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    Study: Midlife Fitness Contributes to Healthy Old Age

    Fitness lowers risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, other common conditions

    All you 40-year-old joggers and weight-lifters should be happy to hear this: a new study finds that fitness in midlife is associated with a lower risk of chronic health problems later in life.

    Seems self-evident, you say? Perhaps so, but any scientist will tell you that what seems obviously true doesn't always turn out that way. So, Benjamin L. Willis, M.D., M.P.H., of the Cooper Institute, Dallas, and colleagues examined the association between midlife fitness and chronic disease outcomes later in life by linking Medicare claims with participant data from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, a large group of individuals who were examined at the Cooper Clinic from 1970 to 2009.

    Their findings: Fitness in midlife appears to be associated with a lower risk of common chronic health conditions later in life in men and women older than 65 years and enrolled in Medicare, according to their study published Online First by Archives of Internal Medicine, a JAMA Network publication.

    “Compared with participants with lower midlife fitness, those with higher midlife fitness appeared to spend a greater proportion of their final five years of life with a lower burden of CCs,” the authors comment. 

    The study of 14,726 healthy men and 3,944 healthy woman (overall median age 49 years at baseline) used eight chronic conditions (CCs) for the analysis: congestive heart failure, ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer disease, and colon or lung cancer.

    “In the present study, higher fitness measured in midlife was strongly associated with a lower incidence of CCs decades later,” the authors note.

    Researchers suggest a moderate increase in fitness may mean a reduction in CCs in older age. 

    Among those study participants who died, researchers note that higher midlife fitness appeared to be more strongly associated with a delay in the development of CCs than with survival.

    All you 40-year-old joggers and weight-lifters should be happy to hear this: a new study finds that fitness in midlife is associated with a lower risk of c...
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    Walmart Offers Email Price Comparisons in Test Markets

    The retail giant is asking its grocery customers to post the comparison results on social media

    Walmart is trying out a new way of luring grocery shoppers to its stores. It's asking consumers to send a photo of their latest grocery receipt from a competing store.

    In return, Walmart says it will analyze the purchases and compare the price the consumer paid to what he or she would have paid for the same items at Walmart.

    The promotion is currently being offered in Chicago, Atlanta and Albuquerque, N.M.  Walmart isn't saying if it will be expanded but if it's successful, it's a good bet it will spread to other cities.

    Consumers rate Wal-Mart Super Stores

    Expressing confidence in the results, the discount giant is suggesting consumers post the results on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. 

    The receipt comparison tool is reportedly an extension of a five-month print and broadcast ad campaign featuring real shoppers and actual receipts that challenges consumers to bring their receipts into Wal-Mart to see for themselves how much money they could have saved, Supermarket News reported.

    Inventory matters

    The price comparison app could be nifty if it works but Milton of Manassas, Va., thinks Walmart needs to pay more attention to keeping popular items in stock.

    "The Walmart in Manassas Mall is the only store to stock UPC #60538800293, item #815156. Why do the other stores not stock this item? I have been to the store five times and the shelf is empty. Why? There are 24 on regular order and 96 ordered last week. Where are the cans of cat food?" Milton asked in a recent posting to ConsumerAffairs.

    "It appears that the small cans keep coming in and the store has plenty on the shelf, but why should I pay $.47 for a small can when you are supposed to stock the large can for $.70? Come on, let's keep the shelves stocked. I know for a fact that the manager ordered 96 cans last week because I was standing next to him," Milton said.

    Walmart is trying out a new way of luring grocery shoppers to its stores. It's asking consumers to send a photo of their latest grocery receipt from a comp...
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      Consumers Harmed By Promises of Federal Jobs Getting Refunds

      Materials were offered to help study for phantom jobs

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is mailing roughly 1,900 refund checks to consumers who allegedly were deceived by false promises that they could get federal jobs if they paid for study materials or counseling services to help them pass an exam -- even though often there were no exams or jobs.

      Under settlements reached in December 2010 and March 2012, the defendants, Government Careers Inc., Jon Coover, Richard Friedberg, and Rimona Friedberg, are permanently banned from selling employment-related products or services.

      More than $50,000 is being returned to consumers; payments will be 22.73 percent of their loss. Consumers who receive the checks from the FTC’s refund administrator should cash them within 60 days of the date they were issued.

