Nima Sensor: Gadget tests for gluten and peanut allergens

Avoidance of foods with life threatening allergens is far from easy when dining in or out. There are so many precautions to take to avoid the presence of any food allergy.

  • Read food labels. Call food manufacturers if necessary.
  • Talk to the restaurant manager and server.
  • Educate the schools, teachers, friends, family and loved ones.
  • Evaluate the policies of public schools, private schools, and universities, and then develop relevant plans.
  • Cook and bake your own food, including while on vacation.
  • Keep prescriptions current. Carry two epinephrine auto-injectors.

This is just a snapshot of the many steps some food allergic individuals and families take to avoid a food allergy reaction. Now, imagine a gadget that gives a supplemental level of caution before the first bite.

Years ago, I started following Nima Sensor from startup and tested the tool at the Gluten Free Expo in Bethesda, Md. I was captivated by a small gadget that fits in the palm of your hand that tests pea-sized food particles for an allergen. It can take only the size of a bread crumb to cause a food allergy reaction, and potentially anaphylaxis, a life threating reaction.

How it Works

Friday, Jan. 24, marked the one-year anniversary of the Gluten sensor on the market. Timely for a celebratory Facebook Live Chat to demonstrate the sensor for gluten and now peanuts, coming this March. Much like the demo video, the team showed how it works by testing cupcakes that were labeled gluten free and nut free cupcakes from a local San Francisco bakery.

The sensor comes with about 12 capsules. You order capsules as you need them for your own food testing. For accuracy, it must be about the size of a pea. It could take up to five minutes for the sensor to alert you of any level of presence of gluten and peanuts.

Now, I know you probably have a lot of questions, like those on the Facebook chat. My top two questions:

1) How do you know testing a pea-sized amount is enough to fully test a food item? Using any utensil if needed, you can take multiple samples from your plate or test a few areas of the specific food item you’d like to cross check.

2) How can the cost fit in the budget? Many of the users on the chat shared they were able to work with their individual health flexible spending plans to help cover the costs of the sensor and capsules for the gluten sensor. This process may also be supported by your physician and insurance plan, so it’s worth looking into. Currently there is a pre-sale to order the Nima Starter Kit – Peanut for $229 until March 8. It will retail for $289 later in the year. The maintenance cost is the order of replacement capsules which also needs to be considered in your budget.

Any supplement to  help you make the judgment call on what to eat may be worth it. We’re all looking for ways to ease our minds before the first bite. Learn more about the Nima Sensor.



Episode Two of new Netflix docu-series, Rotten, investigates food allergies

The rising rate of food allergies takes center stage in the episode “The Peanut Problem,” in the new Netflix six-part documentary series, Rotten, which critically examines the food industry. Whether or not you have food allergies or know someone with food allergies, overall the series is a must-see for anyone who cares about the food on your plate or in your kids’ lunch.

An underlying theme emphasized in episode two, “The Peanut Problem,” is frankly, we all have a “duty to care.” Renowned chefs Ming Tsai, owner of Blue Dragon (Boston, Mass.), and  Sam Mason, (Brooklyn, NY) share behind-the-scenes perspectives on the restaurant industry challenges and how they accommodate diners with food allergies. A global issue, the episode gives an example of legal consequences for a UK restaurant owner who failed to disclose ingredient changes.  

The responsibility to care is also explored at the root of the problem – peanuts. Peanuts are considered life-threatening kryptonite to parents like me and allergic kids alike who must manage to avoid peanuts; whether it is ingestion, touch or even airborne. In watching this, you are given a different lens about what the industry and peanut farmers are doing about it.

Overall, there has been exponential growth in the prevalence of food allergies among children, and even adult onset, in the last 20 years. And for reasons still unknown. The segment explores potential answers to the underlying causes of food allergies and the research actively underway to prevent and treat food allergies. Most importantly, it stresses ways to recognize symptoms of a severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis, and how to quickly treat a reaction with epinephrine, through the use of an epi-pen.

Ruchi Gupta, MD, pediatrician and researcher, is among the featured medical experts who give insights into the medical condition, research and her firsthand experience. As she reflects on being a food allergy mom herself she states, “Until you experience it, you really don’t understand it.”  

And this is so true. None of us know what anything is like until we experience it in life. This documentary gives a snapshot to help others understand and hopefully gain a “duty to care.”

If you live in the Chicago area, a screening event that features Dr. Gupta and supporting event sponsors, will take place at Chicago’s Davis Theater on Thurs., Jan. 11, at 6:30 p.m. Click here to register. Check out episode two and the series on Netflix.