Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Rapid Goober Detector

Small electronic food "sniffer" that detects peanut proteins (and maybe other bad things)
  (+41, -6)(+41, -6)(+41, -6)
(+41, -6)
  [vote for,

I suffer from a food allergy to peanuts, and peanut byproducts, which can be, basically, lethal to me--even in very minute quantities.

While there are peanut protein detection kits on the market, they're intended for lab use and require lab equipment (centrifuge and other goodies) to do an analysis. Further, the analysis takes about 30 minutes to complete.

Therefore, I'd like to see the creation of an electronic device, a pocketsize sniffer, that can be discreetly used in a restaurant and can rapidly detect the presence of peanut proteins--or even that there is a likelihood of peanut proteins--in food. I'd prefer it to be pessimistically optimized because, while the occasional false positive would not bother me, a false negative would be irritating.

Maybe there could be snap-in modules, each allowing for detection of different allergens.

bristolz, Jan 08 2002

Caffeinometer http://www.halfbake...inometer#1006135638
Conceptually similar, just measures a different active ingredient. [beauxeault, Jan 08 2002]

Peanut Protein Detection Kit http://www.elisa-tek.com/
Pretty complicated. [bristolz, Jan 08 2002, last modified Nov 06 2005]

(?) Goobers in the American South http://www.fortunec...uam/41/peanuts.html
In the South, goobers are specifically boiled peanuts, not just any old peanut. If you just detected goobers in the South, you'd miss non-boiled peanuts. [LeBain, Jan 09 2002, last modified Jan 15 2002]

(??) Allergan info http://www.fao.org/...C/ESN/gm/bi05al.pdf
[reensure, Jan 14 2002]

The Anaphylactic Reactions Source http://anaphylacticreactions.com/
More than you'd ever want to know. [LeBain, Jan 15 2002]


       psst bris... you seen how much grant money they hand out on this kind of stuff? have a peanut-free croissant.
thumbwax, Jan 08 2002

       <naive>From my very limited chemical experience this sounds possible. It shouldn't be that different from the chemical sniffers they use to look for explosives at airports.</naive>
st3f, Jan 08 2002

       Likewise relieved... I thought this was going to be some sort of early warning system to detect incoming spit of the particulary euchy 'gobber' variety.   

       Don't know much about how such a thing would work. Some sort of miniature spectrometer?
Guy Fox, Jan 08 2002

       Why don't you hire someone to train a peanut-sniffing dog?
Aristotle, Jan 08 2002

       UB, the slang equivalence you mention is intriguing. I know Australian slang derives heavily on playing with phonemes (as opposed to whole-word substitution, which is more common in the U.S.), but I wonder if you think the goober/booger pair is simply coincidence, or does it come from an intentional swapping of the "b" and "g"?   

       And do 16 Ozzies make a lb.?
beauxeault, Jan 08 2002

       One of the NLHBTaglines says 'May contain nuts'. I trust you're careful about it.
angel, Jan 08 2002

       an electronic sniffer is a bit of a technical overkill

why not find some protein that is unique to the peanut (probably the protein that is the allergen), and develop a "litmus paper" strip that makes a difinitive color change in the presence of that protein

far cheaper than a sniffer, just carry around a small envelope of these test strips (1/8" wide, 2" long), and stick it into any questionable food

given the prevalence of peanut allergy, there should be a strong market for this

big croissant
quarterbaker, Jan 08 2002

       Do scientists know which particular chemical in peanuts causes the reaction? Is it a complex protein or an oil/fat or something else? I tried searching, but couldn't find any references.
pottedstu, Jan 08 2002

       First, the peanut sniffing dog is a great idea. I wish I thought of it. For restaurant use, maybe a trained mouse (heh).   

       I don't know what precise chemical causes the reaction but most literature refers to the detection of "peanut proteins." I do think that a simple litmus style test probably isn't (yet) possible given the complexity of even the simplest detection kits on the market (link). I would prefer a simple reaction test over a sniffer because of cost, but think that the equivalent of a small handheld laboratory is what is needed. Handheld anthrax detectors have been likened to a portable lab, so I think that it may be within the realm of possibility. I know I would pay several thousand dollars for such a thing if I could depend on it.   

       On the other hand, I've got to wonder that, if this idea were truly viable it would have been done already. If for no other reason than restaurant/airline/cafeteria liability.   

