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New Tech Gadget Detects Milk and Meat in Food

The "Ally" is being developed by a vegetarian engineering student to check for the presence of animal products in foods while traveling.

Brunel University London Product Design Engineering student Imogen Adams is currently developing “Ally,” a handheld gadget and accompanying app that will be able to test for the presence of allergens in foods served at restaurants. To use the Ally, diners first dip a test strip in a food sample mixed with water and then insert it into an opening in the device. The Ally then determines whether the food sample contains traces of lactose (an enzyme found in milk) within 60 seconds, and reports its findings via a corresponding app—or can perform a simple positive/negative test and produce a vibration, should the user not want to use their phone during a meal. Results can be documented in an online community to help users review restaurants with the best cross-contamination practices. The Ally currently only tests for lactose, but Adams plans to add a ”vegetarian check” function that would detect the presence of meat. “As a vegetarian travelling abroad last summer, I wanted a way of making sure the food I was eating was truly vegetarian," Adams said. "During research into a food analysis device, I decided to focus on allergies first, as they can be life threatening.” Adams debuted the device—in its prototype phase—at the innovation competition AXA PP Health Tech & You and was named runner-up. Once on the market, the Ally will retail for approximately $38.

Photo courtesy of Brunel University London

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