Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.
Can Your Kitchen Pass the Food Safety Test?
What comes to mind when you think of a clean kitchen? Shiny waxed floors? Gleaming stainless steel sinks? Spotless counters and neatly arranged cupboards?
They can help, but a truly "clean" kitchen--that is, one that ensures safe food--relies on more than just looks. It also depends on safe food practices.
In the home, food safety concerns revolve around three main functions: food storage, food handling, and cooking. To see how well you're doing in each, take this quiz, and then read on to learn how you can make the meals and snacks from your kitchen the safest possible.
Choose the answer that best describes the practice in your household, whether or not you are the primary food handler.
1. The temperature of the refrigerator in my home is:
2. The last time we had leftover cooked stew or other food with meat,
chicken or fish, the food was:
3. The last time the kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe
in my home were sanitized was:
4. If a cutting board is used in my home to cut raw meat, poultry or
fish and it is going to be used to chop another food, the board is:
5. The last time we had hamburgers in my home, I ate mine:
6. The last time there was cookie dough in my home, the dough was:
7. I clean my kitchen counters and other surfaces that come in contact
with food with:
8. When dishes are washed in my home, they are:
9. The last time I handled raw meat, poultry or fish, I cleaned my
hands afterwards by:
10. Meat, poultry and fish products are defrosted in my home by:
11. When I buy fresh seafood, I:
12. I realize people, including myself, should be especially careful
about not eating raw seafood, if they have:
1. Refrigerators should stay at 41 ° F (5 ° C) or less, so if you chose answer B, give yourself two points. If you didn't, you're not alone. Many people overlook the importance of maintaining an appropriate refrigerator temperature.
The refrigerator temperature in many households is above 50 degrees (10 ° C). Measure the temperature with a thermometer and, if needed, adjust the refrigerator's temperature control dial. A temperature of 41 ° F (5 ° C) or less is important because it slows the growth of most bacteria. The temperature won't kill the bacteria, but it will keep them from multiplying, and the fewer there are, the less likely you are to get sick from them. Freezing at zero ° F (minus 18 ° C) or less stops bacterial growth (although it won't kill all bacteria already present).
2. Answer B is the best practice; give yourself two points if you picked it.
Hot foods should be refrigerated as soon as possible within two hours after cooking. But don't keep the food if it's been standing out for more than two hours. Don't taste test it, either. Even a small amount of contaminated food can cause illness.
Date leftovers so they can be used within a safe time. Generally, they remain safe when refrigerated for three to five days. If in doubt, throw it out.
3. If answer A best describes your household's practice, give yourself two points. Give yourself one point if you chose B.
The kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe are often overlooked, but they should be sanitized periodically by pouring down the sink a solution of 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of chlorine bleach in 1 quart (about 1 liter) of water or a solution of commercial kitchen cleaning agent made according to product directions. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with the moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
4. If answer D best describes your household's practice, give yourself two points.
If you picked A, you're violating an important food safety rule: Never allow raw meat, poultry and fish to come in contact with other foods. Answer B isn't good, either. Improper washing, such as with a damp cloth, will not remove bacteria. And washing only with soap and water may not do the job, either.
5. Give yourself two points if you picked answer C.
If you don't have a meat thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done:
6. If you answered A, you may be putting yourself at risk for infection with Salmonella enteritidis, a bacterium that can be in shell eggs. Cooking the egg or egg-containing food product to an internal temperature of at least 145 ° F (63 ° C) kills the bacteria. So answer C--eating the baked product--will earn you two points.
You'll get two points for answer B, also. Foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade ice cream, cake batter, mayonnaise, and eggnog, carry a Salmonella risk, but their commercial counterparts don't. Commercial products are made with pasteurized eggs; that is, eggs that have been heated sufficiently to kill bacteria, and also may contain an acidifying agent that kills the bacteria. Commercial preparations of cookie dough are not a food hazard.
If you want to sample homemade dough or batter or eat other foods with raw-egg-containing products, consider substituting pasteurized eggs for raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are usually sold in the grocer's refrigerated dairy case.
Some other tips to ensure egg safety:
7. Answers C or D will earn you two points each; answer B, one point. According to FDA's Guzewich, bleach and commercial kitchen cleaning agents are the best sanitizers--provided they're diluted according to product directions. They're the most effective at getting rid of bacteria. Hot water and soap does a good job, too, but may not kill all strains of bacteria. Water may get rid of visible dirt, but not bacteria.
Also, be sure to keep dishcloths and sponges clean because, when wet, these materials harbor bacteria and may promote their growth.
