Testing for Gluten, Round 2
Nima holds ourselves to high standards across the board but especially for product quality. We are testing for gluten every week because we know people need Nima to be thoroughly vetted. We base our lines of inquiry on what people tell us are their largest areas of concern when eating outside the home or ordering in food. Mostly, people tell us they are focused on the food itself and the restaurant’s environment, such as the server’s knowledge or food preparation areas. Based on lots of interviews, surveys, food diaries, and secondary research, we put together lists of the foods people most want to test. Our current research focuses on gluten – although we’ve been doing testing on other allergens in smaller ways.
For this second round of test results we’re sharing, we compared what our product results will look like to the industry standard for gluten testing. Nima gives a binary response: either the item contains gluten at a certain level of detection (at least 20 ppm or better if we can!) or it does not. As mentioned in our first post, a scientific technique called Sandwich ELISA enables people to quantitatively and reliably measure gluten levels in food and is the preferred method to test gluten in food manufacturing and in restaurants. The ELISA kit we use in the restaurant testing, R-Biopharm’s RidaScreen® Gliadin, is approved and certified by the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists International (AOAC) as a performance tested method. We run Nima with our developed chemistry alongside the AOAC kit to ensure our sensitivity matches this standard test.
We picked three local food venues, all of which have gluten-free options, and one of which has reports of cross contamination. The results show that every sample tested meets the definition for gluten free – under 20 parts per million (ppm). Allergic consumers may react at lower levels, as evidenced by our CEO, Shireen, being sickened by 10ppm donuts in our last round of research.
The chart below shows the averaged results for each item. What? Think we only test each item once? Nope, we’re thorough. we also find the results to be remarkably consistent in terms of gluten levels with some small variance from test to test. We’ll discuss this in more detail in a future post.
You’ll see some of these are rice and meat dishes. Some are sandwiches with gluten-free bread. The most contaminated items were a pork sandwich (on gluten free bread) and french fries. We know fried foods can strike terror into the hearts of gluten-free diners, and this shows that fear justified. The salad bar show extremely minute quantities of gluten for items like plain corn or black beans that should be gluten free.
After our last post, we were asked why we haven’t shared the results with the restaurants named. Mainly what we are interested in doing is proving our chemistry is accurate and efficacious. Two, our testing has been conducted primarily locally, and is of less interest to folks outside the Bay Area. Three, we have to approach each restaurant, who doesn’t know their food has been subject to scrutiny, and let them know.
This data does show that places that may not be marketing an item as gluten free may be perfectly fine dining experiences, while items marketed as gluten free may not be. Warnings may be valuable at pointing to times when you need to be wary, or it may feel extraneous. This all points to inconsistent dining experiences — where testing for gluten may be the only answer.