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    Bipartisan bill would guarantee customers' right to criticize companies

    Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015 would outlaw non-disparagement clauses

    Last September, after California became the first state to make it illegal for businesses to put “non-disparagement clauses” in their contracts with customers, California congressmen Eric Swalwell and Brad Sherman, both Democrats, proposed a national version of the same law, the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2014.

    But last year's CRFA didn't pass, so yesterday Reps. Swalwell and Sherman, joined by Republican representatives Darrell Issa and Blake Farenthold, jointly proposed the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015.

    The bill – available in .pdf form here – would “prohibit the use of certain clauses in form contracts that restrict the ability of a consumer to communicate regarding the goods or services that were the subject of the contract.” In other words, businesses can't penalize customers who criticize or express negative opinions about those businesses.

    Though plenty of businesses have tried. Last August, for example, a New York State bed-and-breakfast called the Union Street Guest House gained unwanted media attention after the discovery of a non-disparagement clause hidden in the fine print of its customer contracts:

    If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event . . . and given us a deposit of any kind . . . there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review . . . placed on any internet site by anyone in your party.

    Couple fined

    In an even more notorious example from the previous year, the tech-toy company KlearGear ruined a Utah couple's credit rating by charging them a $3,500 “fine” over a negative online review they'd posted three years earlier. (KlearGear is still in business, though its non-disparagement clause is gone.)

    Last September, after introducing the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2014, Congressman Swalwell mentioned KlearGear's behavior as an example of why the law was necessary, and also said “It's un-American that any consumer would be penalized for writing an honest review. I'm introducing this legislation to put a stop to this egregious behavior so people can share honest reviews without fear of litigation.”

    Scott Michaelman, an attorney for the consumers'-rights group Public Citizen, said in a press statement that Public Citizen supports the bill because non-disparagement clauses “deny consumers of the right to express negative opinions about the company”:

    Too often, a consumer shares a negative customer service experience with others, then learns that according to the fine print in the boilerplate contract, he may not criticize the business publicly, including writing an online review. Companies use these unjust terms to bully dissatisfied customers into silence.

    The Consumer Review Freedom Act would protect consumers’ right to speak out. The bill would protect individual consumers from hidden contract terms that forbid criticism. It also would help prospective customers avoid unscrupulous businesses by enabling them to learn from the experiences of their fellow consumers.

    Both versions of the Consumer Review Freedom Act – last year's and this year's – would allow customers to criticize and express negative opinions about companies they do business with, but do not apply to customers who commit actual acts of “defamation, libel, or slander, or any similar cause of action.”

    Last September, after California became the first state to make it illegal for businesses to put “non-disparagement...
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    FDA warns that human meds can be fatal to cats

    Topical pain medication creams are dangerous to small animals

    A new warning has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and this one is for cat owners. It's about topical analgesics that are for humans that can be fatal if your cat comes in contact with them.

    Your cat is at risk if  exposed to topical pain medications containing the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) flurbiprofen. People using these medications, should use care when applying them in a household with pets, as even very small amounts could be dangerous to these animals.

    Two households have reported that their cats became sick or died after their owners used  topical meds that contained flurbiprofen on themselves, not their cats.They had applied the lotion or the cream to their own neck or feet, hoping for relief from muscle pain and stiffness. They did not apply it directly on their pets. Nobody knows how the pets became exposed.

    The products contained the NSAID flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, as well as other active ingredients, including baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine.

    Scary moments

    One household had some scary moments with two of their cats, they developed kidney failure. They were nursed back to health after having to go to their vet. Another family was not so fortunate. Their two cats lost their appetite and became very  lethargic. They started vomiting and developed melena (black, tarry, bloody stools), anemia, and had diluted urine. 

    Even though these cats went to their vet and were treated, they died. A third cat in the second household also died after the owner had stopped using the medication.  Autopsies found they had poisoning  that was consistent with NSAID toxicity.