      The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide information before redress checks can be cashed. Consumers with questions should call the refund administrator, BMC Group, at 1-888-768-2051, or go here.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is mailing roughly 1,900 refund checks to consumers who allegedly were deceived ...
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      West Nile Virus Outbreak Is the Worst Ever

      Texas is the American epicenter of the disease

      Everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes West Nile Virus outbreaks. Nearly 600 Texans have fallen ill and at least 21 have died as of a few days ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week reported a nationwide 55 percent rise in the number of people infected with the West Nile Virus (WNV) compared to last year, which to date is the largest outbreak since the first U.S. resident was infected back in 1999.

      “The number of West Nile cases in people has risen dramatically in the last few weeks and indicates that we are in one of the biggest West Nile virus outbreaks we have ever seen in this country,” said the CDC's Dr. Lyle Peterson.

      The disease claimed the lives of at least 41 people so far this year, which has brought the total amount of West Nile deaths in the U.S. to 1,118 since the disease was introduced here in 1999.

      Besides Texas, other states with high rates of infection include Mississippi, South Dakota, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

      Blame the mosquito

      WNV is most commonly spread to humans and animals by infected mosquitoes. Although the virus cannot be passed through physical contact, it can be transferred through blood transfusion and breast feedings, but these cases are rare, says the CDC.

      The government agency also says the best protection against WNV is by following the same measures you would to protect yourself from being bitten by a mosquito.

      For example covering your arms during summer months — especially at night — using the proper amount of insect repellant, while also making sure all of your window screens are intact and contain no holes where mosquitoes can easily fly in and bite your family and pets.

      One of the scariest parts of WNV, say experts, is the high number of people who feel no trace or signs of the disease. According to the CDC, 80 percent of people who get the illness will not have any symptoms whatsoever.

      Not everyone who gets the disease is subject to severe illness or death. Around one out of 150 people who get the disease develop serious symptoms, as many who are stricken only have the illness for a few days or weeks, according to published research by the CDC.

      For those who do develop symptoms, they include body aches, fevers, swollen lymph glands, fever, stomach pains, skin rashes and other overt signs.

      The more severe WNV is, the more intensified the symptoms are, and the longer they are likely to persist, say experts. The infection is known to develop about three days after one is bitten.

      Texas responds

      With Texas having the highest amount of WNV cases in the U.S., officials have declared a state of emergency and announced plans to immediately spray many acres with potent insecticides, but the residents in the area are concerned about the health implications. A lot of the aerial spraying is being done in Dallas.

      The city's mayor, Mike Rawlings, says the insecticides were of no harm to the residents, although some insects that provide value to the environment may be killed.

      “There's a lot of sentiment that people don't want this, and there's a fear of the unknown,” he said in a statement. “You have the science, the CDC and EPA and all of these cities across the United States that say this is okay,” he said.

      A representative of the Texas State Department of Health Services says using the spray is far less harmful than not using it, and pulling back on the treatment would cause even a greater health risk.

      “Risks with aerial spraying are very, very low, especially compared with the risk of disease, she said. “We believe it is a safe and very effective approach for Dallas.”

      Warmer weather

      Many of the areas that have higher amounts of West Nile cases have longer stretches of summer than other parts of the United States, and that's no coincidence says Peterson.

      “Hot weather, we know from experiments in the laboratory, can increase the transmission of the virus.

      Other ways to protect yourself from the virus is to empty out left-over water in pet dishes, buckets, and pots, as this will help prevent mosquitoes from breeding in these areas, says the CDC.

      The water in bird baths should also be changed each week, and children's plastic swimming pools should be emptied when not being used.

      On Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 55 percent rise in the amount of people infected with the West Nile Virus (WNV...
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      Consumers Increase Credit Cards But Paying Loans on Time

      Two new reports suggests lending standards are relaxing and consumers are handling it

      Two new reports on consumer credit usage may constitute positive signs for the economy. On one hand consumers have increased the number of their open credit card accounts and on the other they are doing a better job of paying their car loans on time.

      Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies, says the number of open retail credit card accounts exceeded 175 million in July for the first time since December 2009, when the economy was in the early stages of recovery. That reverses a trend of fewer accounts, as credit card issuers unilaterally closed many cardholders' accounts in 2009 and 2010.