       Finally, as the years go by, I need this contraption more and more. One nasty aspect of this whole thing is that, unfortunately, with each successive exposure to peanuts beyond the reaction threshold, the resulting reaction is worse than the time before. This escalation in severity (hyper-sensitization) is especially frightening.
bristolz, Jan 08 2002

       In general I think handheld NMRS (nuclear magnetic resonance spextrometry) machines would be handy for lots of things, including this. (I've probably nattered on about this before.) The technology isn't cheap enough that everyone could buy one, but if everyone bought one it would probably drivethe price down to the point where everyone could buy one ... er ...
wiml, Jan 09 2002

       Nova Scotia's Education department takes this condition very seriously. It's illegal to use any peanut products in children's school lunches. A parent was actually fined for sending a peanut butter sandwich in her kid's lunch bag one time.   

       They went overboard with these regulations, however. Later, another kid was suspended for using scented deodorant.   

       Sorry to hear about this, bris. Aside from all of the other more serious issues, you have to miss out on a tasty nut. Can you eat other nuts without ill effects?
waugsqueke, Jan 09 2002

       I can eat other nuts but must take care as many of the mixed nut preparations are laced with peanut oil (from the roasting, I think) even when they are labeled as not having peanuts in the mix.   

       I have a pretty good radar but have, at times, felt like I was dancing in a mine field--especially in foreign lands. Also, there are people who just don't believe that a peanut (or some peanut dust, or oil) can possibly matter and that I am just a whiner. They usually change their minds as they're dialing 911.
bristolz, Jan 09 2002

       Some pedant will probably point out that peanuts are not nuts.
beauxeault, Jan 09 2002

       Oh dear. Who would do such a petty thing?
bristolz, Jan 09 2002

       Well, not me, that's for sure.
beauxeault, Jan 09 2002

       I think the litmus test idea is good, but may be hard to use on dry foods shuch as a candy bar.
mephisto, Jan 09 2002

       As I understand it most of the "litmus paper"-style tests depend on someone having discovered a molecule that is stable, not too hard to produce, reacts with the substance being tested for and not others, and has some testable result of the reaction (change in color, conductivity, whatever). If a molecule like that is known, then you can make reasonably cheap&simple tester kits. I don't know if such molecules can be designed to fit an arbitrary need.
wiml, Jan 13 2002

       While touring a small Swiss town on holiday, one of my uncles unknowingly ate a dish that contained peanuts, had an anaphylactic reaction, and died. He could have used something like this. Alas, I have no venture capital for you, so you'll have to settle for a croissant.
Guncrazy, Jan 13 2002

       Steve DeGroof]: I heard that wine-taster thing mentioned on NPR the other day. They were calling it an electronic tongue.   

       Guncrazy]: Thank You. Maybe we can get a croissant-to-capital exchange program going. Trade in 30,000 croissants for a VC stake.
bristolz, Jan 14 2002

       I've used a few sorts of chemical detectors, and one very common approach for low-cost testing involves dissolving the analyte in water and adding a reagent--or more usually one and then after a timed period an indicator reagent--and then observing a color change in the solution. Next step up: semipermeable membrane probes. Not cheap, these probes, but not as expensive as a spectrophotometer, either.
Dog Ed, Jan 14 2002

       Big push is on now to develop simple, cheap, portable means of detecting hazardous materials, as a result of the September 11 attacks. Could be that the time is right to approach one of the companies involved about a peanut-protein badge. There are a variety of approaches being tried. Just read about another one in the latest Popual Science, and there were articles in recent past month's PS and Discover magazines.
entremanure, Jan 14 2002

       //Maybe there could be snap-in modules, each allowing for detection of different allergens.//   

       Bristolz is sensitive to peanuts. Someone else is sensitive to something else. In each case, the allergen is recognized by something in the body of the person. Would that something be persent in the blood, WBC or serum?   

       Whatever it is, it could be extracted and used as part of the kit. The booger binding part binds to the offending proteins forming a complex which is made visible by binding it with a (flourescent?) dye.   

       Since the person himself supplies the active (allergen recognizing reagent) stuff this sort of a kit should have a wide application in the field of detecting for food allergies.
neelandan, Jan 14 2002

       I know that the standard allergy test (where they make a bunch of scratches on your back and put a small amount of a different allergen in each scratch) is notoriously unreliable for food allergies, so I'm not sure that the blood thing would work...

