This post about the Nima Sensor device contains affiliate links. Nima Sensor is a sponsor of the Good For You Gluten Free blog. Please see my disclosures for details. This post was updated June 2019.
The Nima Sensor is a powerful, portable tool that enables you to test your food for gluten before you take a bite. If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, this little device is a game-changer.
To test your food for gluten, simply put a pea-sized portion of your food inside the Nima Sensor test capsule and then press the test button. Within 2-3 minutes, you’ll know if the portion of the food you tested is really gluten-free.
The Nima Sensor device isn’t foolproof though; rather it’s simply another tool in your toolkit. It is not a substitute for common sense or careless ordering.
You must discuss your “gluten allergy” with your server, and you must always check ingredient lists before eating anything. Nima cannot detect fermented foods, so always do your due diligence to make sure sneaky things like soy sauce, beer and barley malt are not in your dish as Nima cannot detect them and you cannot safely eat them.
Nima At Work
I ate at Pizza Doodle in Centennial, Colorado (no longer in business) awhile ago. I rarely eat pizza outside of the home (except for those restaurants with certified gluten-free pizzas), mainly because most restaurants get pizza wrong and there is just too much risk for cross contamination in the cooking process. (I prefer to eat these awesome gluten-free frozen pizzas instead.)
Pizza Doodle, however, is known in the Denver gluten-free community as being “celiac safe” because it has a separate oven and prep area for its gluten-free pizzas. Several people have told me to go there, so I figured it was time to check it out for myself.
I ordered the gluten-free pizza and let my server (who was also the owner) know that I was going to test it with my Nima Sensor.
Unfortunately, the Nima Sensor device came back with the message, “Gluten Found.”
The owner was very apologetic and seemed to sincerely want to understand what went wrong as he has a child who cannot eat gluten either. I wanted to help the owner figure it out, so I offered to test the crust, cheese and sauce separately in my Nima Sensor. He was appreciative.
I found that the crust (which he got from Deby’s Gluten-Free here in Denver) was indeed gluten-free. He told me he takes the crust straight from the bag (it’s par-baked) to the pan with little handling.
Most of us blame the crust first – but in this case – the crust was just fine. I tested a fresh batch of cheese he just shredded and a fresh batch of sauce he made the night prior – both came back positive for gluten.
It could be that the cheese and sauce were cross contaminated in some way, or that they contained gluten under the 20 ppm legal limit as set forth by the FDA. The Nima Sensor will report gluten found at a very sensitive level – even less than 20 ppm.
I found myself in a strange scenario. I had heard this was a “celiac safe” pizza joint, and the owner of the business took great care in serving the celiac community, but the Nima Sensor told me the pizza was not safe.
Is the Nima Sensor better for diners and restaurants? Or is it creating a bunch of unknowns for us all instead?
Nima Offers Much Needed Transparency
Gluten-free diners, for a long time, just had to trust the process. Do you know how hard it is to trust the process when something could make you oh-so-sick?
When we order our meal, we have to trust that what we communicated to our server will be accurately communicated to the chef. We have to trust that the chef understands gluten-free and will provide us a safe meal. We also have to trust that the right dish was served to us and that nothing was mixed up along the way.
Have you seen a busy restaurant kitchen? Would you trust this process?
Eating out, for all intents and purposes, is a nerve-wracking experience for those of us who can’t eat wheat. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to eat out and it makes me feel normal, but it’s fraught with potential pitfalls.
Now, with Nima Sensor in my back pocket, the game has changed.
More likely than not, the Nima Sensor will help me catch any errors or mishaps in this process. What if the restaurant put the wrong meal in front of me by mistake? Nima would catch it.
What if there was a stray noodle in my otherwise gluten-free pasta (as what happened at The Cheesecake Factory), Nima did and would catch it.
No longer can restaurants be lackadaisical in how they treat food allergies and, in my case, gluten-free eaters. Transparency is here. Finally!
Nima Holds Restaurants Accountable
Restaurants often tout gluten-free menus and dishes, which is fantastic for us gluten-free eaters because we love when restaurants want our business. On top of that, the person who eats gluten-free usually picks the restaurant for everyone else, which enables restaurants to benefit from the “influence” effect. It’s no wonder so many restaurants are eager to cater to the gluten-free community.
