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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 #1185
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.




Also This Month...
11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection
According to industry experts, there are at least 33 physical problems that will come under scrutiny during a home inspection. We've identified the 11 most common of these and, if not identified and dealt with, any of these 11 items could cost you dearly in terms of repair.


 
 

10 Questions To Ask When Choosing A Financial Planner
You may be considering help from a financial planner for a number of reasons, whether it's deciding to buy a new home, planning for retirement or your children's education, or simply not having the time or expertise to get your finances in order. Whatever your needs, working with a financial planner can be a helpful step in securing your financial future.



Quick Links
Can Your Kitchen Pass the Food Safety Test?
11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection
10 Questions To Ask When Choosing A Financial Planner
 

 

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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 deg; F (5 deg; 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 deg; F (5 deg; 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 deg; C). Measure the temperature with a thermometer and, if needed, adjust the refrigerator's temperature control dial. A temperature of 41 deg; F (5 deg; 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 deg; F (minus 18 deg; 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 deg; F (63 deg; 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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11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection


 

"According to industry experts, there are at least 33 physical problems that will come under scrutiny during a home inspection when your home is for sale. Here are 11 you should know about if you're planning to put your home up for sale."

 

Homebuyers Want to Know Your Home Inside and Out

While homebuyers are as individual as the homes they plan on purchasing, one thing they share is a desire to ensure that the home they will call their own is as good beneath the surface as it appears to be. Will the roof end up leaking? Is the wiring safe? What about the plumbing?  These, and others, are the questions that the buyers looking at your home will seek professional help to answer.

According to industry experts, there are at least 33 physical problems that will come under scrutiny during a home inspection. We've identified the 11 most common of these and, if not identified and dealt with, any of these 11 items could cost you dearly in terms of repair.

In most cases, you can make a reasonable pre-inspection yourself if you know what youíre looking for. And knowing what youíre looking for can help you prevent little problems from growing into costly and unmanageable ones.

11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection

1. Defective Plumbing

Defective plumbing can manifest itself in two different ways: leaking, and clogging. A visual inspection can detect leaking, and an inspector will gauge water pressure by turning on all faucets in the highest bathroom and then flushing the toilet. If you hear the sound of running water, it indicates that the pipes are undersized. If the water appears dirty when first turned on at the faucet, this is a good indication that the pipes are rusting, which can result in severe water quality problems.

2. Damp or Wet Basement

An inspector will check your walls for a powdery white mineral deposit a few inches off the floor, and will look to see if you feel secure enough to store things right on your basement floor. A mildew odor is almost impossible to eliminate, and an inspector will certainly be conscious of it.

It could cost you $200-$1,000 to seal a crack in or around your basement foundation depending on severity and location. Adding a sump pump and pit could run you around $750 - $1,000, and complete waterproofing (of an average 3 bedroom home) could amount to $5,000-$15,000. You will have to weigh these figures into the calculation of what price you want to net on your home.

3. Inadequate Wiring & Electrical

Your home should have a minimum of 100 amps service, and this should be clearly marked. Wire should be copper or aluminum. Home inspectors will look at octopus plugs as indicative of inadequate circuits and a potential fire hazard.

4. Poor Heating & Cooling Systems

Insufficient insulation, and an inadequate or a poorly functioning heating system, are the most common causes of poor heating. While an adequately clean furnace, without rust on the heat exchanger, usually has life left in it, an inspector will be asking and checking to see if your furnace is over its typical life span of 15-25 yrs. For a forced air gas system, a heat exchanger will come under particular scrutiny since one that is cracked can emit deadly carbon monoxide into the home. These heat exchangers must be replaced if damaged -they cannot be repaired.

5. Roofing Problems

Water leakage through the roof can occur for a variety of reasons such as physical deterioration of the asphalt shingles (e.g. curling or splitting), or mechanical damage from a wind storm. When gutters leak and downspouts allow water to run down and through the exterior walls, this external problem becomes a major internal one.

6. Damp Attic Spaces

Aside from basement dampness, problems with ventilation, insulation and vapor barriers can cause water, moisture, mould and mildew to form in the attic. This can lead to premature wear of the roof, structure and building materials. The cost to fix this damage could easily run over $2,500.

7. Rotting Wood

This can occur in many places (door or window frames, trim, siding, decks and fences). The building inspector will sometimes probe the wood to see if this is present - especially when wood has been freshly painted.

8. Masonry Work

Re-bricking can be costly, but, left unattended, these repairs can cause problems with water and moisture penetration into the home which in turn could lead to a chimney being clogged by fallen bricks or even a chimney which falls onto the roof. It can be costly to rebuild a chimney or to have it repainted.

9. Unsafe or Over-fused Electrical Circuit

A fire hazard is created when more amperage is drawn on the circuit than was intended. 15 amp circuits are the most common in a typical home, with larger service for large appliances such as stoves and dryers. It can cost several hundred dollars to replace your fuse panel with a circuit panel.

