At SXSW Interactive 2016, I was lucky enough to catch up with two of the team members of 6SensorLabs, based in San Francisco: Scott Sundvor, co-founder and fellow autoimmune patient with IBD, and Heather Sliwinski, PR lead.
6SensorLabs’ product, Nima, won Time Magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2015” last year and this product looks to be a huge advance for those of us who like to eat out even though we live with gluten sensitivity or celiac.
What is Nima?
Nima is a portable, plastic device that tests your prepared food for gluten with a sensitivity of 20 parts per million (the FDA’s threshold for identifying food as “gluten free”) at the time of release, currently projected at the end of Summer 2016. The product is still in beta testing right now, but you can pre-order the product for a discount on their website.
The way that it works is that you take a little capsule, put a small amount of food from your plate (if you’ve got three items on your plate, take a little of each), put it into the capsule, and wait for the smiley face or frowny face to indicate that your food is safe or not.
The simplicity of the device makes it awesome for kids and for those who want to be ultra-careful. The device won’t tell you which of the three foods is contaminated with gluten, for example, but Scott notes that most people don’t want the plate of food at all if they know there is gluten somewhere on it.
Out of the 40 beta testers, around 8 are kids, with the youngest at age 6. They have raved about it and love the smiley face as their indicator of safe food. Heather said that one of the kid testers said, “I want to keep it [Nima]. It makes me feel safer!”
Why did you create Nima?
Scott said that research showed that people with a gluten sensitivity who go out to eat will get sick 1 out of 3 times. In testing food in the lab with early versions of Nima, they found that 22% of food had gluten, when it was labeled gluten free.
Restaurants are the biggest offenders since they often do not have the proper training on how to ensure no cross-contamination. This highlights the difficulty of trying to offer gluten free in a restaurant – for example, a stone pot that has cooked gluten and non-gluten food could have cracks that will trap the gluten even when the pot goes through the dishwasher.
Scott says that packaged food is a lot safe – less than 5% of products that were labeled gluten free actually contained gluten. So you’re much safer eating products labeled gluten free at home.
How does the technology work?
The technology is chemistry-based. There is a mini-lab test that is in the capsule with all of the chemistry in it that’s needed to test the food. The 6SensorLabs’ team came up with a liquid that extracts gluten into a solution so that it’s more easily recognized.
The food is mixed up and the sensors look for the gluten on a parts per million basis. Scott said that the device conducts the same test that a lab might do in 5-10 steps.
What are the company’s plans for future products?
Scott said that the plans are to create other capsules to test for dairy, peanuts and other proteins in the future that would all work in the same device. These are being developed in parallel to the gluten capsule and the company has plans to release them in the middle to end of 2017.
As someone who frequently gets sick when I go out to eat – even at a restaurant where I previously haven’t had a problem – I applaud 6SensorLabs’ dedication to protecting our health from gluten and other inflammatory foods! Kudos and tremendous thanks!
About the Author
Katie Cleary is founder of AutoimmuneMom.com. She lives with her autoimmune conditions and her family in Austin, Texas.