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Traveling with food allergies? There’s an app for that

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a comprehensive menu translation app for travelers with food allergies. Here, their mock-up. Photo: Purdue UniversitA team of computer engineers has developed a new application that enables travelers with food allergies, health conditions and aversions to obtain instant translations of food menu items.

Developed by a team of researchers from Purdue University and announced last week, the app yields real-time translations — it takes on average 0.09 seconds – without the need for an internet connection or server, creators said.

Furthermore, once the name of a dish is entered, the system also has a warning system that red flags certain ingredients for those with dietary restrictions. For example, if a dish contain croutons – a gluten product that should be avoided by those with Celiac disease – the app will display a warning symbol and suggest questions and answers in both languages so that the user can discuss the dish with the waiter.

A sample sentence could read: “Excuse me sir, I have an allergy and was wondering if it’s possible to remove the croutons from the salad.”

Though designed to help take the fear and trepidation out of traveling for those with serious health conditions like diabetes and heart conditions, and food allergies like strawberries or nuts, it can also be a helpful tool for vegetarians and vegans or those with simple food aversions.

Before traveling, the user downloads a region- and language-specific database. From then on, the system can operate without a network connection. After typing in the desired dish, the text is translated and offers a list of best possible answers along with photos and other ingredients. It also suggests info and questions for the waiter if need be.

While Google – which requires an internet connection – yielded correct translations 73 percent of the time in their tests, their app improved that by 10 percent, with an average of 83 percent.

While it may not have the medical features of the Purdue app or the clout of university research, Foodictionary beat the researchers to the punch when it was released last year. The app offers 87,500 translations in seven languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian and Greek.

Gourmet Dictionary also has a repository of 40,000 translations in five languages.

The Purdue app is not yet available commercially.

 

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