    The FDA recommends that you take these precautions:

    • Wash your hands and your clothing keeping all residue away from your pets.
    • Keep your meds up and out of the way of your pets.
    • Ask your vet and your doctor before you apply any ointment to see if it can harm your pet just from having contact with it.
    • If you are using topical medications containing flurbiprofen and your pet becomes exposed, bathe or clean your pet as thoroughly as possible and consult a veterinarian.

    Be aware even though there has not been any warning of toxicity to dogs, they could be vulnerable as well.

    This warning is also extended to veterinarians to take note of patients that show signs that they have come in contact with household medicines that contain flurbiprofen.

    Pharmacists that fill prescriptions need to make sure they advise patients of what the adverse reactions can be to pets.

    Pet owners and veterinarians can also report any adverse effects to the FDA.

    A new warning has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and this one is for cat owners. It's about topical analgesics that are for humans th...
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    Five-time offender Black & Decker fined for delays in reporting lawnmower safety hazards

    Electric lawnmowers continued to operate after users turned them off

    For the fifth time, Black & Decker has been penalized for being slow to report safety hazards in its products. In the latest case, the company will pay $1.575 million for delaying reports of safety defects in its cordless electric lawnmowers.

    Prosecutors said the lawnmowers started spontaneously and continued operating even after consumers released the handles and removed the safety keys. 

    In one case, the lawnmower continued running for hours while its owner was being treated in an emergency room and after firemen had removed the blade.

    “Not for the first time, Black & Decker held back critical information from the public about the safety of one of its products,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Department of Justice will continue to protect the public against companies that put profits over safety.”

    The Department of Justice and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said Black & Decker will also set up a compliance program to ensure that it acts more responsibly in the future.

    Black & Decker has previously paid four civil penalties relating to untimely reporting of defects and risks presented by other Black & Decker products. 

    “Black & Decker’s persistent inability to follow these vital product safety reporting laws calls into question their commitment to the safety of their customers,” said Chairman Elliot F. Kaye of the CPSC.  “They have a lot of work to do to earn back the public’s trust.  Companies are required to report potential product hazards and risks to CPSC on a timely basis.  That means within 24 hours, not months or years as in Black & Decker’s case.”

    Since 1998

    The complaint relates to cordless lawnmowers manufactured and sold by Black & Decker from 1995 to 2006.  According to the complaint, in as early as November 1998, Black & Decker started receiving reports about the problem, known as a continuous-run defect.  A second defect involved lawnmowers that unexpectedly started even though the handle was released and the safety key removed, referred to as a spontaneous ignition defect. 

    The United States alleged that between 1998 and 2009, Black & Decker received more than 100 complaints regarding the continuous-run or spontaneous ignition defects.  The United States further alleged that, after consulting an outside expert, the company knew in 2004 that the lawnmowers could continue to run even if a user released the handle and removed the safety key. 

    Despite knowledge of all of this information, Black & Decker failed to report to the CPSC until early 2009, even though federal law requires “immediate reporting.”

    The complaint further notes that at least two consumers informed Black & Decker that the lawnmower’s blades started unexpectedly while the consumer cleaned them, resulting in injury.  The complaint states that in one case, the lawnmower continued to run, with the handle released and without the safety key, for several hours while the consumer sought treatment in a hospital emergency room for injury to the consumer’s hand, and after fire department personnel arrived and removed the blade.

    For the fifth time, Black & Decker has been penalized for being slow to report safety hazards in its products. In the latest case, the company will pay $1....
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      Personal income, spending inch higher in March

      Initial jobless claims posted a huge weekly decline

      Consumers didn't find themselves with a lot of extra money in their pockets last month.

      The Commerce Department reports personal income increased by just $6.2 billion, or less than 0.1% in March, the smallest increase since December 2013. Disposable personal income (DPI), which is personal income less personal current taxes, was up less than 0.1% or $1.6 billion.

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), meanwhile, increased $53.4 billion, or 0.4%.

      The incomes increase, as meager as it was, came as wages and salaries rose $16.3 billion, made up of a $15.2 billion gain in private wages and salaries, and a rise of $1.0 billion in government wages and salaries.