      Now, it appears as though lending standards have relaxed, resulting in the origination of some 13.8 million new retail card accounts year-to-date through May 2012. That represents a 10 percent increase over January – May 2011 totals.

      "The economic recovery is increasing both demand for new credit cards and the supply of credit," said Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "However, while consumers are seeking new credit card accounts, they are not increasing their use of that newly available credit as fast. Utilization rates of card limits continue to fall, and, additionally, we are seeing increasing payment ratios at the same time."

      On-time payments improve

      In fact, delinquency rates among retail cards in July 2012 saw a nearly 15 percent decrease from the same time a year ago. Delinquency rates on other types of consumer loans are falling as well.

      The biggest improvement in on-time payments is for auto loans, according to an analysis by Loans.net. Delinquent auto loans are the lowest in 10 years. A year ago at this time, the total of outstanding loans in arrears was 25 percent higher.

      "Banks are starting to approve auto loans again in record numbers," the company said in a statement. "There are even some lenders that are now approving bad credit car loans as well. Loan comparison Websites have seen a huge rush in traffic in just the past few months."

      Two new reports on consumer credit usage may constitute positive signs for the economy. On one hand consumers have increased the number of their open credi...
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      Limited Quantity of Hearts of Romaine Salad Recalled

      There's a possible health risk from Listeria monocytogenes

      Fresh Express Incorporated is voluntarily recalling a limited quantity of expired 10 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad with the expired Use-by Date of August 23, 2012, and a Product Code beginning with "G222" as a precaution due to a possible health risk from Listeria monocytogenes. 

      No illnesses are reported in association with the recall. No other Fresh Express products are being recalled. 

      Fresh Express customer service representatives are already contacting retailers to confirm the product was removed from their inventories and store shelves in accordance with standard procedures for products that have reached their expiration date. Customers with questions may contact their Fresh Express customer service representative. 

      In an unlikely event that consumers may still have this expired product in their refrigerators, it should not be consumed, but discarded instead. Consumers with questions may call the Fresh Express Consumer Response Center at (800) 242-5472 during the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. 

      The recall was issued due to an isolated incident in which a sample of a singled package of 10 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad yielded a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes as part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s random sample testing program. Fresh Express is continuing to coordinate closely with regulatory officials. 

      The limited quantity of recalled product is identified with a Product Code beginning with "G222" and a Use-by Date of August 23, which is located in the upper right-hand corner of the package. In addition, the UPC Code of 71279 26102 is located on the back of the package below the barcode. The 10 oz. Hearts of Romaine was distributed in limited quantities to predominantly eastern and southeastern states. 

      BRANDPRODUCT NAMESIZEPKG TYPEUPCPOSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
      Fresh ExpressHearts of Romaine10 ozBag7127926102AL, AR, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, OH, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
      Fresh Express Incorporated is voluntarily recalling a limited quantity of expired 10 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad with the expired Use-by Date of August 23,...
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      Florida On Guard Against Post-Isaac Gouging

      Meanwhile, storm heads for Gulf Coast landfall on Katrina anniversary

      With much of Florida feeling the effects of Tropical Storm Isaac, some gas stations appear to be raising their prices. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is warning these stations, and other retailers, they could face state charges if they are found to be price gouging.

      Florida law prohibits extreme increases in the price of essential items food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency.

      Miami TV station WFOR-TV reports at least one south Florida gas station has raised the price of regular gasoline to $4.49 a gallon -- about 60 cents higher than some of its competitors. Over the weekend Bondi activated her office's price-gouging hotline.

      “With thousands of visitors traveling to Tampa Bay for the Republican National Convention, we will protect all residents and visitors from unscrupulous individuals who attempt to prey on consumers,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I encourage everyone to prepare for Tropical Storm Isaac before the storm arrives.”

      Penalties

      Businesses found guilty of violating the price gouging statute are subject to civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period.

      Hurricane Isaac, meanwhile, has drifted to the west and appears to have spared Florida its full impact. However, the rest of the Gulf Coast might not be so fortunate. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has urged residents of his state to "prepare for the worst."