Unfortunately, many of these restaurants want to only serve those following a trendy gluten-free diet and do not take proper precautions to create safe dishes for those of us who need it most, such as the celiac and gluten sensitive communities.
Most people I know are gluten-free for health reasons. I know so few people who chose to eat gluten-free because it’s fun or on trend. Trust me, it’s not fun.
These are the people ordering a gluten-free meal but can’t seem to pass up on the bread basket. This is confusing to servers, and I totally get it. A few ruin it for those of us who need it most.
However, if a restaurant is going to offer a gluten-free menu, it needs to be gluten-free and safe for those of us who need it most, otherwise it just comes off as dishonest and opportunistic. What happened to the customer is always right?
The truth is that some restaurants don’t want to cater to the celiac community but they still want to capitalize on the gluten-free trend. Here’s what Snooze told me in a statement after my Facebook Live test of the Snooze pancakes came back with “gluten found.”
“We sincerely apologize that this was not handled properly and have checked our batter to ensure that it is correct going forward. If a guest has celiac disease we do not generally advise that they dine at Snooze.” (Statement from Snooze)
Now mind you, I don’t want to discourage restaurants from offering gluten-free foods, but if they do, I just want them to do it safely. They can either stick to things they know they can safely make gluten-free or they must do things like gluten-free pancakes right – with a separate prep area, clean cooking supplies and all!
Nima changes the game in a sense that more restaurants are going to be outed for doing gluten-free wrong. Restaurants can no longer create a sort-of gluten-free menu just to get gluten-free people in the door, charge them more, and then not really give them a safe meal.
The Nima Sensor device will expose the truth.
I know restaurants are busy and cannot possibly have dedicated gluten-free kitchens and cater to my every need. I am not a diva and do not wish to be perceived that way. I know that many gluten-free people don’t even have a dedicated gluten-free kitchen in their own homes.
That said, restaurants need to take a hard look at their gluten-free offerings and decide what they can and can’t do safely in the constraints of a busy, shared kitchen. If you say you’re going to offer gluten-free pizza or gluten-free pancakes, do it right. Otherwise, just offer items like scrambled eggs, grilled chicken or fresh soups that you know you can do right.
Food allergies and sensitivities are not going away either.
Fast Casual Magazine says gluten-free diners will likely double in the next three years. Restaurants, take heed. More of your customers will be asking for safe gluten-free and allergen-friendly options … and we’re talking, sharing and TESTING to make sure you’re delivering what you say you’re going to deliver.
Allergy and Gluten-Free Training No Longer Optional
Restaurants will have to take a hard look at how they train their staffs to handle special dietary requests. Many restaurants are figuring it out, albeit not perfect. I have seen very busy and popular restaurants do gluten-free right.
Restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen and Pizza Hut have trained their staff on how to handle gluten-free requests and they even created separate prep areas so they could become “certified gluten-free” restaurants. (California Pizza Kitchen needs to work on training its staff better, however.)
Even Jersey Mike’s, a sandwich shop, is doing gluten-free right. Their staff blew me away in how careful they were with handling my request. Caribou Coffee also has a great system in place for carefully handling its gluten-free breakfast sandwiches.
There are options if safe preparation in-restaurant is not possible. If a restaurant cannot safely make something gluten-free, could they have ready made items prepared in a safe kitchen and served wrapped or in tins that just require heating (no touching)? In today’s day and age, I don’t see why this couldn’t be possible.
Panera is one company that is unquestionably trying to capitalize on the gluten-free trend … and Panera is getting it wrong. The best example is that the restaurant labels its cookies as “gluten conscious cookies” but these cookies are baked right alongside the gluteny cookies and on display in the baked goods case where they are exposed to all sorts of gluten bits and cross contamination.
This is an example of a company capitalizing on the gluten-free trend without truly helping the people who need to eat gluten-free. As the Gluten Dude says in a post to Panera, “I’m just not that desperate for your bread.” I contend. No thanks, Panera.
We’re seeing that restaurants are now trying to get around the FDA rules for “gluten-free” labeling. If you don’t mark something “gluten-free,” then do you have to abide by the FDA laws? Maybe not.