      Personal spending and saving

      Personal outlays – which includes PCE, personal interest payments and personal current transfer payments -- increased $57.6 billion in March.

      Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- fell to $702.6 billion in March from $758.6 billion in the month before. That took the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income – to 5.3% from 5.7% in February.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Initial jobless claims

      First-time applications for state jobless benefits fell last week to their lowest level in 15 years.

      According to the Labor Department (DOL), initial claims plunged 34,000 in the week ending April 25 to a seasonally adjusted 262,000 -- the lowest level since April 15, 2000 when it was 259,000.

      The DOL says there were no special factors affecting this week's total.

      The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered a more accurate picture of the labor market, was down 1,250 to 283,750.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.  

      Consumers didn't find themselves with a lot of extra money in their pockets last month. The Commerce Department reports personal income increased by just ...
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      Moms and retailers expected to do well this Mother's Day

      Spending is projected to be at a 12-year high

      Mother's Day is less than 2 weeks off and you know what that means: a spending splurge on things like jewelry, flowers, gift cards, brunch and apparel.

      According to National Retail Federation's (NRF) Mother’s Day Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, consumers will shell out an average of $172.63 on mom this year. That's nearly $10 more than last year and the highest amount in the survey’s 12-year history. Total spending is expected to reach $21.2 billion.

      “We’re encouraged by the positive shift we’ve seen in spending on discretionary and gift items from consumers so far this year, certainly boding well for retailers across all spectrums who are planning to promote Mother’s Day specials, including home improvement, jewelry, apparel and other specialty retailers as well as restaurants,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

      Running the gamut

      When it comes to gifts, most will pick up a greeting card for mom (80%), spending more than $786 million, and more than two-thirds (67.2%) will buy flowers, to the tune of $2.4 billion. Shoppers also plan on giving mom apparel and clothing items (35.8%), spending more than $1.9 billion, versus $1.7 billion last year.

      Families will also surprise the matriarch with a special brunch or activity ($3.8 billion), electronic items like a new smartphone or e-reader ($1.8 billion), personal services such as a spa day ($1.5 billion), housewares or gardening tools ($890 million) and books and CDs ($480 million).

      Looking for a “wow” reaction mom, 34.2% of Mother’s Day shoppers are planning to splurge on jewelry, spending a survey high of $4.3 billion for the special day.

      How we shop

      Online shoppers plan to spend an average $252 -- higher than the typical Mother's Day shopper -- and more than 4 in 10 plan to use their smartphones to research products and compare prices.

      The survey shows that 18- to 24-year-olds who own smartphones and tablets are most likely to use them to research products and compare prices for gifts (46%), and are most likely to use their tablets to purchase a gift (30.2%). But this age group won’t necessarily be the biggest spenders; 25- to 34-year-olds plan to spend the most on mom -- an average of $244.32; 18- to 24-year-olds will spend an average of $214.81.

      Many people know that a gift card could go a long way: Two in five (44.2%) will give mom a gift card, spending more than $2.2 billion.

      Most shoppers will head to department stores (33.4%), while others will shop at specialty stores (28.2%) or discount stores (24.8%). With shoppers ready to get out of the house after a long winter, fewer shoppers will be shopping online this year (25% vs. 29% last year.)

      The majority of shoppers plan to buy for their mother or stepmother (62.5%), while 23.2% will shop for their wife, 9.8% will shop for their daughter, 8.9% will shop for their sister and 7.4% plan to splurge on their grandmother.

      Mother's Day is less than 2 weeks off and you know what that means: a spending splurge on things like jewelry, flowers, gift cards, brunch and apparel. ...
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      Golden Krust Patties recalls beef and chicken products

      The products contain egg, an allergen not listed on the label

      Golden Krust Patties of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling approximately 9,073,384 pounds of beef and chicken products.

      The products contain egg, an allergen not listed on the label.