      The storm is expected to make landfall early Wednesday -- eerily the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall on the Gulf Coast, causing massive devastation to New Orleans and the coastal region. Isaac is expected to pack much less punch than Katrina, however. It's expected to be a category 2 storm with top winds of 96 miles per hour.  

      With much of Florida feeling the effects of Tropical Storm Isaac, some gas stations appear to be raising their prices. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi i...
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      Illinois Claims Autism Support Group is a Scam

      Group collected money from parents for service dogs that were never provided

      People all over the country have sent money to an Illinois-based organization called Animals for Autism. After all, it sounded like a wonderful idea. Animals for Autism collected money it said would be used to train and provide service dogs to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

      But Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says the people who sent money are victims of what she called “a heartless scam.” Madigan has filed suit against Glenarm, IL, resident Lea Kaydus and her organization, Animals for Autism. The lawsuit alleges that to date, none of the families who paid for the service has received a trained dog as promised by Kaydus.

      Dashed hopes

      “The organization targeted parents of children with autism who hoped that adopting a service dog would help their child,” Madigan said. “But instead of receiving a trained dog to assist their child, these families lost thousands of dollars and worse, had their hopes for their child dashed.”

      According to the lawsuit, Kaydus’ Animals for Autism advertised it would specially train Alaskan Klee Kai puppies and Siberian Huskies for $3,000 to $8,000 and then pair the dogs with families to assist their children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder.

      Kaydus promised families that they initially would be introduced to their dogs in person or via teleconference calls and then would receive frequent updates until the dogs were trained and ready to be placed in families’ homes.

      Phony pictures

      Madigan said families in California, Ohio and Washington sent payments to Kaydus and were led to believe over the course of several months that Kaydus was training dogs to place in their homes. In some cases, families received pictures of puppies, though those images were taken years earlier and depicted dogs that weren’t involved in Kaydus’ supposed training program.

      According to the suit, Animals for Autism collected at least $5,190 from families in the scheme. The lawsuit alleges numerous violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and Solicitation for Charity Act against Kaydus and her organization.

      Shortly after filing the suit Madigan reached a settlement with the organization. Under its terms, Kaydus must provide restitution to affected families and adhere to a court order requiring her compliance with the state’s charitable and consumer fraud laws.

      People all over the country have sent money of an Illinois-based organization called Animals for Autism. After all, it sounded like a wonderful idea.Anim...
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      Jury: Samsung Ripped Off Apple

      Many Samsung products could disappear from the marketplace

      In a stunning victory for Apple, a jury in California concluded that Samsung used Apple's patented design and technology in development of its Android smartphones and tablets. It directed Samsung to pay its competitor $1.05 billion in damages.

      The impact on consumers may be felt in the marketplace if the verdict stands. While Apple generally releases one smartphone and one tablet per year, Samsung is constantly producing new products in those categories. Apple said it would file for an injunction to block U.S. sales of those smartphones and tablets within the next few days. If Apple is successful, consumers would no longer be able to purchase those devices.

      In filing the suit, Apple claimed that Korea-based Samsung copied the design of its iPad when it developed it's line of Galaxy tablets. In addition, in maintains that some Samsung smartphones, which run on Google's Android operating system, unlawfully use technology Apple developed for the iPhone.

      Mountain of evidence

      "We are grateful to the jury for their service and for investing the time to listen to our story and we were thrilled to be able to finally tell it,” Apple said in a statement. “The mountain of evidence presented during the trail showed that Samsung's copying went far deeper than even we knew.”

      Samsung, meanwhile, called the verdict a loss for the U.S. consumer.

      “It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices,” the company said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies.”

      Samsung noted that the battle would continue, pointing out that the same case is being argued in courts around the world.

      Real war is against Google

      Some see Apple's aggressive legal campaign against Samsung as really being directed against Google's Android system, which the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs called a rip-off of Apple's system. Samsung has been the most successful manufacturing producing Android devices and thus has posed the largest threat to Apple's dominance in the marketplace.

      As a result of the ruling many Samsung products could disappear from the marketplace, assuming a court grants Apple's request for a sales injunction. Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy S II smartphones are among the products that could be pulled.

      Samsung is the world leader in Smartphone sales with a wide lead over Apple. Some technology analysts have recently speculated that Apple views their Korean competitor as a major threat and targeted it first with its patent claims.  

