SAN FRANCISCO (REUTERS) - A California start-up has developed a portable technology that will allow consumers to test their food for gluten on the go.
"Even when you go out and see these labeled menu items, you are still playing Russian roulette," said Ms Shireen Yates, co-founder and chief executive of NIMA, which was founded in 2013.
Designed in San Francisco by a team from MIT, Stanford, Google and Nike, NIMA can analyse any type of food or beverage for gluten down to 20 parts per million, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classification for gluten-free products.
"There is still cross contamination, there is miscommunication, you just never know," Ms Yates added.
An estimated 15 million people in the United States have some form of food allergy or sensitivity, a statistic that is on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Users of the device are instructed to fill a disposable cartridge with a pea-sized sample of food and then load it into the device, which is about half the size of a smartphone.
Roughly two minutes later, after the device measures the chemical reaction between antibody proteins and gluten, the screen will display a happy face if no gluten was detected.
Conversely, a wheat icon and text that reads "gluten found" will appear if any gluten is detected.
According to Ms Yates, the antibodies bind to the presence of gluten if it is present in the sample, triggering a change that a sensor picks up on.
To date, the company has raised US$14 million (S$19.1 million) in total with the help of a US$9.2 million Series A round of venture capital funding earlier this year.
The funding, Yates said, will drive the company's next generation sensor, which consumers will be able to purchase as soon as 2017 if they want to detect milk and peanut allergens in their food as well.
Yates is launching an iPhone application to complement the device, allowing users to share their results.
The first orders of the gluten device, priced at US$199, are expected to ship out to customers by the end of the year.