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.


ISSUE #1088
FEATURE REPORT
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.


For the complete story, click here...
 
 
Also This Month...
The 9 Step System To Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar
Buyers are far more discriminating now than in the past, and a large percentage of the homes listed for sale never sell. Itís more critical than ever to learn what you need to know to avoid costly seller mistakes in order to sell your home fast and for the most amount of money.
More...
 
 
The Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Retirement
Planning for retirement, usually a major financial concern for those over age 40, has become even more prevalent now that the huge postwar baby boom generation is moving through middle age.
More...

 

 

Quick Links
Can Your Kitchen Pass the Food Safety Test?
The 9 Step System To Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar
The Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Retirement
 

 

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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.

Quiz

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:
a. 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius)
b. 41 F (5 C)
c. I don't know; I've never measured it.
 

2. The last time we had leftover cooked stew or other food with meat, chicken or fish, the food was:
a. cooled to room temperature, then put in the refrigerator
b. put in the refrigerator immediately after the food was served
c. left at room temperature overnight or longer
 

3. The last time the kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe in my home were sanitized was:
a. last night
b. several weeks ago
c. can't remember
 

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:
a. reused as is
b. wiped with a damp cloth
c. washed with soap and hot water
d. washed with soap and hot water and then sanitized
 

5. The last time we had hamburgers in my home, I ate mine:
a. rare
b. medium
c. well-done
 

6. The last time there was cookie dough in my home, the dough was:
a. made with raw eggs, and I sampled some of it
b. store-bought, and I sampled some of it
c. not sampled until baked
 

7. I clean my kitchen counters and other surfaces that come in contact with food with:
a. water
b. hot water and soap
c. hot water and soap, then bleach solution
d. hot water and soap, then commercial sanitizing agent
 

8. When dishes are washed in my home, they are:
a. cleaned by an automatic dishwasher and then air-dried
b. left to soak in the sink for several hours and then washed with soap in the same water
c. washed right away with hot water and soap in the sink and then air-dried
d. washed right away with hot water and soap in the sink and immediately towel-dried
 

9. The last time I handled raw meat, poultry or fish, I cleaned my hands afterwards by:
a. wiping them on a towel
b. rinsing them under hot, cold or warm tap water
c. washing with soap and warm water
 

10. Meat, poultry and fish products are defrosted in my home by:
a. setting them on the counter
b. placing them in the refrigerator
c. microwaving
 

11. When I buy fresh seafood, I:
a. buy only fish that's refrigerated or well iced
b. take it home immediately and put it in the refrigerator
c. sometimes buy it straight out of a local fisher's creel
 

12. I realize people, including myself, should be especially careful about not eating raw seafood, if they have:
a. diabetes
b. HIV infection
c. cancer
d. liver disease
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Answers

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:

  • For fish, slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull aside. The edges should be opaque and the center slightly translucent with flakes beginning to separate. Let the fish stand three to four minutes to finish cooking.
  • For shrimp, lobster and scallops, check color. Shrimp and lobster and scallops, red and the flesh becomes pearly opaque. Scallops turn milky white or opaque and firm.
  • For clams, mussels and oysters, watch for the point at which their shells open. Boil three to five minutes longer. Throw out those that stay closed.
  • When using the microwave, rotate the dish several times to ensure even cooking. Follow recommended standing times. After the standing time is completed, check the seafood in several spots with a meat thermometer to be sure the product has reached the proper temperature.

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:

  • Buy only refrigerated eggs, and keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook and serve them.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and white are firm, not runny, and scramble until there is no visible liquid egg.
  • Cook pasta dishes and stuffings that contain eggs thoroughly.

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:

  • Don't buy cooked seafood, such as shrimp, crabs or smoked fish, if displayed in the same case as raw fish. Cross-contamination can occur. Or, at least, make sure the raw fish is on a level lower than the cooked fish so that the raw fish juices don't flow onto the cooked items and contaminate them.
  • Don't buy frozen seafood if the packages are open, torn or crushed on the edges. Avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store's freezer. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the fish has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen.
  • Recreational fishers who plan to eat their catch should follow local government advisories about fishing areas and eating fish from certain areas.
  • As with meat and poultry, if seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually under the freezer compartment or in a special "meat keeper." Avoid packing it in tightly with other items; allow air to circulate freely around the package. Otherwise, wrap the food tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks and store in the freezer.
  • Discard shellfish, such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams and mussels, if they die during storage or if their shells crack or break. Live shellfish close up whe the shell is tapped.

