This Keychain Could Change the Lives of People With Food Allergies

Sep 7, 2017 at 10:55 a.m. ET
Image: Piotr_malczyk/Getty Images

Anyone who suffers from a food allergy knows how tricky it can be to eat anywhere outside your own home. Whether it’s a business lunch at a restaurant or Thanksgiving dinner at your new partner’s aunt’s house, not knowing exactly what goes into your food or how it’s prepared can be the cause of anxiety and possibly a nasty allergic reaction.

But what if there were a small, portable device that could detect common food allergens, preventing you from eating something that could make you sick? Thanks to some researchers, that might soon be the case.

More: Don't Let Food Allergies Ruin Your Life

The American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Nano reported that a new device is under development that would cost around $40 and function as a portable allergen-detection system called “integrated exogenous allergen testing” — or iEAT. Unlike previously existing equipment for detecting allergens — which primarily consist of bulky lab equipment — the iEAT is the size of a keychain and contains allergen sensors, which transmit the food test results to a smartphone.

More: 8 Apps for People With Food Allergies & Intolerances

ACS Nano reported that within 10 minutes, the device could detect five allergens — wheat, peanuts, hazelnuts, milk and egg whites — at levels that would have been undetectable with even the highest-level lab equipment. For example, the iEAT found gluten in what would appear to be a gluten-free salad and egg protein in beer.

For now, the prototype was designed to sniff out the five previously mentioned allergens, but researchers indicated that future models could be programmed to test for other allergens as well as nonfood contaminants such as pesticides.

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