Middle-schoolers create prize-winning food allergy app

A team of ninth-graders at the Hampstead Academy in New Hampshire created a smartphone application that could make navigating the cafeteria easier for kids everywhere.

For their efforts, they took home the grand prize in the Verizon App Challenge with their app, Chow Checker.

An app for allergies

The video pitch they created was submitted to the program last year when they were all in eighth grade. After the team was accepted, they worked together with a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab this year to make the app a reality. It's now available on Google Play.

"We knew that allergies were a pretty big problem," ninth-grade team member Alex Mielens said in a media presentation. "We thought we could help solve that problem in our school and other places and help people who have allergies to stop from buying foods that may contain allergens."

Checking food safety

Chow Checker lets users create a profile and select up to 12 allergens. They can then search for or scan food items in the app and get notices as to whether or not it's likely safe to eat. The app accesses food ingredient data from Nutritionix, which is a continuously-updated database of food information from grocery stores and restaurants with more than 300,000 food items in its archives.

"We liked the idea that [Chow Checker] was solving for this big issue around finding what the ingredients are on foods that you purchase all the time and providing that instant information back to the user of the app," said Justina Nixon-Saintil, who oversees education programs for Verizon.

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