      There are no reports of adverse allergic reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following beef and chicken products, produced from January 24, 2014, through February 26, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
      • 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
      • 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
      • 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Hot Beef Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
      • 8.5-lb cases containing 24-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 8.5-lb cases containing 24- count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken.”
      • 40-lb cases containing 10-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 15-lb cases containing “Golden Krust Cheezee Beef Patty.”
      • 15-lb cases containing “Golden Krust Jerk Chicken Patty.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 18781 and P-18781” inside the USDA mark of inspection and have an expiration date between January 24, 2015 through February 26, 2016. They were shipped to distributors, retailers and consumers nationwide.

      Consumers with questions may contact Herma Hawthorne at (855) 565-0561.  

      Golden Krust Patties of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling approximately 9,073,384 pounds of beef and chicken products. The products contain egg, an allergen not ...
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      Pedego recalls electric bicycle batteries

      The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard

      Pedego Inc., of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 5,000 lithium ion rechargeable batteries.

      The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received 6 reports of batteries overheating and catching fire, including 1 report of property damage. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves 36-volt and 48-volt lithium ion rechargeable batteries sold separately and as original equipment with Pedego electric bikes. Recalled batteries of each voltage came in two styles.

      One style has a silver or black metal case that measures about 13 ½ inches long, 6 ½ inches wide and 2 ½ inches high, with black plastic end caps and a handle. The other style has a black or white plastic case that measures about 14 inches long, 6 ½ inches wide and 2 ½ inches high with a red indicator lamp on one end.

      The batteries have serial numbers that start with “DLG.” A label with the serial number is on one side of the metal batteries and on the underside of the plastic batteries.

      The batteries, manufactured in China, were sold at bicycle stores and electric bike retailers and online at www.pedegoelectricbikes.com from January 2010, through September 2013. The batteries were sold separately for about $600 to $900 and on electric bicycles that sold for between $2,000 and $3,000.

      Consumers should immediately remove the battery from the bike and contact Pedego for a free replacement battery.

      Consumers may contact Pedego toll-free at (888) 870-9754 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, or by email at info@batteryrecall2015.com.

      Pedego Inc., of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 5,000 lithium ion rechargeable batteries. The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard. The compan...
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      Hy-Vee recalls Summer Fresh Pasta Salad

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Hy-Vee is recalling Hy-Vee Summer Fresh Pasta Salad that is sold in its stores' kitchen department cold cases and salad bars.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The company says it has not received any complaints associated with this problem to date.

      The recalled product is packaged upon customer request from the kitchen cold case in 16-oz. or 32-oz. clear plastic containers with a light tan scale-produced label with the product name, weight and price affixed to the container.

      The pasta salad was available in stores in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota between April 9, 2015, and April 27, 2015.

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it or return it to the store for a refund.

      Consumers with questions may call Hy-Vee customer care at 1-800-772-4098.

      Hy-Vee is recalling Hy-Vee Summer Fresh Pasta Salad that is sold in its stores' kitchen department cold cases and salad bars. The product may be contamin...
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      Pediatricians find it's too easy for teens to buy supplements

      Test finds health food stores all too happy to sell dietary supplements to 15 year olds

      Teenage drug use – be they illegal substances or prescription drugs – is an ongoing concern. Now pediatricians are adding dietary supplements to their list of worries.

      The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has reviewed a series of studies that posed this question: could a fifteen-year-old call a health food store and purchase a dietary supplement, even though the label read “for adult use only.”

      Not only were the teens enlisted for the experiment able to buy the supplements, AAP says the staff in many stores helpfully recommended certain products.

      To be clear, the sales clerks were doing nothing illegal. Only one state prohibits minors from purchasing dietary supplements.

      Supplements might appear harmless but AAP recommends that both males and females under 18 avoid these body-shaping products, unregulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

      244 health food stores in 49 states

      During the experiment, testers identifying themselves as 15-year-old boys and girls called 244 health food stores in 49 states to inquire about supplements and found they could easily purchase them.

      “Teenagers dealing with negative body images are increasingly turning to over-the-counter supplements, despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to avoid such products, said Dr. Ruth Milanaik, of Cohen Children's Medical Center, who helped oversee the project.

