Device that claims to detect peanuts in food put to test

Peanut allergies can be dangerous, sometimes deadly

By Kelley Kosuda - Producer

(WDIV) -- Peanut allergies can be dangerous and sometimes even deadly.

An estimated 1.8 million children in the United States have a peanut allergy. It's the most common food allergy out there.

A device on the market claims to be able to help keep those with allergies safe. It's called the Nima Peanut Sensor. It's marketed as a way to test food "anytime, anywhere." That means it's perfect to take to catered events and restaurants. It's small enough to pack in your luggage when you travel and could be used to double-check packaged foods.

Nina Fabinski is a travel agent and mother of two. Her daughter's diet must be legume-free, egg- and dairy-free, corn-free, corn syrup-free and dye-free. When she had her son, Fabinski inherited his allergies, too. She and her son are allergic to dairy, eggs, tree nuts, walnuts, pistachios, melons, and pitted fruits.

A device that could take the stress off a dining experience or a vacation seemed pretty phenomenal to Fabinski.

HERE'S WHAT WAS TESTED:

  • Test No. 1: Nut-free brownies
  • Test No. 2: Peanuts in brownies
  • Tests No. 3 and 4: Nut-free brownies and peanuts in brownies cooked in the same pan
  • Test No. 5: Peanut butter brownies
  • Test No. 6: Cookie with nuts next to it
  • Test No. 7: Cross-contamination with a knife
  • Test No. 8: Walnuts and macadamia nuts on top of a food item
  • Test No. 9: Cashews from packaging that says, "Contains Peanut Oil"

HOW IT WORKS:

Step 1: You take a pea-size amount of food and put it inside the test capsule.

When the instructions say "pea-size," they truly mean it. We had to retest our first item after the sample we took was too large and the sensor couldn’t read it.

Step 2: The sensor comes with a gear that helps you tighten the capsule’s top.

We thought it wasn’t necessary to use, but the sensor asked us to tighten the capsule’s top every time we didn’t use it.

Step 3: The capsule is then inserted into the sensor.

The sensor will grind up and mix the food inside the capsule with a chemical.

Step 4: After three to five minutes, the sensor will either show a peanut and say “Peanuts Detected” or a smiley face, indicating it’s nut-free.

RESULTS:

Test No. 1: Nut-free brownies

Results: No peanuts detected.

Test No. 2: Peanuts in brownies

Results: Peanuts detected.

Tests No. 3 and 4: Nut-free brownies and peanuts in brownies cooked in the same pan

Results: Some people think, if you just separate the batters, or put a barrier in between them, then it should be OK. So we fashioned a foil divider and cooked the peanut-containing and peanut-free batters side by side. We noticed right away, there was leaking in between the divider, meaning cross-contamination definitely occurred. When we cut a big piece, the first test came from a spot we knew was contaminated right at the bottom. The sensor found nuts. For the next test, we took a sample from the middle, and no peanuts were detected.

Test No. 5: Peanut butter brownies

Results: Peanuts detected.

Sometimes a piece of food might look safe, but it isn't. We wanted to test something that would reflect that. The peanut butter brownies looked like they could be swirled with caramel or just a lighter color. We were happy to see the peanut butter get picked up by the Nima.

Test No. 6: Cookie with nuts next to it

Results: Peanuts detected.

It's a common situation that could happen to anyone. Fabinski baked peanut-free cookies that she would bake for her own children. She says many people think that if the cookies are just on the plate next to nuts, touching for just a second, that they're safe. The Nima did in fact test positive for peanuts.

Test No. 7: Cross-contamination with a knife

Results: Peanuts detected.

Fabinski cut the peanut butter brownies and then cut the peanut-free brownies with the same knife. We tested a pea-size sample and were pleasantly surprised when it came back positive.

Test No. 8: Walnuts and macadamia nuts on top of a food item

Results: No peanuts detected.

This was as we expected. Full disclosure: The Nima Peanut Sensor tests just for that, peanuts, but our curiosity was running on adrenaline and excitement to find out all that we could about the device. It did not pick up walnuts or macadamia nuts that were sitting on top.

Test No. 9: Cashews from packaging that says "Contains Peanut Oil"

Results: No peanuts detected.

Many experts say that you cannot be allergic to peanut oil because it’s produced at such a high temperature. The Nima did not detect the peanut oil on the cashew, which was something that bothered Fabinski, who said most parents wouldn’t let their child near that nut mix.

Pros:

The technology is phenomenal.

Fabinski was amazed by the Nima Peanut Sensor, saying the technology could be a game-changer in the world of food allergies. She was pleasantly surprised with Test No. 6 when it picked up the trace amount of peanuts that rubbed onto the cookie. She said she’s loving this technology, which could make her life and the lives of her children easier in the future, and she is hopeful about that!

Cross-contamination was detected in both instances.

There’s no question, if a peanut touches the item, the Nima WILL pick it up. Fabinski says cross-contamination is a big deal for people with deadly allergies, so she was pleasantly surprised each time the Nima passed those tests with flying colors.

The Nima is a good device for those with non-anaphylactic issues.

Fabinski believes this device could be the solution for people with allergy sensitivities. If peanuts give you a small rash or make you swell, this could be something that helps. There’s also a Nima Gluten Sensor (and more sensors are coming). Fabinski says that if you have a gluten intolerance that upsets your stomach, using the Nima will be beneficial to you.

Cons:

This is not the lifesaving device some parents might think they need.

The Nima website says this is just an added layer of protection, which is something we can all appreciate, but this needs to have bold font and asterisks, maybe even red letters. You have to check labels, call factories to see what foods are produced there, ask waiters about the food and the kitchen and always carry an EpiPen.

A pea-size amount is small. Very small.

In tests No. 3 and 4, that size of the brownie we cut was fairly small. The sections we tested were just millimeters apart from each other. The sensor didn’t pick up that the whole brownie was contaminated, just the piece that was exposed. Fabinski thinks the next sensor should be more than just a pea-size sample, but a probe that tests the whole dish. The Nima website says you can take pieces from different places, but the pea size is so small, we couldn’t really understand this.

It didn’t detect peanut oil.

While the Nima company says this is expected and most people aren’t allergic to peanut oil, Fabinski said no allergy parent would let their kids anywhere near a food that has packaging that says "may contain peanuts," "does contain peanuts," "may contain peanut oil" or "does contain peanut oil."

It's pricey.

The Nima Peanut Sensor cost about $290 for the sensor and 12 test capsules. Another pack of 12 test capsules costs around $70. If you use the sensor once or twice a week, at least, you're going to be going through quite a bit of money. Fabinski said this would be a $1,000 to $1,500 investment for her family alone. The site does have a sale going on right now, making the sensor and the capsules cheaper. If you also become a subscription service member, the price is cheaper. The capsules DO expire after a few months, so you also have to factor that into your cost. We bought ours in January, and they had an expiration date of April.

To get to know more about the Nima Sensor, visit the website.

Click here to view Dr. Frank McGeorge’s interview with a local allergy expert to hear her thoughts.

Portions of this article courtesy of WDIV.

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