10. Adequate Security Features

More than a purchased security system, an inspector will look for the basic safety features that will protect your home such as proper locks on windows and patio doors, dead bolts on the doors, smoke and even carbon monoxide detectors in every bedroom and on every level. Even though pricing will vary, these components will add to your costs. Before purchasing or installing, you should check with your local experts.

11. Structural/Foundation Problems

An inspector will certainly investigate the underlying footing and foundation of your home as structural integrity is fundamental to your home.

When you put your home on the market, you don't want any unpleasant surprises that could cost you the sale of your home. By having an understanding of these 11 problem areas as you walk through your home, you'll be arming yourself against future disappointment.

 

 

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10 Questions To Ask When Choosing A Financial Planner

These questions will help you interview and evaluate several financial planners to find the one that's right for you. You will want to select a competent, qualified professional with whom you feel comfortable, one whose business style suits your financial planning needs. An interview checklist has been included for your convenience.

1. What experience do you have?

Find out how long the planner has been in practice and the number and types of companies with which she has been associated. Ask the planner to briefly describe her work experience and how it relates to her current practice. Choose a financial planner who has a minimum of three years experience counseling individuals on their financial needs.

2. What are your qualifications?

The term "financial planner" is used by many financial professionals. Ask the planner what qualifies him to offer financial planning advice and whether he holds a financial planning designation such as the Certified Financial Planner mark. Look for a planner who has proven experience in financial planning topics such as insurance, tax planning, investments, estate planning or retirement planning. Determine what steps the planner takes to stay current with changes and developments in the financial planning field. If the planner holds a financial planning designation, check on his background with the CFP Board or other relevant professional organizations.

3. What services do you offer?

The services a financial planner offers depend on a number of factors including credentials, licenses and areas of expertise. Financial planners cannot sell insurance or securities products such as mutual funds or stocks without the proper licenses, or give investment advice unless registered with state or Federal authorities. Some planners offer financial planning advice on a range of topics but do not sell financial products. Others may provide advice only in specific areas such as estate planning or on tax matters.

4. What is your approach to financial planning?

Ask the financial planner about the type of clients and financial situations she typically likes to work with. Some planners prefer to develop one plan by bringing together all of your financial goals. Others provide advice on specific areas, as needed. Make sure the planner's viewpoint on investing is not too cautious or overly aggressive for you. Some planners require you to have a certain net worth before offering services. Find out if the planner will carry out the financial recommendations developed for you or refer you to others who will do so.

5. Will you be the only person working with me?

The financial planner may work with you himself or have others in the office assist him. You may want to meet everyone who will be working with you. If the planner works with professionals outside his own practice (such as attorneys, insurance agents or tax specialists) to develop or carry out financial planning recommendations, get a list of their names to check on their backgrounds.

6. How will I pay for your services?

As part of your financial planning agreement, the financial planner should clearly tell you in writing how she will be paid for the services to be provided. Planners can be paid in several ways:

  • a salary paid by the company for which the planner works. The planner's employer receives payment from you or others, either in fees or commissions, in order to pay the planner's salary.
  • fees based on an hourly rate, a flat rate, or on a percentage of your assets and/or income.
  • commissions paid by a third party from the products sold to you to carry out the financial planning recommendations. Commissions are usually a percentage of the amount you invest in a product.
  • a combination of fees and commissions whereby fees are charged for the amount of work done to develop financial planning recommendations and commissions are received from any products sold. In addition, some planners may offset some portion of the fees you pay if they receive commissions for carrying out their recommendations.
7. How much do you typically charge?

While the amount you pay the planner will depend on your particular needs, the financial planner should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be performed. Such costs would include the planner's hourly rates or flat fees or the percentage he would receive as commission on products you may purchase as part of the financial planning recommendations.

8. Could anyone besides me benefit from your recommendations?

Some business relationships or partnerships that a planner has could affect her professional judgment while working with you, inhibiting the planner from acting in your best interest. Ask the planner to provide you with a description of her conflicts of interest in writing. For example, financial planners who sell insurance policies, securities or mutual funds have a business relationship with the companies that provide these financial products. The planner may also have relationships or partnerships that should be disclosed to you, such as business she receives for referring you to an insurance agent, accountant or attorney for implementation of planning suggestions.

9. Have you ever been publicly disciplined for any unlawful or unethical actions in your professional career?

Several government and professional regulatory organizations, keep records on the disciplinary history of financial planners and advisers. Ask what organizations the planner is regulated by, and contact these groups to conduct a background check.

10. Can I have it in writing?

Ask the planner to provide you with a written agreement that details the services that will be provided. Keep this document in your files for future reference.

 

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Kavanaugh Realty, 36 Champlain St., Rouses Point, N.Y. 12979
Office 518-297-2821 Ext 47 Fax 518-297-3431
Licensed in New York State
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