      In a stunning victory for Apple, a jury in California concluded that Samsung used Apple's patented design and technology in development of its Android smar...
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      Sick As a Dog -- It's Not Just Cantaloupes, Dog Food Is Blamed for Many Illnesses

      Critics say FDA has "a poor track record" of assuring the safety of food, human and otherwise

      ConsumerAffairs readers are long accustomed to stories like this one, from Jill of Lawrence, Kan.: "I picked up a bag of Nutro Max Senior to try for my aging collie. At first, I didn't see any problems, but she became progressively sick[er], throwing up at least once a day and becoming lethargic. The only thing that had changed in her life was her food.

      "I stopped giving the collie this apparently toxic food, bought her familiar Science Diet, and all is well again. Shame on dog food manufacturers for not learning from the lessons of the past! We will never buy Nutro Max again."

      Case closed?

      Bernadette Dunham

      There's no question that contaminated pet food can make pets sick, as a long history of recalls and pet illnesses and deaths indicates. But are consumers too quick to blame the food when their pet falls ill? Some veterinarians think so, including Bernadette Dunham, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA).

      The FDA has been in the middle of countless disputes over whether a pet food is to blame for animal illnesses, but in a recent FDA blog posting, Dunham says it is often difficult to pin down the cause of a specific pet's malady.

      She offers these suggestions to pet owners:

      1. Contact your veterinarian right away if your pet gets sick. Be ready to describe the symptoms and keep track of how soon after your pet's last meal or snack they occurred.

      2. Always keep the original label or packaging of whatever you are feeding your pets. If you buy a large bag of feed and scoop it into a smaller container, be sure to save the original. The FDA needs not only the brand name but the lot number and other information that is only available from the label.

      3. Report the incident to the FDA, either at its website or by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in your state. Contact information is available online

      Of course, none of this does much good for someone whose beloved pet is in extremis. It's already too late for them.

      "Purina SmartBlend Lamb and Rice killed my dog," said Lisa of Wichita, Kan. She said her one of her dogs became ill and was undergoing treatment when her second dog began refusing to eat. 

      "The vet came out again, gave more meds and he was doing better. That night, he died," Lisa said. "I called Purina after I began researching and found that many other dogs became sick and/or died while on this food. Of course, I heard the, 'This is the first time we have ever heard of it.' They promised to reimburse my vet fees. I am still waiting. I even sent them a sample of the food. I called not too long ago and they closed my case."

      Critics: FDA is lax

      Consumers rate Nutro Pet Foods

      The FDA is with you all the way, Dunham assures us but not everyone agrees. Sarah Alexander, the education and outreach director of Food & Water Watch, a Ralph Nader-founded consumer organization, says the FDA "has a poor track record of ensuring the safety of food from China for people and pets."

      "Despite the flood of reports of dogs dying from imported dog treats going back as far as 2007, the FDA has done nothing to fix the problem," Alexander said in a recent email to the organization's supporters.

      Alexander quotes a pet owner named Rita, who experienced problems similar to those so familiar to ConsumerAffairs readers: "Heidi was a happy and healthy 8-year-old German Shepherd on May 23, 2012 when I gave her just two chicken jerky dog treats as a 'special' treat. Within two days she became ill, vomiting and diarrhea and lethargy, refusing all food but drinking water excessively. On Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, Heidi died a horrific death in my arms. The void her passing has left in my life is almost unbearable. I live alone and Heidi was my constant companion, my loyal friend, my fierce protector."

      The FDA regulates the import of pet food and processed human food, but Alexander and other critics contend the agency has done too little to stop contaminated food from China from being sold in the U.S.

      "This isn't the first time that tainted pet food from China has harmed our pets," Alexander noted. "Just a few years ago thousands of pets became sick and died after eating pet food contaminated with melamine, and right now there are more than 60 human food products that are banned from being imported from China because of unsafe substances, including milk products contaminated with melamine."

      Alexander notes that the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed by Congress last year has not yet been implemented. And just as critics say the Obama Administration's failure to adopt the rules in a timely manner is responsible for the current outbreak of salmonella contamination in cantaloupes, it is also being blamed for the failure to adequately regulate pet food. 

