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Can I test meals myself in restaurants (Nima)?

Nowadays you can buy kits to test for gluten in food at home or when out and about. One such test kit is called Nima which is a handheld device to test for the presence of gluten.

We know that many people would like to be able to have the option of using such a test but it is important to look at how they work and what they are really telling you before buying.

Firstly in all tests the results can be affected by a whole range of factors including the size and what the sample is made up of.

Most meals will be made up of many different parts – different vegetables, fish or meat. Testing a small sample of a certain meal will not necessarily represent the gluten content of the complete meal. 

For the kits to work it is also important to make sure that all gluten is taken out of the food for testing using the chemicals provided. It is therefore very important to follow the manufacturers’ guidance on using the test kits.

The Nima kit is designed to tell you if gluten is found (if yes a wheat symbol is displayed) or no gluten found (when a smiley face is shown). The kit is not designed to tell you the level of gluten found and whether it meets the labelling law on gluten free – in other words it cannot say it is less than 20 ppm of gluten. This means it may tell you that a food has gluten in but is actually legally gluten free. The kit may not work when the sample is too large. It also cannot be used on foods that contain fermented food such as beer, hydrolysed foods such as soy sauce and foods containing alcohol. In these cases the message ‘test result not available’ should appear. It will be important, as evidence is published to keep up to date with what foods the test can be used on accurately.

Nima was launched in January 2017 in the US. We have been monitoring its progress and on 1 September 2018, the first publication of data on the development of Nima featured in the Journal of Food Chemistry and there’s since been a further publication in the Journal of Food Protection on the use of NIMA with thirteen different foods, including its limitations.

We have seen a demonstration of the device and we will be looking at the evidence carefully to assess whether the product will be a useful tool for people with coeliac disease.

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