The Best Technologies Against Food Allergies
Food has a significant role in our lives, yet, we practically have no idea what we eat. With the advent of industrial farming and the food processing industry, consumer control over food has been lost – and we lost track of substances. Food labels are far from providing enough information about what is actually in the package. Although labelling of allergens is mandatory in most countries, factual data is often hidden behind mysterious E-s and numbers. Various tech devices promise a solution.
And a solution is indeed needed. About 7.5% of the global population is allergic to certain foods. Over require emergency medical care every year due to allergic reactions to food in the U.S. alone. Food sensors, when they first appeared, came like life-savers for people with allergies.
From time to time, we try to collect the most promising technologies to solve this issue. In our 2017 article, we listed . Of those eight, only one is still standing (Nima) but hasn’t refreshed its Twitter page since 2018; 4 disappeared without a trace (Ally, Allerpal, Aibi, Rescufy), 2 still in research (Allergy Amulet, TellSpec) and one changed markets (Scio).
Too complex food can give you the itch
Food scanning is a challenging issue. These ambitious companies have tried to help millions of people with food allergies. However, whether they can offer reasonable solutions and replace laboratory analyses is uncertain – especially since the food we eat today is often too complex.
“The composition of food can be very diverse. Measuring exactly what is on our plate can therefore be difficult if you do not know the parameter or compound you wish to measure,” – says Dr Zoltán Kovács, associate professor of the Department of Measurements and Process Control Institute of Food Science and Technology at the Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The professor was involved in the development of Canadian , a handheld food scanner company. He contributed to the experimental planning and model development to measure the food parameters of various food products. “Generally, in food analysis, a wide arsenal of analytical methods is applied to determine certain quality parameters of food, often in a destructive manner, sometimes using highly costly chemicals and time-consuming techniques.” To make the best of such measurements, it’s helpful to know what’s in the food – before the analysis.
“The so-called can be used to obtain a universal „image” of the samples and is suitable for determining many independent parameters at once” – Dr Kovács added on a possible solution.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
One of the solutions to food allergies would indeed be to decrease the complexity of food. In 2009, a UC Berkeley professor of science and environmental journalism and Michael Pollan in an auditorium fully packed with CDC scientists about healthy eating. The professor has been criticising the U.S. food policies, and the reason for the invite was “to bring new ideas to the national debate on food issues.” However, although scientists then and there were mostly convinced, eating habits in the U.S. haven’t changed much since.
6+1 promising digital health technology devices against food allergens
We searched the market again to find promising technologies fighting food allergies. Yes, food composition is a complicated issue. These companies have prospective concepts. Today they promise a solution to food-related allergies. One day one of them will make up this promise and rise as champion.
1. SensoGenic – R&D phase
is a medical device using a bio-sensor that detects food allergens. The company aims to make eating safe for people with food allergies all over the world. Their digital diagnostics biosensor looks for allergen and antibody reactions with the fingerprint method. The test was supposed to run on smartphones, but currently, no app can be downloaded. However, SensoGenic aims to get on the market in 2022, meaning they might be onto something.
2. Project Abbie – R&D phase
Harvard’s Wyss Institute partnered with in doing research and development on anaphylaxis. aims to develop a wearable, non-invasive device that could sense anaphylaxis and automatically inject epinephrine in individuals who are unable to do so themselves. An offspring from the project, the tool, can detect histamine levels in human body fluids and determine the severity of an allergic reaction, which could help save the lives of patients with severe allergies. On the downside, there has been no news of the project since 2018.
3. FoodMarble – on the market
Last year I , a breathalyser that works the other way around than all other food analysers: by checking the gases in the exhale. It analyses the level of hydrogens in the exhale to check for the level of hydrogen. The concept behind this tracker is to analyse digestion – in short, to see why you’re bloated. By tracking your daily consumption with the app, you can find the patterns and, thereby, the intolerances over time.
4. Allerguard – R&D phase
The concept of is radically different from all others. Instead of using a food sample, the company’s device analyses the scent of the food and alerts the user if a specific chemical signature is detected. It can thereby analyse an entire plate and not just a random sample. The company aims to use artificial intelligence to analyse the chemical structure of food. Although the company has a presence at startup events, there’s little news shared from the R&D department.
5. Nima – on the market
We ’s sleek designs and innovative approach from day one. The company launched two portable food sensors, and we tested both the and the with good results. However, we can’t be entirely happy: Nima hasn’t released anything since 2018, and there’s also a shortage in testing capsules since the company was sold in 2020. We hope to see the company rise again.
6. Allergy Amulet – R&D phase
This tiny portable device (available as a keyring, necklace or wristband) aims to use molecular imprinting to identify allergens in food. With a simple test, sensors find traces of allergens in the tested food sample within a minute. It’s a great concept; however, they are still in the development phase, planning a launch by the end of the year when they will begin with peanut and soy allergies.
+1. imaware – direct to consumer testing
At-home lab tests gained momentum over the past year. A blood test for food-related allergens from the comfort of your home is an advantage we won’t give up after the lockdowns. Imaware, a platform offering a range of at-home lab tests, including an does just that. The company’s blood drop test checks 28 food allergens in the blood (along with other allergens), providing a clinical lab result within 7 days.
They also offer a , looking for gluten-related responses in your body, providing a lab analysis of 4 key biomarkers you can thereafter bring to your doctor if needed. Imaware is the first at-home blood testing company to have its data and methods .
Given the sheer number of people affected by food allergies, it is very likely that one company will solve all the issues above. But the complexity of the matter suggests that there is no magic wand or Harry Potter spell on food or patients. Ultimately, we need to change our eating habits and make sure for ourselves and the planet. That might bring a decrease in food allergies altogether.
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