Wisconsin startup makes a allergen detecting necklace that could save your life

By April 5, 2018

For those with allergies, a meal out in a restaurant becomes an anxiety-inducing experience with the very real possibility of turning into an emergency trip to the doctors.

Wisconsin-based startup Allergy Amulet has provided an answer to this, with a super compact allergen detector that can be used anywhere.

Founder Abigail Barnes was allergic to a huge number of things as a child and, even now, eating traces of peanuts, tree nuts or shellfish could send her into anaphylactic shock. Yale Entrepreneur magazine affirms that she has been hospitalised due to allergic reactions six times and almost every time she was eating outside her own home.

“My experiences have taught me that I can’t rely on waitstaff, and sometimes it’s hard to trust even close friends and family,” she confessed to the magazine.  

She decided to create a solution to the problem that affects thousands of people across the world and contacted a Dartmouth chemistry professor, Dr. Joseph BelBruno, who works with sensor technology. BelBruno also has allergies and helped Barnes apply his cutting-edge technology to the Allergy Amulet, which is capable of picking up one part in a million of the allergen.

The device consists of a disposable test strip, which the user places into various points of the dish and within seconds the reader alerts the user to the presence of unwanted allergens.

Although not yet available, the company is planning to release presales in 2018 with the first products being shipped in early 2019. They will offer tests for the eight most common allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, eggs, milk, and soy), plus gluten. The reader will cost between $100 and $250 dollars depending on the configuration, and each test strip will cost between $1 to $3.

Because the majority of allergic reactions take place outside of the home, the company has mixed functionality with fashion. The amulet is available in a variety of different wearable forms, such as a necklace, a watch, a keyring or even integrated into a phone case.

However, seeing as the device can only test a representative sample of the food, it cannot completely rule out the presence of an allergen. US online magazine Slate spoke to Barnes, who warned users against relying too heavily on the technology.

“Our device is inherently a supplement and not a substitute for  the standard precautionary measures an allergy sufferer would otherwise take when dining out or eating foods prepared by others,” she said.

Allergies are becoming more prevalent across the world. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that food allergies among children have increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America stated that US citizens visit the emergency room around 200,000 times a year due to food allergies, and allergies cost the health sector around $25 billion a year.

It’s clear that there is definitely a market for a fast, safe way to test food. No matter how well-meaning waitstaff or friends and family are, mistakes are made and accidental cross-contamination is always a possibility.

Due to the prevalence of the issue, Allergy Amulet isn’t the only company providing a way to help allergy sufferers.

The EpiPen is the classic portable solution which delivers adrenaline which helps the body fight back against severe allergic reactions, but the sufferer still has to go to the hospital or emergency room afterwards.

Another startup called DOTS Devices is also developing an allergen-detecting wearable device that will use patent-pending technology but, until now, the company has been keeping its cards very close to the vest in regards to the specifics of its product.

The Allergy Amulet is designed for those who find eating food that they haven’t prepared a stressful and potentially dangerous situation and hopes to avoid both allergic reactions and avoidance of food, on the off-chance of it containing an allergen.

Barnes writes on the website about her experience as a child and how she hopes that others don’t have the same experience.

“This device is for the little girl that was assured the cupcake was safe, but she left it sitting on her plate,” she wrote. “Because hunnie, you deserve to eat cake.”