DETROIT – Peanut allergies are one of the most common and dangerous food allergies.
For people with these allergies, eating even a trace of peanut from simple cross contamination can result in a life-threatening reaction.
Now, there’s a new portable device available to consumers that allows people to test samples of their food for even trace amounts of peanut. It’s called the Nima peanut sensor.
Users place a tiny sample of food in a testing capsule and put that into the Nima device. Minutes later, the device shows whether peanut has been detected.
Dr. Haejin Kim, an allergist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, said she has had a severe lifelong peanut allergy.
Kim thinks the Nima might have a use.
"It gives you an additional level of security if you are trying a new restaurant for the first time or a food you’ve never tried before," Kim said.
On the other hand, she also recognizes important limitations.
"You still need to carry an EpiPen," Kim said.
Kim said because the test capsules are disposable and can only be used once, testing food can become expensive. Each capsule costs $5 to $6 and, depending on the size and consistency of the meal, it might take multiple tests.
Her biggest reservation is that the testing technology isn’t perfect.
"There’s definitely some false positives and false negatives," Kim.
The company’s data shows that roughly one in 100 times the sensor will mistakenly say a food is safe when it does have some peanut.
It might also incorrectly show a "peanut found" message when foods with sesame, tamarind, tomato paste or sauce, eggplant, cayenne or paprika are tested.
The company website says it has an accuracy of between 97.6 percent and 99.2 percent.
"I wouldn’t depend on that entirely as a safety measure if you’re going to eat something you don’t know enough about," Kim said.