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:

  • liver disease, either from excessive alcohol use, viral hepatitis, or other causes hemochromatosis, an iron disorder
  • diabetes
  • stomach problems, including previous stomach surgery and low stomach acid (for example, from antacid use)
  • cancer
  • immune disorders, including HIV infection
  • long-term steroid use, as for asthma and arthritis
  • Older adults also may be at increased risk because they more often have these conditions.

People with these diseases or conditions should never eat raw seafood -- only seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.

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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.

 

 

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The 9 Step System To Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar

The Real Estate Market Has Changed . . .


"Buyers are far more discriminating, and a large percentage of the homes listed for sale donít sell the first time. Itís more critical than ever to learn what you need to know to avoid costly seller mistakes in order to sell your home fast and for the most amount of money."

Remember not so long ago, when you could make your fortune in real estate. It was nothing then to buy a home, wait a short while, and then sell it at a tidy profit.

And then do it all over again.

Well, as you probably know, times have changed. As good as the market is right now, home prices are still below what they were at their peak. Buyers are far more discriminating, and a large percentage of the homes listed for sale never sell. Itís more critical than ever to learn what you need to know to avoid costly seller mistakes in order to sell your home fast and for the most amount of money.

The 7 Deadly Mistakes Most Homesellers Make

  1. Failing to analyze why they are selling.
  2. Not preparing their home for the buyerís eye.
  3. Pricing their homes incorrectly.
  4. Selling too hard during showings.
  5. Signing a long-term listing agreement without a written performance guarantee.
  6. Making it difficult for buyers to get information on their home.
  7. Failing to obtain a pre-approved mortgage for ones next home.

The 9 Step System to Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar

Selling your home is one of the most important steps in your life. This 9 step system will give you the tools you need to maximize your profits, maintain control, and reduce the stress that comes with the home-selling process:

1. Know why youíre selling, and keep it to yourself.

The reasons behind your decision to sell affect everything from setting a price to deciding how much time and money to invest in getting your home ready for sale. Whatís more important to you: the money you walk away with, or the length of time your property is on the market? Different goals will dictate different strategies.

However, donít reveal your motivation to anyone else or they may use it against you at the negotiating table. When asked, simply say that your housing needs have changed.

2. Do your homework before setting a price.

Settling on an offering price shouldnít be done lightly. Once youíve set your price, youíve told buyers the absolute maximum they have to pay for your home, but pricing too high is as dangerous as pricing too low. Remember that the average buyer is looking at 15-20 homes at the same time they are considering yours. This means that they have a basis of comparison, and if your home doesnít compare favorably with others in the price range youíve set, you wonít be taken seriously by prospects or agents. As a result, your home will sit on the market for a long time and, knowing this, new buyers on the market will think there must be something wrong with your home.

3. Do your homework.

(In fact, your agent should do this for you). Find out what homes in your own and similar neighborhoods have sold for in the past 6-12 months, and research what current homes are listed for. Thatís certainly how prospective buyers will assess the worth of your home.

4. Find a good real estate agent to represent your needs.

Nearly three-quarters of homeowners claim that they wouldnít use the same realtor who sold their last home. Dissatisfaction boils down to poor communication which results in not enough feedback, lower pricing and strained relations. Another FREE report entitled 10 Questions to Ask Before You Hire an AgentĒ gives you the straight, to-the-point questions you should be asking when you interview agents who want to list your home. You can obtain a  FREE copy of this report from my website.

5. Maximize your homeís sales potential.

Each year, corporate North America spends billions on product and packaging design. Appearance is critical, and it would be foolish to ignore this when selling your home.

You may not be able to change your homeís location or floor plan, but you can do a lot to improve its appearance. The look and feel of your home generates a greater emotional response than any other factor. Clean like youíve never cleaned before. Pick up, straighten, unclutter, scrub, scour and dust. Fix everything, no matter how insignificant it may appear. Present your home to get a wowĒ response from prospective buyers.

Allow the buyers to imagine themselves living in your home The decision to buy a home is based on emotion, not logic. Prospective buyers want to try on your home just like they would a new suit of clothes. If you follow them around pointing out improvements or if your decor is so different that itís difficult for a buyer to strip it away in his or her mind, you make it difficult for them to feel comfortable enough to imagine themselves an owner.

6. Make it easy for prospects to get information on your home.

You may be surprised to know that some marketing tools that most agents use to sell homes (eg. traditional open houses) are actually not very effective. In fact only 1% of homes are sold at an open house.

