Do you have food allergies or celiac?
I have food sensitivities to gluten, dairy, egg, and soy and it wasn’t until college that I received a diagnosis. The tests showed that all of the intense pain I had been experiencing was being triggered by food. There are a lot of people in my situation. Our test results don’t show an IgE response, but we suffer from varying physical symptoms.
How was the idea for NIMA born?
I was at a wedding, and I asked the waitstaff if one of the appetizers had gluten in it. The waitress replied with, “Well, how allergic are you?” which was my red flag to walk away since she clearly didn’t understand gluten-free. I thought, what if I just had that one extra data point to help me make a decision?
How did it go from wanting an extra data point to bringing a product to market?
Two of my first team members were at MIT with me getting degrees in Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. They looked to see if we could use technology to extract information from our food and we came up with a potential sensor device.
What did it take to make it happen?
I wanted a food sensor to exist in the world so badly that I turned down a job offer which required that my co-founder and I, along with my new husband, move in with my parents so we could afford to start the company.
How does the sensor work?
The starter kit includes the sensor device and 12 capsules. Every capsule contains the power of an entire chemistry lab. You place a pea-sized sample of the food, it can be solid or liquid, into the capsule. You insert the capsule into the device, it takes a few minutes, and then you will see either a smiley face if it is allergen free or an icon if the allergen is detected.
If I test a portion of the meal, can I assume the whole plate is safe?
The sensor is meant to be an extra data point and to test something you were going to eat anyway. If the sensor detects the allergen, you will know not to eat it. The one data point alone is more than you would have had before.
Today is a big day for Nima, tell us why?
While we are known for our gluten sensor, today we are launching our peanut device! Our next focus will be on dairy and tree nut sensors. Watch Shireen’s video to see how the peanut sensor works.
What are the differences between a gluten sensing device and an allergen sensing device?
The NIMA Gluten Sensor tests the food sample for 20 parts per million of gluten, which is the FDA standard for gluten-free. For the peanut sensing device, the Nima is optimized to detect 10 parts per million of peanut protein, which is the lowest adverse effect level observed by clinical research studies.
Tell us about the NIMA app?
With our app, there is a shared data component that allows for a community feel and camaraderie. It shows who has tested food from different restaurants in your area, as well as food products – you don’t just get access to your tests, you get access to the 10,000 other tests that are going on from people all over the country.
You have traveled extensively throughout your career – any advice?
Advocate for yourself. That could mean communicating restrictions and also feeling free to ask for things off menu. Sides are my best friend— I find them safer, less prone to cross-contamination, and often on their own plate. I also always come prepared with bars.
We want to know more about your wedding. Was it all gluten-free?
Our wedding was at my cousin’s home in Sonoma. We had it catered by a company we knew well who owns a restaurant we frequent and have NIMA tested on a regular basis. We hired a dedicated gluten-free bakery to make our cake.
Top Tested Restaurant in the NIMA app?
Your Hometown favorite?
Maykadeh (in San Francisco)
Favorite restaurant in your travels?
Any taqueria in Mexico, especially if it’s oceanside!
Salty or sweet?
Definitely salty. I didn’t even eat my own wedding cake!