It seems that food allergies and special dietary needs become more prevalent each day. Who hasn't had the good fortune to dine out with a friend in search of a gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free repast? Though some so-called allergies and dietary needs can appear to be trendy, serious conditions like celiac disease and nut allergies pose genuine health risks. This week, a new product, Nima, detects food that can hurt you - all with science.

Since my son has celiac disease, I know first-hand how dangerous dining out can be. In fact, even dining at your favorite relative's home can be risky. With celiac disease, it means that the slightest contamination of gluten (the sticky protein found in wheat and other grains) can trigger serious medical complications.

When a restaurant or your aunt Suzy says that a meal is free from gluten, they probably believe it. However, in the case of celiac disease, any contamination beyond 20 parts per million can trigger visible and obvious symptoms. In others, it triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine - serious stuff.

A New Product Solves The Issue

Just released, Nima is a handheld consumer device that performs a scientific test on a small sample of food to detect gluten. In the past, there were no convenient, quick, portable, or economical ways to test food. That's all changed.

The first release of Nima tests for gluten. When dining at a local restaurant with my family, the culinary team had always been extremely careful with food preparation for our son. There was one dish, however, that the manager often suggested we not eat because there was a remote risk of cross contamination. With Nima in-hand, we ordered the dish and put the sample into the vial. 3 minutes later, with the manager looking over our shoulders, the device displayed a smiley face. Our son was able to enjoy the dish, and the manager was thrilled that he could safely enjoy their signature dish.

A Friend To Restaurants

Adriana Lopez Vermut owns and operates a gluten free restaurant, Pica Pica in San Francisco. "My gluten free reputation is critical. I get some ingredients from Venezuela that are marked gluten free. With Nima, I can verify the safety of every ingredient to ensure a great experience for every guest," Adriana shared. With Nima, the restaurant could test and verify monthly, weekly, or even each dish. This delivers an exceptional level of confidence in the kitchen, and for guests.

Great Business Lessons

Smart businesses know that you really grow when you extend beyond a product or service and build a community. Nima links to your smartphone (iOS now, Android is coming) to register your results. Nima then provides users with a way to know how a restaurant is performing. Restaurants like Pica Pica with 100% success will attract those customers who value food safety. "Based on customer feedback, we think having the scientific validation from Nima will grow our business substantially," Added Lopez Vermut.

Nima users can include photos, comments, and detailed reviews. Within a short time, Nima users will have built a community where they can share a robust database of restaurants and how they cater to dietary needs and allergens. You can pick a restaurant based on what looks good, and also based on their scientific test results.

Nima also recognizes that end-customers have different buying interests than restaurants. The end-diner wants to know they are eating safely. Restaurants have a combination of needs: 1. The restaurant wants to have as much information as their customer. If the restaurant claims something is gluten free, they certainly don't want a Nima-carrying customer to prove them wrong. 2. If the restaurant can validate the safety of their food protocols, then customers will trust the restaurant and that can drive increased business.

Affordable with Few Limitations

Nima reliably tests for gluten in all forms except for soy sauce, beer or other fermented or hydrolyzed foods.

Customers can subscribe to regular delivery of Nima capsules at a cost of approximately $5 per test. This provides a low-cost solution to give peace of mind and comfort for your family. As a father of a teenage son with celiac disease, I take comfort is taking the guesswork out of food safety. Instead of wondering, "Are those fries really gluten free?" We can know for certain in a matter of moments.

Nima sells on their website for $279 with several test kits and everything you need to get started.

It's Your Turn

How can the Nima device change dining for you or a family member? How might this impact the restaurant industry? Join the discussion in the comments or via Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.