Furthermore, the prospects calling for information on your home probably value their time as much as you do. The last thing they want to be subjected to is either a game of telephone tag with an agent, or an unwanted sales pitch. Make sure the ads your agent places for your home are attached to a 24 hour prerecorded hotline with a specific ID# for your home which gives buyers access to detailed information about your property day or night 7 days a week without having to talk to anyone. Itís been proven that 3 times as many buyers call for information on your home under this system. And remember, the more buyers you have competing for your home the better, because it sets up an auction-like atmosphere that puts you in the driverís seat.

7. Know your buyer.

In the negotiation process, your objective is to control the pace and set the duration. What is your buyerís motivation? Does s/he need to move quickly? Does s/he have enough money to pay you your asking price? Knowing this information gives you the upper hand in the negotiation because you know how far you can push to get what you want.

8. Make sure the contract is complete.

For your part as a seller, make sure you disclose everything. Smart sellers proactively go above and beyond the laws to disclose all known defects to their buyers in writing. If the buyer knows about a problem, s/he canít come back with a lawsuit later on.

Make sure all terms, costs and responsibilities are spelled out in the contract of sale, and resist the temptation to diverge from the contract. For example, if the buyer requests a move-in prior to closing, just say no. Now is not the time to take any chances of the deal falling through.

9. Donít move out before you sell.

Studies have shown that it is more difficult to sell a home that is vacant because it looks forlorn, forgotten, simply not appealing. It could even cost you thousands. If you move, youíre also telling buyers that you have a new home and are probably highly motivated to sell fast. This, of course, will give them the advantage at the negotiating table.

For more information about any of our innovative homeowners programs, give us a call.

 

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The Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Retirement

Planning for retirement, usually a major financial concern for those over age 40, has become even more prevalent now that the huge postwar baby boom generation is moving through middle age.

Various surveys indicate that preparing for retirement already ranks as a primary financial goal. A recent survey of mutual fund shareholders showed that 40% ranked retirement planning as their most important financial objective, and two-thirds considered it "very important."

The studies reveal that people not only look forward to retirement, but many also expect to retire early. In addition, retirees are apt to live longer as improvements in health care extend life expectancy. People retiring at age 60 today are expected to live another 25 years, or more than half of the length of their working careers. This makes the challenge of accumulating enough money for retirement even more difficult, since these savings may have to last longer and there will be less time to earn them.

While it's clear that retirement planning has become a leading financial goal, the big question is whether people will be financially prepared to retire when they want to.

1. Know your retirement needs.

Retirement is expensive. Experts estimate that you'll need about 70% of your pre-retirement income- for lower earners, 90% or more - to maintain your standard of living when you stop working. Understand your financial future.

2. Find out about benefits.

Contact the appropriate government department of labor/human resource office in your area to obtain details on payment rates.

3. Learn about your employer's pension or profit sharing plan.

If your employer offers a plan, check to see what your benefit is worth. Most employers will provide an individual benefit statement if you request one. Before you change jobs, find out what will happen to your pension. Learn what benefits you may have from previous employment.

4. Contribute to a tax-sheltered savings plan.

If your employer offers a tax sheltered savings plan, sign up and contribute all you can. Your taxes will be lower, your company may kick in more, and automatic deductions make it easy. Over time, deferral of taxes and compounding of interest make a big difference in the amount of money you will accumulate.

5. Ask your employer to start a plan.

If your employer doesn't offer a retirement plan, suggest that it start one. Simplified plans can be set up by certain employers.

6. Start your own Retirement Savings.

You can put money aside and delay paying taxes on investment earnings until retirement age. It's never too late to start.

7. Don't touch your savings.

Don't dip into your retirement savings. You'll lose principal and interest, and you may lose tax benefits.

8. Start now, set goals, and stick to them.

Start early. The sooner you start saving, the more time your money has to grow. Put time on your side. Make retirement saving a high priority. Devise a plan, stick to it, and set goals for yourself. Remember, it's never too late to start. Start saving now, whatever your age.

9. Consider basic investment principles.

How you save can be as important as how much you save. Inflation and the type of investments you make play important roles in how much you'll have saved at retirement. Know how your pension or savings plan is invested. Financial security and knowledge go hand in hand.

10. Ask questions.

These tips should point you in the right direction, but you'll need more information. Talk to your employer, your bank, your union, or a financial advisor. Ask questions and make sure the answers make sense to you. Get practical advice and act now.

 

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Brenda & David Wakeman

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