8. Answers A and C are worth two points each. There are potential problems with B and D. When you let dishes sit in water for a long time, it "creates a soup," FDA's Buchanan said. "The food left on the dish contributes nutrients for bacteria, so the bacteria will multiply." When washing dishes by hand, he said, it's best to wash them all within two hours. Also, it's best to air-dry them so you don't handle them while they're wet.
9. The only correct practice is answer C. Give yourself two points if you picked it.
Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, especially raw meat, poultry and fish. If you have an infection or cut on your hands, wear rubber or plastic gloves. Wash gloved hands just as often as bare hands because the gloves can pick up bacteria. (However, when washing gloved hands, you don't need to take off your gloves and wash your bare hands, too.)
10. Give yourself two points if you picked B or C. Food safety experts recommend thawing foods in the refrigerator or the microwave oven or putting the package in a water-tight plastic bag submerged in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes. Gradual defrosting overnight is best because it helps maintain quality.
When microwaving, follow package directions. Leave about 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) between the food and the inside surface of the microwave to allow heat to circulate. Smaller items will defrost more evenly than larger pieces of food. Foods defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Do not thaw meat, poultry and fish products on the counter or in the sink without cold water; bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.
Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard the marinade after use because it contains raw juices, which may harbor bacteria. If you want to use the marinade as a dip or sauce, reserve a portion before adding raw food.
11. A and B are correct. Give yourself two points for either.
When buying fresh seafood, buy only from reputable dealers who keep their products refrigerated or properly iced. Be wary, for example, of vendors selling fish out of their creel (canvas bag) or out of the back of their truck.
Once you buy the seafood, immediately put it on ice, in the refrigerator or in the freezer. Some other tips for choosing safe seafood:
12. If you are under treatment for any of these diseases, as well as several others, you should avoid raw seafood. Give yourself two points for knowing one or more of the risky conditions.
People with certain diseases and conditions need to be especially careful because their diseases or the medicine they take may put them at risk for serious illness or death from contaminated seafood.
These conditions include:
People with these diseases or conditions should never eat raw seafood -- only seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.
Rating Your Home's Food Practices
24 points: Feel confident about the safety of foods served in your home.
12 to 23 points: Reexamine food safety practices in your home. Some key rules are being violated.
11 points or below: Take steps immediately to correct food handling, storage and cooking techniques used in your home. Current practices are putting you and other members of your household in danger of food-borne illness.
6 Mistakes To Avoid When Trading Up to a Larger Home
".....you have to sell your present home at exactly the right time in order to avoid either the financial burden of owning two homes or, just as bad, the dilemma of having no place to live during the gap between closings...."
Unlike the experience of buying a first home, when youre looking to move-up, and already own a home, there are certain factors that can complicate the situation. Its very important for you to consider these issues before you list your home for sale.
Not only is there the issue of financing to consider, but you also have to sell your present home at exactly the right time in order to avoid either the financial burden of owning two homes or, just as bad, the dilemma of having no place to live during the gap between closings.
In this report, we outline the six most common mistakes homeowners make when moving to a larger home. Knowledge of these six mistakes, and the strategies to overcome them, will help you make informed choices before you put your existing home on the market.
1. Rose-colored glasses
Most of us dream of improving our lifestyle and moving to a larger home. The problem is that there's sometimes a discrepancy between our hearts and our bank accounts. You drive by a home that you fall in love with only to find that it's already sold or that its more than what you are willing to pay. Most homeowners get caught in this hit or miss strategy of house hunting when there's a much easier way of going about the process. For example, find out if your agent offers a Buyer Profile System or House-hunting Service, which takes the guesswork away and helps to put you in the home of your dreams. This type of program will cross match your criteria with ALL available homes on the market and supply you with printed information on an ongoing basis. A program like this helps homeowners take off their rose-colored glasses and, affordably, move into the home of their dreams.
2. Failing to make necessary improvements
If you want to get the best price for the home you're selling, there will certainly be things you can do to enhance it in a prospective buyer's eyes. These fix ups don't necessarily have to be expensive. But even if you do have to make a minor investment, it will often come back to you ten fold in the price you are able to get when you sell. It's very important that these improvements be made before you put your home on the market. If cash is tight, investigate an equity loan that you can repay on closing.