      President Obama signed the bill into law in January 2011 and final standards were supposed to have been enacted within 12 months. But 19 months later, the standards are in limbo, awaiting final action by -- who else? -- the FDA.
      Everyday ConsumerAffairs hears stories like this one, from Jill of Lawrence, Kan.: "I picked up a bag of Nutro Max Senior to try for my aging collie. ...
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      Feds Offer Food Safety Tips as Tropical Storm Isaac Nears Florida

      Proper planning can keep you safe and sound

      As Floridians ready their homes for Tropical Storm Isaac's potential blast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) urges them to make food safety a part of their preparation efforts. Power failures and flooding that often result from weather emergencies compromise the safety of stored food, and planning ahead can minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

      "Storing perishable food at proper temperatures is crucial to food safety but can become difficult if you lose electricity for your refrigerator and freezer," USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said. "For those living in Tropical Storm Isaac's projected path, we recommend stocking up on canned food, bottled water, batteries, and dry ice."

      The publication "A Consumer's Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes" is available to print and keep for reference during a power failure. Florida residents can get timely food safety information on Twitter by following @FL_FSISAlert.

      Getting ready

      Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

      • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is safe during power outages. The refrigerator temperature should be 40° F or lower and the freezer should be 0° F or lower.
      • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
      • Group food together in the freezer -- this helps the food stay cold longer.
      • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately -- this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
      • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
      • Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
      • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

      Power failures

      Steps to follow if the power goes out:

      • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
      • A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep the door closed.
      • A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
      • If the power is out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

      The aftermath

      Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

      • Check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. If the thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe.
      • If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals or is at 40° F or below when checked with a food thermometer, it may be safely refrozen.
      • Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items) that have been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40° F for two hours or more.
      • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
      • Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
      • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved.
      • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.
      • Never taste food to determine its safety!
      • When in Doubt, throw it out!
      As Floridians ready their homes for Tropical Storm Isaac's potential blast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) ...
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      BP Says Tainted Gasoline Problem in Midwest Fixed

      Indiana opens investigation to make sure consumers are compensated

      BP said it has traced the source of the contamination in gasoline that caused engine problems in vehicles in four Midwestern states this week.

      The company said that the contamination occurred at its Whiting, IN, refinery and it has taken steps to resolve the issue. Though the initial recall affected regular grade fuel, BP said it has suspended the sales of premium and mid grade fuel in certain areas as a precaution.

      Indiana investigates

      Meanwhile, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has opened an investigation into the problem to make sure consumers’ rights are protected. Zoeller reacted after reports of problems with cars in Northwest Indiana that fueled up at BP and other retail outlets including Luke Oil, Thornton’s.

      “Our office opened an investigation regarding the BP gasoline recall in order to protect the significant number of consumers impacted," Zoeller said. “We are closely monitoring the response by BP and will be reviewing their claims and reimbursement processes. As the watchdog for Indiana consumers my office has a duty to ensure consumer's rights are protected and that there is no undue delay in appropriate reimbursements.”

      Motorists who purchased regular grade gasoline in Northwest Indiana and others have reported car problems as a result of tainted gasoline.

      2.1 million gallons

      According to a BP statement earlier this week, the company believes 2.1 million gallons of regular grade gasoline blended at BP’s Whiting, Indiana, gasoline storage terminal between Aug. 13 and 17 contained a “higher than normal level of polymeric residue,” which can cause drivability issues. This contaminant may cause hard starting, shaking of the engine, non-starting or the check engine light to come on.

      Zoeller said consumers who purchased fuel in Northwest Indiana at BP and other retail outlets during the past week could be affected.

      BP, meanwhile, has set up a hotline and has instructed customers to call 1-800-333-3991 or email bpconsum@bp.com if their vehicles were affected by the tainted gasoline.

      In addition to the Chicago area, BP says some of the contaminated fuel was also delivered to the Milwaukee area.

      BP said that it has traced the source of the contamination in gasoline that caused engine problems in vehicles in four Midwestern states this week.The co...
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      Cruises to Alaska Becoming More Expensive

      New clean air rules raise costs for cruise ships

      Cruises to Alaska have become popular in recent years but new clean-air rules are about to make the cruises more expensive.

      “As of August 1, 2012, the North American Emission Control Area (ECA) regulation aimed at reducing emissions from ships commenced,” noted Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “No one argues that protecting our environment is important, but travelers should be aware that it will impact their wallets as prices are likely to rise.”

