In honor of #FoodAllergyAwarenessWeek, I set out to review the best mobile apps for people like myself who suffer from severe food allergies. It’s a near-invisible but deeply troubling problem that’s unfortunately growing in prominence over the past two decades. As such, you’d think in a market full of niche apps so wide that we have holograms and meditation guidance… that you’d figure we have plenty great food allergy apps, right?
You’d be wrong.
I downloaded some of the reportedly best apps for someone with my condition, and here’s what I found. I’ve included both two that you should absolutely avoid, and the two most useful apps I discovered.
For Kids — Allergy Reality
This is one of several apps that aims to educate your whole family about what is and isn’t safe to eat. It does this with a series of mini-games with varying amounts of relevance, with the best being the simple act of asking players to pick out what food is or isn’t safe based on their allergy, while the worst is an infuriating matching game more likely to annoy a child than inform them.
Then there’s the one asking kids to spell out an allergen’s name in a reversed form of hangman. Nevermind most of the children who will use this app won’t know how to spell “BRAZILIAN NUTS” and also for the record, they’re referred to typically as just “Brazil Nuts”.
To be fair, I discovered another good one where the player has to pick out from what ingredients weren’t safe from an ingredient list on the back of a box, but there’s something you may be noticing – the best mini-games available are things you could just do at home with actual food products. The rest of the mini-games border on bizarre and outright ill-conceived. There’s no relevant lesson here that necessitates downloading the app. But hey, it’s got a theme song and some really strange-yet-boring mini-games, and apparently that’s warranted it being a popular download.
For Adults — Spokin
Did you need a new social media platform that’s really hard to navigate, basically just doubles as an ad platform for a few (your mileage may vary, I saw mostly the same one over and over again) allergen-free brands? I didn’t, but apparently somebody thought we needed one. It seems no one told the developers of Spokin that there’s already dozens of Facebook groups dedicated to this. While there’s clearly good intentions behind this one, it’s only slightly less irrelevant than Allergy Reality.
For Kids — Wizdy Diner
Apparently odd names are just a rule of thumb for allergy apps, but at least Wizdy offers a solid effort when it comes to conveying how easily allergens can slip in when you’re eating out at a restaurant. The core gameplay is a typical Diner Dash clone, except now you have to make sure to catch every person’s allergens before telling the chef what to cook up. The parade of customers gets faster and faster, increasing the odds some of your customers might be sent to the hospital if you aren’t careful. Along the way, you upgrade your diner and have to choose what food you have on offer – giving kids a light bit of management, in addition to consequences for if they don’t have allergen-friendly food on the menu.
The game itself is basic, but achieves its goals better than any other child-friendly app that I tried. It’s genuinely possible to give your customers the wrong food order a few times, and the gravity of your actions – while not as severe as they would be in real life – are made clear. There’s even a secondary mini-game on the main menu about educating kids how to use an epinephrine shot. It’s not the most exciting game, but it translates the risks of food allergies at restaurants with the clear, easily understood language of gameplay mechanics. Edutainment done right.
For Adults — ipiit: The Food Ambassador
Yes, that’s actually it’s name, but ipiit is one of the more useful apps available. It’s a barcode scanner that can quickly inform you about many common products, and is supported in part by a public database that its users grow by taking pictures of products. The scanner function works fine so long as it knows the product, and if it doesn’t, you can easily take a few pictures and send it off to the app’s developers. It’s a brilliant use of crowd-sourcing that makes perfect sense. You can even specify what your allergen is – but that’s where things go downhill for an otherwise solid app.
You see, ipiit, in all its unpronounceable wisdom, doesn’t feature support for all top 8 major allergens. It can tell you if the food has almonds or gluten, but there’s a laundry list of allergens that need added, and clearly the developers know this because there’s already an automated list for requested allergens. Now, I understand that in this case, it’s a daunting task to keep up with all the allergens in food, but the top 8 should all be in there. By offering such a narrow scope, ipiit feels more like a band-aid in its current state, which is a waste considering all the effort put in. It might spare you one or two phone calls at the grocery store when researching a product on the shelf, but it most certainly needs to grow if someone outside of its current allergen listings is ever to use it. It’s a great app, but there’s way too much missing here.
Now, I want to be clear that these aren’t only the apps I tried, they’re just the most notable. A lot of the apps I tried were either a mediocre alternative of one of the apps listed above, or ineffectual at helping with the realities someone with food allergies faces. As food allergies fast become one of the biggest medical issues of our generation, but we can and should be trying to make things easier for those that suffer from them. While there are social circles and websites that help, that doesn’t mean mobile apps shouldn’t be offering decent alternatives. We need to be able to find a restaurant that’s safe to eat at, if there’s been cross-contamination alerts or ingredient changes in food, and most importantly of all – to know if a product is safe regardless of when customer service hours for the manufacturer run. These are basic quality of life needs that developers can help ease. I hope more answer the call, and present better options for our peers, and the generations to come.
If you’ve heard of any great allergy apps we missed, be sure to let us know @Appolicious!