Food allergy apps can help but aren’t foolproof

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Food allergies are a growing problem. The FDA says eight types of food account for 90 per cent of food allergies and the law mandates they be identified to consumers when they are included in food that is sold.

The eight foods identified by the law are:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
  4. Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
  5. Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  6. Peanuts
  7. Wheat
  8. Soybeans

The FDA says those eight foods and any ingredient that contains protein derived from one or more of them, are designated as “major food allergens.”

But finding the eggs, milk, nuts or wheat in pre-packaged food products can be time consuming or tricky as you pick up individual packages and search through the entire list of ingredients.

There are some free apps out there that can help simplify the process and speed up your search for allergens, but you need to know how they work and their limitations.

CBS North Carolina looked at two free apps, Ipiit Grocery Scanner for Food Allergies and My Food Detective by the Juvo Group.

We tested both under real-life conditions at Rose’s Discount Store in Raleigh.

My Food Detective and Ipiit both work by scanning the bar code of products, but the results they present are displayed differently.

When you scan a barcode with Ipiit, it will tell you if the food has allergens and many times suggest an alternative food.

The scan from My Food Detective tells you exactly what’s in the food you might be allergic to, for example Soy or eggs, but that’s all it tells you.

Here’s how you set them up.

Ipiit allows you to use pre-determined criteria like “Almond free” or “Gluten free.”

You just swipe a button in the preference mode to add allergens you want to detect. You can set as many or as few criteria as you want.

My Food Detective is a bit more labor intensive to set up.

You go to the settings menu, swipe left on the “Allergens” tab, click “create” and type in the ingredient you want the app to find.

The app also includes a list of allergens, but you need to also type them in manually into your list.

In our tests, both apps produced results very quickly when barcodes were scanned on grocery items we found at the store. 

But, both apps didn’t work with every product we scanned because some items on the shelves were not in either Ipiit’s or My Food Detective’s databases.

If Ipiit can’t find a product, it asks you if you “want to be a helper” and take photos of the product so it can be added to the database at some future time by its staff.

If My Food Detective can’t find a product, it asks you to manually assign a result and then provides a lengthy set of instructions explaining how to do that.

Also, the fine print in the app’s description warns Ipiit only works with U.S. food products and of course not every food product is covered.

The fine print in the description of the My Food Detective app warns it only works for ingredients which you MUST provide. For example if you don’t put “eggs” into My Food Detective’s list, it won’t detect them in a product you scanned which has eggs.

Be aware! No app is 100 percent perfect. You should use these apps only to augment your allergy detection efforts and not rely solely on them to avoid allergens.

With more than 15 million Americans suffering from food allergies these apps can not only save people time, they may also save a life.

If you want to learn more about reducing the risks of food allergies” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>click here.

Here is a comprehensive guide to food allergies which includes information on labeling and health effects of food allergies.

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