Imagine going into a chain restaurant, ordering your favorite meal, then scanning it with a small device, just to make sure it doesn't harbor some nasty bug that could make you sick.
Soon you'll be able to do it. A company called 6sensor Labs says it is developing consumer products to help consumers know what is in their food. The first product is called the Nima, a device the company describes as a portable and accurate food allergen sensor.
“We believe meal time should be about the enjoyment of your food and your company, and not the worry about the potential repercussions of eating something unknown,” the company says on its website. “We exist for you to eat with confidence and stay healthy!”
The first version of the Nima will only identify allergens – in particular, gluten. While only a small number of consumers have to avoid gluten for medical reasons, a gluten-free diet has become trendy in recent years, leading to a host of gluten-free foods.
Sniffs out the tiniest traces of gluten
But it can be very difficult to get every trace of gluten out of food, which is where the Nima, no bigger than your smartphone, does its work.
In the future, 6sensor Labs says the Nima, and other devices still on the drawing board, may detect harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and E. coli.
Last month, Time listed Nima as one of its “25 Best Inventions of 2015.” Time noted that after a sample is dropped into the well of the device, a proprietary antibody, loaded in a disposable cartridge, mines it for traces of gluten. If they exist, a frowning face lights up; if not, a smile appears.
“My hope is that people are going to be able to eat socially without accidentally getting sick,” Shireen Yates, a 6SensorLabs co-founder who is gluten-sensitive, told Time.
The firm also hopes to apply its technology to detect other food allergens, including peanuts and dairy.
The Nima is taking pre-orders for delivery early in 2016. It sells for between $200 and $250.