Now, device that can help you test your food for allergies 'on the spot'
A team of researchers has developed a lightweight device, which attaches to a common cell phone to detect allergens in food samples.
The attachment, called iTube, uses the cell phone's built-in camera, along with an accompanying smart-phone application that runs a test with the same high level of sensitivity a laboratory would.
Allergic reactions can be severe and even life-threatening. And while consumer-protection laws regulate the labelling of ingredients in pre-packaged foods, cross-contaminations can still occur during processing, manufacturing and transportation.
Although several products that detect allergens in foods are currently available, they are complex and require bulky equipment, making them ill-suited for use in public settings, according to the UCLA researchers.
The iTube was developed to address these issues, said Aydogan Ozcan, leader of the research team and a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering. Weighing less than two ounces, the attachment analyzes a test tube and #65533;based allergen-concentration test known as a colorimetric assay.
To test for allergens, food samples are initially ground up and mixed in a test tube with hot water and an extraction solvent; this mixture is allowed to set for several minutes.
Then, following a step-by-step procedure, the prepared sample is mixed with a series of other reactive testing liquids. The entire preparation takes roughly 20 minutes.
When the sample is ready, it is measured optically for allergen concentration through the iTube platform, using the cell phone's camera and a smart application running on the phone.
The kit digitally converts raw images from the cell-phone camera into concentration measurements detected in the food samples. And beyond just a "yes" or "no" answer as to whether allergens are present, the test can also quantify how much of an allergen is in a sample, in parts per million.
The iTube platform can test for a variety of allergens, including peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten and hazelnuts, Ozcan said.
The UCLA team successfully tested the iTube using commercially available cookies, analyzing the samples to determine if they had any harmful amount of peanuts, a potential allergen.
"We envision that this cell phone and #65533;based allergen testing platform could be very valuable, especially for parents, as well as for schools, restaurants and other public settings," Ozcan said.
"Once successfully deployed in these settings, the big amount of data - as a function of both location and time - that this platform will continuously generate would indeed be priceless for consumers, food manufacturers, policymakers and researchers, among others," Ozcan added.
The study has been published online in the journal Lab on a Chip.