That’s why Panera calls its menu a “gluten conscious” menu, and Snooze calls its menu “gluten-free friendly.” Is this marketing trickery?
My hope is the FDA will crack down on these practices and these restaurants will either have to do gluten-free right or not at all (and risk going out of business for good).
Raw Ingredients Need to be Tested Too
I believe restaurants should invest in a Nima Sensor device of their own. Why not? Then they can test batches of their sauces, cheeses, spices, baked goods, etc. to ensure they’re actually gluten-free. It would save them so much money and heartache in the long run.
It’s a small expense for a little peace of mind. If they find something isn’t right, they can go back to the supplier and get something else.
I had to send back my pizza at Pizza Doodle and my pancake went back at Snooze. This costs the restaurants quite a bit of money and a whole lot of aggravation. They had to make me something else for me AND they had an unhappy customer on their hands.
Of course I told my gluten-free friends what happened, too. (In the case of Snooze, 3.5k people saw me test the pancake live on Facebook.) This mishap could have been easily prevented if Snooze had tested the food before giving it to me.
If You Think I Sound Like a Crazy Person…
If you think I sound like a crazy person, then I think you have some growing to do.
I know people will tell me I sound ridiculous, that my diet is a huge inconvenience for busy restaurants, and that I should just eat at home.
I know there are haters out there. I’ve read about indecent humans opening a bag of peanuts on an airplane despite being asked not to – a four year old girl went into anaphylaxis shock because of one passengers cavalier attitude!
Another adult passenger looked at someone with a food allergy with disgust because she couldn’t eat nuts during her flight – just another example of how indecent we’ve become as a society.
Unfortunately, some people just don’t get it and this article isn’t for them. They are not personally affected by food allergies and they cannot fathom the thought of going without peanuts for two hours. I’m certain those same haters will be all over this article, too.
But the truth is, my celiac disease is a disability. I have to eat gluten-free. I can’t get around it.
Sure, I eat at home a lot. But what about when I’m traveling? What about when I need to eat gluten-free on a cruise ship where I cannot find food elsewhere and I’ve paid the same money as the next person to enjoy a fun vacation?
What about when I’m forced to purchase a meal plan on a college campus, but then the dining staff won’t provide me a safe, nutritious and gluten-free meal?
What about when I pay $50 to attend a luncheon but I can’t eat the catered meal yet I’m still forced to pay up like everyone else?
And, above all else, what if I was your daughter? Or what if this happened to your five-year old child? Would you still act so cavalier about the gluten-free diet? Is it really that inconvenient for you?
What the American Disability Act (ADA) Says
ADA laws are getting pushed in new directions with the growing number of people with food allergies and with the rise of celiac disease. Celiac disease, for all intents and purposes, is a disability and should be fully and fairly accommodated by restaurants. The law isn’t fully there, but it’s coming close.
We are seeing the ADA at hard work these days.
A student at Lesley University in Boston won a lawsuit against the college because it required students with celiac disease to purchase a meal plan like all other freshmen, yet the staff failed to create a safe meal for these students. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department found that Lesley University had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because students with celiac disease and other food allergies could not “fully and equally enjoy” the dining services.
I don’t really care if you want to call me a diva for asking for a fair and nourishing meal. I know I’m not only on the right side of the law, but also I’m on the right side of human decency. Again, what if I was your daughter?
For me, having the Nima Sensor device in my back pocket has empowered me like nothing before. I can eat out more safely, and, on top of it all, I can hold restaurants accountable for providing safe meals for me and my community.
The Nima Sensor, even despite its limitations, is a REAL game-changer for the gluten-free community at-large.
Nima has awakened the gluten-free community to a new level of safe eating not previously available. I hope restaurants are paying close attention to the Nima Sensor and to people like me who are using it because us gluten-free eaters are not going away. Either restaurants are with us or against us. Game on!
Nima Sensor Coupon Code
Learn more about the Nima Sensor device in my article, 13 Things You Need to Know About the Nima Sensor.
You can purchase a Nima Sensor Starter Kit online. If you use my affiliate coupon code, GOODFORYOUGF you’ll get $25 off your purchase.