      The new clean-air rule announced by the Environmental Protection Agency requires large ships, including cruise lines, sailing within 200 miles of the U.S. coastline to use low-sulfur fuel, which is more pricey than the type of fuel currently being used by most ships.

      Travel industry experts and Alaskan State Officials estimate the ECA regulation will impact tourism in Alaska as increasing costs associated with cruising, dining and hotel accommodations will likely be passed on to the consumer.

      “The Alaskan Cruise Association notes the new regulations could increase the cost of operating a cruise ship for a season in Alaska by as much as $3 million to $5.5 million,” according to Travel Weekly, driving up cruise prices from $15 to $18 per passenger per day. In addition, dining and hotel accommodations are expected to rise as transportation costs for all goods shipped into Alaska will increase.

      “Alaska is among the most cherished and magical destinations for travelers, and a cruise to Alaska tops many a traveler’s bucket list,” added Meade. “While travel prices, will increase, we do not expect them to become unreachable; now is the time, however, for those travelers who are on the verge of booking to enjoy that dream cruise to Alaska and save a few dollars in the process.”

      Cruises to Alaska have become popular in recent years but new clean-air rules are about to make the cruises more expensive.“As of August 1, 2012, t...
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      Why You Should Steer Clear of Debt Settlement Companies

      It could end up costing you more in the long run

      You open your credit card bill and stare at the balance. How could it have gotten so large?

      And maybe that's not your only credit card balance. Combined, the monthly payments are almost more than you can manage each month. Then along comes a company that says it can help you settle your credit card debt for pennies on the dollar.

      Though it sounds tempting, keep in mind that it's a sales pitch. It rarely works out the way they present it.

      Joe, of Bradford, Pa., says he received a pitch from a debt settlement firm and, even though all his accounts were current and we was slowly paying down the balances, he signed up. Maybe he wouldn't have to pay his debts after all.

      Too good to be true?

      “They asked me if id like to get out of debt and not have to pay all the interest so I started putting money into the account to settle my debts,” Joe wrote to ConsumerAffairs. “They guaranteed settling at 50 cents on the dollar and hoped to do it at 30 cents.”

      Joe says the first card was settled at around 39 cents on the dollar he was very happy. But the happiness was short-lived.

      “Next I received a letter saying i was being sued because I hadn't made any payments.”

      Joe said the debt settlement company told him to withhold payment so he did. In response to the suit, he said he settled at 80 cents on the dollar plus had to pay court costs, plus pay a percentage to the debt settlement company.

      No savings

      “So it cost me more to settle the account than it would have to pay it off in the first place,” Joe wrote. “It was my own fault for signing up but when they contacted me it seemed like it was a good way to help get out of debt. Now that they are paid off they no longer return any calls.”

      Debt settlement companies now have to operate under new rules and government consumer agencies generally keep close tabs on them. In February 2010 the state of Illinois filed individual lawsuits against four debt settlement companies, claiming they engaged in deceptive marketing practices, charged excessive fees and did little or nothing to improve consumers' financial standing.

      "These companies are unfairly luring financially strapped consumers with misleading claims that they can effectively eliminate consumers' debt," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said at the time. "The reality is that, after enrolling in a debt settlement program, consumers too often find themselves in even worse financial straits.”

      You open your credit card bill and stare at the balance. How could it have gotten so large?And maybe that's not your only credit card balance. Combined, ...
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      Food Products Seized at California Warehouse

      Food and Drug Administration acts to prevent food distribution from rodent-infested facility

      U.S. Marshals have seized food products stored in a Fremont, CA, company’s warehouse after inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found widespread and active rodent infestation.

      The on Aug. 21 seizure of various food products in the warehouse owned by the San Francisco Herb &Natural Food Company came under a warrant issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern of California.

      Unsanitary conditions

      FDA inspectors found significant unsanitary conditions throughout the warehouse during a recent inspection, in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. These conditions included the presence of live and dead rodents in and around food products, and apparent rodent nesting materials in food.

      The seized held goods had been under an embargo by the State of California’s Department of Public Health. Those articles of food that were stored in metal and glass containers were exempt from the embargo and the seizure.

