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Nima's new sensor searches for peanuts in your food, but keep your EpiPen handy

If you're allergic, you can't rely solely on this for your dietary needs.

The Nima Peanut Sensor begins to ship Thursday.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

For such a small device, the Nima Peanut Sensor makes a big claim. The Bluetooth-enabled sensor is supposed to detect traces of peanut protein in your food so that if you're allergic to peanuts, you'll know to stay away. But Nima, the company behind the peanut sensor and a similar gluten sensor, says the device is not supposed to be the final arbiter of what you can and can't eat when you have food allergies. 

"Nima is not designed to replace your EpiPen," said Shireen Yates, the CEO and co-founder of Nima, in a press release. "As a person with allergies, it's still important to do your due diligence and keep your EpiPen on hand for emergencies. Nima is designed to provide one additional data point about your food to help users make a more informed decision before they take the first bite."  

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The Nima Peanut Sensor, which Nima first announced earlier this year at the CES tech show, will begin today to ship to new customers and people who preordered the product, the company announced Thursday. The sensor costs $300. A starter kit with the sensor and 12 test capsules costs $290. Twelve-pack capsules cost $72 each. 

Here's how the Nima Peanut Sensor works: You put a pea-size piece of food into a single-use test capsule, screw on the cap (which grinds the food inside), put the capsule in the detector, and press the power button to start the test. Chemicals in the capsule mix with the food and break apart the bonds between any peanut protein present and other food molecules. 

You insert food into this capsule. The capsule goes into the Nima sensor.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

A test strip on the capsule will react if there is peanut protein in the food sample. The sensor will then detect the results and display them as either a "Peanut Found" message or a smiley face for no peanuts found.

According to Nima, the sensor can detect 10 parts per million of peanut in samples. However, the company says you shouldn't test the following foods because of a risk of an inaccurate reading: sesame seed, cayenne, paprika, tamarind, tomato paste or sauce, eggplant, solid chocolate and alcohol.

The peanut sensor is Nima's second foray into allergen detectors. The company's gluten sensor first became available for preorder in 2015. The two devices are nearly identical: They're black, triangular and fit in the palm of your hand. You use the capsules for your food samples. And both products use Bluetooth to connect to the Nima app (available for iOS and Android), where you can keep track of your tests and share results with other Nima users.

When I first tried the gluten sensor in 2017, there were concerns amongst the gluten-free and food science communities that the device was robust enough to the complexities of food allergen testing. Nima has since expanded the information available about the efficacy of its testing on its website

The sensors have also been the subject of independent lab testing, one of which showed the sensitivity of the peanut sensor was 100 percent and the accuracy was 99.2 percent (Nima's own testing showed 99 percent and 97.6 percent accuracy, respectively). Another study from Nima about the gluten sensor was published online this month in the peer-reviewed journal Food Chemistry, and concluded that the device had "high sensitivity and specificity and rapid result reporting." 

But allergy sufferers should still keep their EpiPen handy and not rely solely on Nima's sensors for their dietary needs.

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