Feature

This hand-held device can test food for gluten in under 2 minutes

An innovative hand-held device for testing food for gluten will soon be available. All it takes is a morsel of food and two minutes.

Gluten-watchers soon will have a new tool to make eating easier.

Called Nima, the portable, quick-testing device can detect gluten in liquids, solids, or other edibles. Slated for a summer release, it works by analyzing a small amount of food — about a gram — placed inside a canister. A smiley face means there’s no gluten. A frown, it’s present.

The device was developed to help those who are sensitive to gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye, or barley — or who are suffering from Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating gluten can damage the small intestine (Celiac afflicts roughly three million Americans). But with gluten-free also a fad diet, Nima is likely to gain followers among those who consider the protein taboo for reasons other than a serious health condition. One in five Americans is trying to avoid gluten, according to PBS Newshour.

The company behind Nima is the San Francisco-based 6Sensor Labs, a startup that designs consumer-friendly technology for testing food for allergens. Its co-founder Shireen Yates, who has multiple food allergies, conceived of the product as an answer to the frustration she felt when restaurant employees couldn’t tell her enough about her food. (Nima means fair and equitable in Farsi, the native language of Yates' family.)

“What we are doing is giving you that extra piece of data to really improve your odds of staying your healthiest self when you’re eating out, and actively trying to avoid certain foods,” Yates told PBS Newshour.

While a gluten-testing device isn't exactly new, the capability was previously relegated to commercial labs or multi-step home-testing kits. Nima takes about two minutes to finish its work, identifying gluten through an antibody-based test that can detect as little as five parts per million of the protein; the Food and Drug Administration standard for labeling something “gluten-free” is 20 parts per million.

Nima’s mobile app also stores test results, keeps track of foods, and has a platform that lets users communicate with one another. Down the line, it may offer the opportunity to integrate personal results with restaurant apps like Yelp, creating a community space for sharing menu do's and don'ts.

Introduced late last year, Nima was named one of Time’s best inventions of 2015 and grabbed further attention at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January. It also received a boost during CES in the form of a victory at TechCrunch’s Hardware Battlefield, where 6Sensor Labs competed against other startups for a prize of $50,000.

Next up for 6Sensor? Tackling peanuts and dairy.

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