(For those that have never experienced this sort of allergy test, it is a worse kind of hell than most anything else I've ever experienced. You have something like 24 scratches on your back which was uncomfortable enough to begin with. Then they make half of those scratches itch like crazy, and you're not allowed to scratch them because you might cross-contaminate allergens between scratches! Aaaaagggggghhhhh!!!)
mwburden, Jan 14 2002

       From a practising chemists perspective, what has been suggested is, in principle, no different from home pregnency testing kits, it just requires the correct binding sites on the testing strip. Shouldn't be too hard to do, the hardest part is probably getting the peanut in a form where it is suitable for testing. If you dunk your tester on one side of your plate, can you be sure that there isn't a whole peanut lurking in the centre of the plate? Afterall you've only tested the material on the strip. Although if you smear Chicken Tikka Massala all over the test area, you might struggle to see if there is a colour change!
chronic irony, Jan 14 2002

       True [chronic], that's why a sniffer came to mind.
bristolz, Jan 14 2002

       I'm still purely fascinated with the blood sugar tests for glucose. There is a WHO resource that lists the 40 known protein allergans (pdf. tsk) that I've linked to, and I join in the endorsement of this general idea of an easy means of detection. I work with one nut allergic gentleman, and the son of another fellow employee has spent about two out of his eight years undergoing medical treatment for complications from a milk allergy (Folks with the anti-nut gene think they've got it tough, and they do, but IMO the milk allergy is even tougher to control).
reensure, Jan 14 2002

       Underappreciated allergies of the deadly sort definitely need more awareness from those who work in the food services industry. There are many ingredients which can cause mild to deadly anaphylactic reactions (including dairy, iodine, MSG, etc.) Wait staff should be fully trained on the inportance of ensuring diners are aware of some of the more potentially dangerous ingredients in the food they serve.
LeBain, Jan 15 2002

       I've been visiting here for a while but I had to get an account and comment on this. I have a potentially lethal peanut allergy as well, and I'm at college. I was within minutes of dying during a reaction I had over the summer in Japan (tofu had peanuts in it...). Now, rather than take a (slight as it may be) risk and eat at normal restaurants or my cafeteria, I was given money by the university to eat at the food court everyday. It's probably not the best way to eat. I get Wendy's every day but I've still lost a lot of weight. I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that I'm really for this idea.   

       [LeBain], genetics is a factor in peanut allergy but it usually develops due to exposure as an infant.
Qinopio, Jan 15 2002

       isnt there any kind of medication like for hayfever
chud, Jan 16 2002

       A lot of people are actually allergic not to peanut proteins but to the aflatoxin mold that grows on peanuts and that essentially every sample of peanuts and peanut butter is contaminated with. (There is a legal limit in the US of 20 ppb but even that can be enough to provoke a reaction.) This doesn't make it any less important for them to avoid peanuts.   

       But supposedly there is research underway to develop an aflatoxin-resistant strain of peanuts, which would presumably reduce the problem over the very long term. My source on this last item is the American Peanut Council (!) site, so don't know how realistic the plan is.
magrak, Jun 05 2002

       I have a friend who is gluten sensitive, and I remembered running into this idea, and found your link to the elisa-tek outfit. I spoke with the Florida branch of ELISA technologies, and they do have a 5-minute home test for gluten, but the peanut version is still a laboratory process.   

       They did indicate that the UK home office does have a quick test for peanut protein, but it is not yet marketed for home use.
csea, Mar 10 2005

       Thank you for the update, [csea]!
bristolz, Mar 10 2005

       Peanut sniffing dogs aren't a half-baked idea! They exist! I'm one of the trainers at Southern Star Ranch in Florence, TX and we have 'em out with kids right now... Cool job, let me tell you! PEANUTDOGS.COM is the website!!!!
Works4Peanuts, Apr 26 2008

       I'm intrigued by the peanut-sniffing dogs, as the website says that they can accompany sufferers to restaurants. But how many restaurants will allow a peanut- hound in, as compared to (say) a blind person's guide-dog?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 26 2008

       ALL restaurants - and ALL public places - MUST allow peanut dogs into the facility as the service dogs, from seeing eye to dogs for the deaf to peanut dogs, are covered under the American Disability Act. They can not be turned away, period.   

       Usually, the people who use the dogs DO carry a little business card which explains the law and, if they get resistance, they show the person the card and, viola, they are in!
Works4Peanuts, May 01 2008

       Another nutty idea from Bristolz. ++
not_only_but_also, May 04 2008

       There appear to be several aflatoxin field kits and strips which can detect aflatoxins in 3-5 minutes. Aflatoxin is often synonymous with peanuts and bad news anyway if another nut or food source is at fault.
4and20, Sep 10 2012


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