      "The violations at San Francisco Herb & Natural Food Company, in Fremont, Calif. are widespread and significant," said Dara A. Corrigan, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. "This prompted the FDA working together with its state partner, the State of California’s Department of Public Health to take these aggressive enforcement actions to protect the health of consumers.”

      To date, no illnesses have been associated with the San Francisco Herb & Natural Food Company’s products. Illnesses or adverse events related to use of these products should be reported to the FDA at caers@fda.hhs.gov or by calling 240-402-2405.

      U.S. Marshals have seized food products stored in a Fremont, CA, company’s warehouse after inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) foun...
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      Chamberlain Farm Produce, Inc. Recalls Cantaloupes

      Salmonella contamination is possible

      Chamberlain Farm Produce, Inc., of Owensville, IN, is recalling all of its cantaloupes from the 2012 growing season that may remain in the marketplace. 

      This recall is occurring because of concern some cantaloupes may be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. 

      This recall follows a prior market withdrawal of all Chamberlain Farm Produce cantaloupes that occurred August 16 and 17. 

      During the period June 21 to August 16, the company marketed cantaloupes to four retail grocery stores with grocery store retail outlets in Vanderburgh, Warrick, Gibson, and Dubois County, Indiana, and Wabash County, Illinois; and also to four wholesale purchasers located in Owensboro, Kentucky, St. Louis, Missouri, Peru, Illinois, and Durant, Iowa, respectively. As a part of the market withdrawal, Chamberlain Farm Produce notified all of the purchasers of its cantaloupes to take immediate action to remove all cantaloupes from the marketplace, and all of the purchasers confirmed compliance with that request. 

      The CDC reports that for the period July 7 through August 22, there have been reports of some 178 people nationwide who may have become sick in connection with consumption of cantaloupes. The FDA investigation is continuing and incomplete at this time. After discussion with the FDA, Chamberlain Farm Produce decided to conduct the recall as a precautionary measure. 

      Consumers should inquire about the source before purchasing additional cantaloupes or using those already purchased. To be absolutely certain, consumers should destroy any cantaloupes currently in their possession the origin of which cannot be identified.

      Chamberlain Farm Produce, Inc., of Owensville, IN, is recalling all of its cantaloupes from the 2012 growing season that may remain in the marketplace. T...
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      Student Loan Delinquency Still Rising

      But payments on all other forms of consumer credit appear to be improving

      There's new evidence that recent college graduates are struggling under the mounting burden of student loan debt, which earlier this year passed the $1 trillion mark.

      Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies, has found that student loan delinquencies and write-offs have increased significantly over the past 12 months.

      According to the report, student loan write-off rates increased more than 29 percent month-to-month from June-July 2012. Student loan 60-day delinquency rates increased more than 14 percent year-to-year in the same period.

      Loan balances growing

      Student loan balances are also going up, rising $58.5 billion year-over-year from July 2011-2012. The total number of student loans has increased nearly 24 percent from July 2011, when there were 89 million, to July 2012 when there were 116 million.

      In the first seven months of 2012 lenders have written off $9.3 billion in student loan debt, a 10 percent increase over the year before. Severe derogatory balances, which usually comes just before a write-off, are up 14 percent over a year ago.

      "Student loans is one area of lending not affected by tighter underwriting standards since the start of the recession," said Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "The investment in higher education pays off over a person's lifetime, while the tuition cost has to be paid up-front, leading to big demand for student loans. Unfortunately, the current job market has not been kind to new graduates and their student loans start to come due once they graduate – if they don't have a job by the time the first installment is due, they can find themselves in quite a jam."

      Other consumer credit areas improving

      While student loan delinquency rates are surging, consumers appear to have a pretty good handle on their credit in other area. The Equifax reports shows that, in the July 2011 to 2012 period, auto loan 60-day plus delinquency rates declined 35 percent. Bank credit card 60-day plus delinquency rates were down 21 percent. Consumer finance 60-day plus delinquency rates declined 23 percent.

      At the same time, consumers increased their use of new credit. It increased 13 percent from May 2011 to May 2012. The biggest increase in new credit was seen with bank credit cards, which was up 21 percent. It rose from $58.1 billion through May 2011 to $72.9 billion through May 2012.

      There's new evidence that recent college graduates are struggling under the mounting burden of student loan debt, which earlier this year passed the $1 tri...
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