule. The food mixes with reagents inside the capsule, and a test strip detects the gluten. If the level is below 20 parts per million (ppm) — the threshold for the FDA’s “gluten free” labeling — then you get a smiley face on the display and the food is okay to eat. The product is expected to ship this fall, and is currently undergoing validation with a third party testing service.
The single-use capsules will be available in sets of a dozen, and will cost about $50. That works out to about $4 per test — aside from the $250 price of the Nima unit itself — which may be a bit pricey for some users. However, if it’s a question of staying healthy, the cost may be worth the convenience. The larger story is that this could pave the way for other devices that sense other components, or even a single device that could test for multiple allergens at one time. Such devices could save millions of dollars by avoiding emergency treatment, while giving allergic individuals and their families confidence that their food is safe to eat.