For people who suffer with life-threatening food allergies, eating any meal not prepared by your own hands is a real exercise in trust.
But now researchers at Harvard Medical School have developed a handheld device that people will be able to carry with them to test for allergens in less than ten minutes, and avoid a potential trip to hospital.
In the most extreme cases allergic reactions can cause anaphylactic shock - the immune system’s overreaction to a trigger - which the NHS classifies as a “medical emergency” and can become serious very quickly if not treated.
But because conventional methods of testing for allergens require bulky laboratory equipment, don’t pick up on low concentrations, and are generally very slow, until now there was no way of addressing this day-to-day problem without using yourself as human guinea pig.
Now the Harvard team have developed the portable iEAT (integrated exogenous antigen testing) detector in a keychain format, meaning that you can easily test for food allergens when out and about.
All people have to do is put a small sample of food on the ‘antigen extraction device’ (a single-use slide) and then plug it into the iEAT itself, which will do the necessary chemical deconstruction.
It then wirelessly communicates the results to your smartphone.
The current prototype can detect five allergens, wheat, peanuts, hazelnuts, milk and egg whites, at levels even lower than the gold standard laboratory assay.
And laboratory testing threw up some interesting examples of cross-contamination - gluten in a salad and egg protein in beer (gross).
The team say that they would be able to expand this to include other allergens if required and that the current prototype could be made available to the public for a price of $40 (£30.40).