3. Not selling first
You should plan to sell before you buy. This way you will not find yourself at a disadvantage at the negotiating table, feeling pressured to accept an offer that is below market value because you have to meet a purchase deadline. If you've already sold your home, you can buy your next one with no strings attached. If you do get a tempting offer on your home but haven't made significant headway on finding your next home, you might want to put in a contingency clause in the sale contract which gives you a reasonable time to find a home to buy. If the market is slow and you find your home is not selling as quickly as you anticipated, another option could be renting your home and putting it up on the market later - particularly if you are selling a smaller, starter home. You'll have to investigate the tax rules if you choose this latter option. Better still, find a way to eliminate this situation altogether by getting your agent to guarantee the sale of your present home (see point number 5 below).
4. Failing to get a pre-approved mortgage
Pre-approval is a very simple process that many homeowners fail to take advantage of. While it doesn't cost or obligate you to anything, pre-approval gives you a significant advantage when you put an offer on the home you want to purchase because you know exactly how much house you can afford, and you already have the green light from your lending institution. With a pre-approved mortgage, your offer will be viewed far more favorably by a seller - sometimes even if it's a little lower than another offer that's contingent on financing. Don't fail to take this important step.
5. Getting caught in the Real Estate Catch 22
Your biggest dilemma when buying and selling is deciding which to do first. Point number 3 above advises you to sell first. However there are ways to eliminate this dilemma altogether. Some agents offer a Guaranteed Sale Trade-Up Program that actually takes the problem away from you entirely by guaranteeing the sale of your present home before you take possession of your next one. If you find a home you wish to purchase and have not sold your current home yet, they will buy your home from you themselves so you can make your move free of stress and worry.
6. Failing to coordinate closings
With two major transactions to coordinate together with all the people involved such as mortgage experts, appraisers, lawyers, loan officers, title company representatives, home inspectors or pest inspectors the chances of mix ups and miscommunication go up dramatically. To avoid a logistical nightmare ensure you work closely with your agent.
Protecting Your Home from Fire and Carbon Monoxide
Safety & You
Everyone wants to live in a safe and worry free environment with their families, spouse, and children. However, most people are closer to a disaster waiting to happen than they think. Safety may not be an issue that comes to mind as you go about your daily routine. You may feel safe. Yet, lurking in your home are dangers that can take lives and destroy property.
Thousands of people die from fire every year. Most residential fire deaths occur because of inhalation of toxic gas, rather than contact with the flames. The tragedy is that many of these deaths could be prevented by taking a few precautions.
General Fire Prevention Tips
Have an Emergency Escape Plan! Practice it frequently!
Through education and media campaigns, most people now realize the importance of smoke alarms, and most homes in North America have them.
To guard against small fires or to keep a small fire from developing into a big one, every home should be equipped with a fire extinguisher. Because almost all fires are small at first, they might be contained if a fire extinguisher is handy and used properly. You should take care, however, to select the right kind of fire extinguisher, because there are different ones for different kinds of fires. Install fire extinguishers on every level of the home and include the kitchen, basement and garage.
Selecting a Fire Extinguisher
Extinguishers are classified according to the class of fire for which they are suitable. The four classes of fires are A, B, C, D:
A typical home or office fire extinguisher should have an ABC rating.
One of the greatest threats to your safety is the quality of air within your home. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a subtle yet dangerous threat because the gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless.
Each year, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Thousands of other people suffer the effects of the gas without realizing it. Because CO symptoms mimic the flu and other common illnesses, CO poisoning can be easily missed during a routine medical examination.
CO is produced when any fuel does not burn completely because of insufficient oxygen. Mild exposure to CO gives most people a slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue ("flu-like" symptoms) followed by a throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, and fast heart rate. If the entire family becomes ill after a few hours in the home, and feels better when they leave the home, carbon monoxide poisoning should be suspected.
Possible sources of CO include:
Certain clues can indicate a carbon monoxide problem. Check to see if you have any of the following:
CO can be produced and spill into your home without any of the preceding clues present. Heating appliances that appear to be operating correctly can still be sources of CO. Burning charcoal or wood produces CO that can spill into the home. Gasoline engines, when first started, produce large amounts of CO. Autos in attached garages are often sources of CO.
How To Protect Yourself
To avoid CO exposure in the home, it is important to:
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that every residence with fuel burning appliances be equipped with at least one CO alarm. For added protection, place one on every level of the home. Read and follow manufacturers' instructions.
If your alarm indicates high levels of carbon monoxide in your home:
Fires are traumatizing and frightening, as is a carbon monoxide incident. It is essential to fully recognize the hazards of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning and to take preventative action. A regular home inspection, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and an emergency exit plan will help you and your family live more safely.