      She warned that health food store supplements are not always healthy, and health food store attendants are not always experts when selling well-known "fat burning" thermogenic products, such as Hydroxycut, and Shredzm, testosterone boosters, or products containing creatine.

      Testosterone boosters

      Many testosterone boosters carry label instructions advising the products should only be used by adults. Even so, the testing team found 41% of sales attendants told callers identifying themselves as 15-year-olds they could purchase a testosterone booster without an adult's approval.

      And despite the fact that testosterone boosters are specifically not recommended for children under age 18 unless for documented medical reasons, the study found 9.8% of sales attendants actually recommended a testosterone booster.

      Milanaik is concerned that the supplement industry may view young people as an emerging market.

      "Adolescents are being enticed by flashy advertisements and promises of quick, body-shaping results," she said. "In this body-conscious world, flashy advertising of `safe, quick and easy body shaping results' are very tempting to younger individuals trying to achieve 'the perfect body.' It is important for pediatricians, parents, coaches and mentors to stress that healthy eating habits, sleep and daily exercise should be the recipe for a healthy body."

      Milanaik also has an issue with health food stores advertising that their employees are “trained experts.” If they were, she says they would not be recommending dietary supplements for minors.

      "Health food stores need to focus not only on knowing what products to recommend, but often more importantly, what products not to recommend for customers of certain ages and conditions," said Laura Fletcher, one of the principal investigators.

      At the very least, she says sales personnel should pay attention when warnings are clearly printed on product labels.

      Teenage drug use – be they illegal substances or prescription drugs – is an ongoing concern. Now pediatricians are adding dietary supplements to their list...
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      Google introduces anti-phishing tool for Chrome browser

      Password Alert can warn you when a bogus site tries to get your password

      Google has introduced a new security tool for the Chrome browser that's intended to help keep consumers safe from phishing attacks. Those are the scams that use what look legitimate pages (like the one above) to trick consumers into revealing their passwords.

      Phishing attacks are not only very common, they're also very effective. Google says they succeed nearly 45 percent of the time and reports that nearly 2% of emails submitted to Gmail are designed to smoke out consumers' passwords.

      Called Password Alert, the free, open-source Chrome extension will show you a warning if you type your Google password into a site that isn’t a Google sign-in page. 

      "Once you’ve installed and initialized Password Alert, Chrome will remember a 'scrambled' version of your Google Account password. It only remembers this information for security purposes and doesn’t share it with anyone," Google's Drew Hintz and Justin Kosslyn said in a blog posting.

      They said that if you type your password into a site that isn't a Google sign-in page, Password Alert will show you a notice like the one below, alerting you that you’re at risk of being phished so you can update your password and protect yourself.

      The app is available in the Google Play store.

      Google has introduced a new security tool for the Chrome browser that's intended to help keep consumers safe from phishing attacks. Those are the scams tha...
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      Air fares on the rise

      Travelers in Madison, Wisconsin, were hit the hardest

      The friendly skies were a little more expensive in the final 3 months of last year.

      Figures released by the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) show average the domestic air fare rose 2.0% in the fourth quarter of 2014 -- to an inflation-adjusted $393, from $385 a year earlier.

      Of the 100 busiest airports, during that period, passengers originating in Madison, Wisconsin, paid the highest average fare -- $505, while passengers originating in Sanford, Florida, paid the lowest -- $99.

      The BTS report bases average fares on domestic itinerary fares, which consist of round-trip fares, unless the customer does not purchase a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included. One-way trips accounted for 31% of fares calculated for the fourth quarter of 2014.

      Figuring fares

      Fares are based on the total ticket value, which consists of the price charged by the airlines plus any additional taxes and fees levied by an outside entity at the time of purchase. Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include things like baggage fees, paid at either the airport or onboard the aircraft. Averages also do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares,” or abnormally high reported fares.

      Fares during the fourth-quarter fares rose 10.2% from the recession-affected low of $348 in 2009 to the fourth quarter of 2011. Since 2011, fourth-quarter fares have shown little change, increasing 2.4% from 2011 to 2014.

