People with acute food allergies live in a world where any dish can be tainted with poison – but not everyone can afford a slave food taster with the same allergy profile. Resorting to using technology, researchers at UCLA developed a small device that works along with a smartphone to detect common food allergens. It weighs less than 2 ounces (60 grams) and can detect chemical traces of peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten and hazelnuts.
To use it in a restaurant will require a bit of laboratory field work to grind the ingredients and mix them with hot water and a solvent. The device not only provides positive/negative results, but even displays allergen concentrations in parts per million (ppm).
Weighing less than two ounces, the attachment analyzes a test tube–based allergen-concentration test known as a colorimetric assay.
To test for allergens, food samples are initially ground up and mixed in a test tube with hot water and an extraction solvent; this mixture is allowed to set for several minutes. Then, following a step-by-step procedure, the prepared sample is mixed with a series of other reactive testing liquids. The entire preparation takes roughly 20 minutes. When the sample is ready, it is measured optically for allergen concentration through the iTube platform, using the cell phone’s camera and a smart application running on the phone.
The kit digitally converts raw images from the cell-phone camera into concentration measurements detected in the food samples. And beyond just a “yes” or “no” answer as to whether allergens are present, the test can also quantify how much of an allergen is in a sample, in parts per million.
Abstract in Lab on a Chip: A personalized food allergen testing platform on a cellphone
(hat tip: Gizmag)