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Bay Area Firm Offers Portable Device To Instantly Measure Gluten In Foods

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A Bay Area company has unveiled a portable device that can quickly detect gluten in food, which could help make life easier - and safer - for those who have gluten sensitivity.

About one in 100 Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which ingesting gluten will damange their small intestine. Doctors believe another six to seven percent have some kind of wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity.

San Francisco-based Nima Labs says its device will measure whether foods meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration standard for 'gluten-free."

Users place a small sample of the food inside a capsule and insert into the Nima, and in two minutes it determines whether the sample has 20 parts per million or more of gluten.

The happy face display means the sample meets the FDA standard … the sad face means the food is not safe to eat.

Gluten is commonly found in wheat and other grains ranging from bread and pasta, as well as in items such as salad dressing and beer.

Nima Labs' co-founders Shireen Yates and Scott Sundvor came up the idea for the sensor after meeting at MIT and discovering they both had gluten intolerance. "I feel like I'm taking back mealtime," said Yates. "And for others, I think it'll provide that extra layer of security and confidence."

Consumers can post the results of their gluten-measurements through the Nima app to share the information. "So you imagine this whole database that doesn't exist today of people being able to share food information," said Yates.

Physician and dietician Dr. Amy Burkhart welcomes the new tool. "I think it could help them decrease the anxiety associated with eating out." However, she cautions not to use it as a replacement for inquiring about gluten cross-contamination in food preparation. "I also have a little concern that people will use it as a safety net and they'll stop doing all the things they're supposed to be doing, asking all the right questions, talking to the manager or the chef," said Burkhart.

The company is also planning to roll out similar devices that could test for peanut and dairy allergens.

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