      Historical data

      The fourth-quarter 2014 fare was down 14.4% from the average fare of $459 in 2000 -- the highest inflation-adjusted fourth quarter average fare in the 19 years since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995. That decline took place while overall consumer prices rose 37%. Since 1995, inflation-adjusted fares have actually fallen 10.8% compared with a 55.4% increase in overall consumer prices.

      U.S. passenger airlines collected 71.2% of their total revenue from passenger fares during the third quarter of 2014, the latest period for which revenue data are available, down from 1990 when 87.6% of airline revenue was received from fares.

      Annual fares

      The average fare of $391 for the full year 2014 was up 0.6%, inflation-adjusted, from the 2013 average fare of $389 but down 16.2% from the inflation-adjusted annual high of $467 in 2000.

      Not adjusted for inflation, the $391 average fare in 2014 is the highest annual fare since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995 -- 2.5% higher than the previous high of $382 in 2013.

      The complete report is available on the BTS website.

      The friendly skies were a little more expensive in the final 3 months of last year. Figures released by the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transpor...
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      Economic growth slows to a crawl in first quarter

      A slowdown in consumer spending is among the factors

      The government has taken its first of 3 readings on the economy for the first quarter -- and the results are not encouraging.

      According to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjusted for price changes -- increased at an anemic annual rate just of 0.2 percent in the first quarter. As a means of comparison, real GDP increased 2.2% in the previous 3 months.

      What increase there was primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and private inventory investment. But those were partly offset by declines in exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

      Consumers stay home

      The slowdown comes as a result in a slackening in PCE (+1.9%, compared with +4.4% the fourth quarter), downturns in exports, in nonresidential fixed investment, and in state and local government spending, and a deceleration in residential fixed investment that were partly offset by a deceleration in imports and upturns in private inventory investment and in federal government spending.

      The first-quarter advance estimate is based on incomplete source data and are subject to further revision. The "second" estimate for the first quarter, based on more complete data, will be released next month.

      GDP inflation

      The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, plunged 1.5% in the first quarter following a dip of 0.1% percent in the fourth. The core rate, which excludes the volatile food and energy sectors, rose 0.3%, compared with an increase of 0.7% in the previous 3 months.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      The government has taken its first of 3 readings on the economy for the first quarter -- and the results are not encouraging. According to the "advance" es...
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      A dip in mortgage applications

      Contract interest rates were mixed

      Applications for mortgages were a little lower last week.

      According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, the Market Composite Index -- a measure of mortgage loan application volume – was down 2.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending April 24.

      The average loan size for purchase applications rose to a survey high of $297,000.

      The Refinance Index fell 4% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 55% of total applications -- its lowest level since September 2014.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 5.7% of total applications, the FHA share was 13.7%, the VA share was 11.3%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.8%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose 2 basis points -- to 3.85% from 3.83%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) inched down to 3.82% from 3.83%, with points rising to 0.31 from 0.22 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA edged up 1 basis point to 3.66%, with points increasing to 0.16 from 0.12 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs rose from 3.11% to 3.14%, with points increasing to 0.31 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dipped to 2.88% from 2.89%, with points dropping to 0.27 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      Applications for mortgages were a little lower last week. According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Application Surv...
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      Spring fix-up can be hazardous to your health

      Emergency rooms are packed on weekends with victims of home handyman mishaps

      Deciding to tackle the yard work now that the weather is breaking can be dangerous. The emergency room is filled on weekends with people getting poked in t..

      Technology may reduce distracted driving among teens

      Study finds intervention devices successfully modified dangerous behavior

      It is a sad fact that the number one cause of accidental death in teens is motor vehicle accidents. In this current age of always needing to be plugged in, it is extremely difficult for many young drivers to put down their phones. Fortunately, a recent study shows that other types of technology may provide the answer to keeping young drivers safe.

      The study, which was led by Dr. Beth Ebel of the University of Washington, attempted to find out if other types of technology could make driving safer for young people. She and her colleagues believe that there is not enough being done to minimize distracted driving. “Facts and figures have not done enough to change driver behavior,” she said.

