The Life-Saving Pocket-Sized Food Allergen Detector

Fagjun | Published 2017-09-10 14:41

The iEAT allergen detection system

 

 

Allergens in food are no joke. Eating something you're allergic to can cause reactions that range from irritating to life-threatening. In light of this, scientists have come up with a food allergen detector the size of a key chain that can fit right in your pocket.

 

Though allergies can be dangerous, people can manage them by simply avoiding foods that trigger allergic reactions. The unfortunate fact about having food allergies, however, is that you can't always be sure that what you're eating hasn't been contaminated by your allergens. You can take every possible measure to avoid accidental exposures to allergens, but sometimes, the presence of allergens isn't easily detectable.

 

However, it is possible to detect unseen allergens in food. The only problem is that these detection systems are either unable to detect low concentrations of allergens or are too bulky and meant for laboratory use. Thus, there's a need for a detection system that's quick, efficient, and easily accessible.

 

 

A Small but Powerful Food Allergen Detector

 

A diagram of how iEAT works [Image courtesy of ACS Nano]

 

 

It cost only $40 to build the [integrated exogenous antigen testing](http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsnano.7b04318) system, or iEAT. iEAT is a system that consists of a portable handheld device that takes allergens in food, and a keychain-sized electronic reader that senses what these allergens are. The reader can detect the presence of common allergens such as peanuts, egg whites, wheat, hazelnuts, and milk. Even better, the reader can detect these allergens in under 10 minutes, and can also detect them in concentrations lower than even the best laboratory equipment can detect.

 

After detecting allergens in food, the reader will then send the information to a smartphone app, on which you can view which allergens are present.

 

This food allergen detector captures food antigens in magnetic beads coated with the antigens' antibodies. An electrochemical reaction in the system allows the detection of the allergens in the food sample. The system is so sensitive that it can still detect the presence of gluten in foods claimed to be gluten-free.

 

This, of course, is just the beginning for iEAT. Researchers say that they can expand the repertoire of the food allergen detector system to include other allergens, as well as contaminants such as pesticides. With some more improvement, we can have an even more efficient food allergen detector in the future.

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