New USB-sized device could test food safety for people with allergies

Allergy Amulet is headquartered in Madison

MADISON, Wis. - Severe allergic reactions to food have skyrocketed over the last decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control one in 13 children now has a food allergy which translates into two in every classroom but researchers don’t know why.

Part of the challenge is food allergies are often self-diagnosed and symptoms can be misinterpreted. Sometimes people can’t distinguish a  food allergy from a food intolerance such as lactose intolerance.

For people with severe food allergies eating out can be stressful and potentially deadly. A small device being developed by a Madison company is a potential game changer. Abigail Barnes is co-founder and CEO of Allergy Amulet.

“I’d compare eating out to knowing there’s a bottle of cyanide somewhere in the kitchen and hoping that the chef or the person preparing your food doesn’t reach for the wrong bottle," Barnes said. "It kind of feels a little bit like Russian roulette when you’re dining out.”

Allergy Amulet is headquartered in Madison with offices in Boston. Barnes has had life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish since childhood and has been hospitalized six times.

"The idea behind the amulet was to create something that was sleek, discreet, portable and fast that you could wear out to dinner or carry in your pocket and quickly and discreetly test your food,” Barnes said. 

Working with Dartmouth University chemistry professor Dr. Joseph BelBruno, Allergy Amulet is developing a line of wearable and non-wearable USB-sized food allergen detection devices. Users insert chemical based disposable strips into their food to quickly test for the presence or absence of allergens.

“I’ve wanted a device like this to exist for as long as I can remember," Barnes said. 

The first devices will test for peanuts and dairy. The company then plans to expand to detecting other common food allergens. Abigail said “Peanuts are the No. 1 trigger for food-related anaphylaxis. The top eight food allergens include tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy, dairy, wheat and fin fish.”

Allergy Amulet started with two people and now has eight employees. Barnes said the company has had incredible support in Madison with a community of advisors and investors.

Allergy Amulet is planning a full market launch in 2019. The amulet will cost between $100 to $250 depending on the configuration with disposable test strips costing $1 to $2. 

"People with food allergies will still want to inform wait staff at a restaurant about their allergy. They will still carry epinephrine," Barnes said. "This is just another tool in the tool box to provide additional assurances that their food is safe to eat.”

Allergy Amulet will keep people informed of the launch of the device on their website

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