      29 teens

      The research team chose 29 teens for the study and observed them for six months. Each driver was placed into one of three groups. Two of the groups had intervention measures to stop distracted driving. The third group was the control group, and had no intervention measures in place.

      The first intervention group had an in-vehicle camera system installed that was triggered by certain driving conditions, such as hard braking, fast cornering, or impacts. The video footage was made available to teens and parents so that it could be reviewed to improve driving behavior.

      The second intervention group had a device installed that blocked incoming and outgoing calls and messages when the vehicle was being operated. In addition to these measures, all three groups had a program installed on their phones so that researchers could track how much they were used while driving.

      The results of the study showed that the intervention groups had lower cell phone use and fewer high-risk driving behaviors than the control group. Out of the three groups, those with the cell blocking technology had the safest driving record.

      One of the most interesting things uncovered by the study was that the young drivers were receptive to the intervention measures. None of the participants disabled the programs that were inhibiting their phone use. This gives hope that these technologies may be practical in the real world. Both intervention methods are currently available for commercial use.

      It is a sad fact that the number one cause of accidental death in teens is motor vehicle accidents. In this current age of always needing to be plugged in,...
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      Study finds gastric bands, group weight management programs equally effective

      Both improved blood sugar levels over a year's time

      Weight loss is never easy, but it's important for overweight people with type 2 diabetes seeking to control their blood sugar levels and optimize their health.

      A small clinical trial among such patients led by Joslin Diabetes Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers now has shown that two approaches -- adjustable gastric band surgery and an intensive group-based medical diabetes and weight management program -- achieved similar improvements in controlling blood sugar levels after one year.

      "We can anticipate long-term health benefits from both of these approaches, but they do require some investment of time and energy by the patient," says trial leader Allison Goldfine, M.D., head of Joslin's Section of Clinical Research and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

      Reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the SLIMM-T2D (Surgery or Lifestyle with Intensive Medical Management in Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes) trial enlisted 45 volunteers who had long-duration type 2 diabetes, struggled to manage their diabetes and had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

      The study randomly divided the participants into two groups.

      One group received an adjustable gastric band procedure, which inserts a band around the upper stomach whose tightness can be adjusted.

      "With the band, you put a device around the top portion of the stomach, people get full more quickly, and that fullness signals them to stop eating," Dr. Goldfine notes. She adds that some studies suggest that over time, people with the band learn to change their behaviors to eat less even when the band is no longer fully restricted.

      The other group of participants underwent Joslin's Why WAIT (Weight Achievement and Intensive Treatment), a clinically available program built on behavioral interventions that have been proven to be effective.

      Similar results

      After one year, the two groups achieved similar lowering of blood sugar levels -- average levels of hemoglobin A1C (a standard measurement of blood sugar levels over several months) dropped by 1.2 for patients with the gastric band and by 1.0 for patients in the IMWM program. The groups also saw similar-magnitude improvements in their levels of blood sugar when fasting, another standard metric for type 2 diabetes management.

      Weight loss was similar between the two arms at three months. At one year, however, the participants given the band achieved greater average loss (30 pounds compared to 19 pounds) and were continuing to lose weight. The Why WAIT group saw greater reductions in blood pressure than the band group, but other measures of cardiovascular health were generally comparable between the two groups.

      Participants in both arms of the trial reported that their health had been improved on a number of measures and that they were enjoying better quality of life.

      Gastric bands are inserted laparoscopically, via small incisions in the belly, and clamped around the top of the stomach. Gastric bypass procedures, more invasive forms of surgery that route digestion around parts of the stomach, affect digestion metabolism more drastically than bands and typically result in greater weight loss.

      Different approaches

      A previous SLIMM-T2D study led by Joslin and reported last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the use of the most common gastric bypass surgery, called Roux-en-Y, to Why WAIT treatment. In that earlier trial, participants who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass lost significantly more weight and achieved better diabetes control than those in the medical treatment arm of the trial.

      In addition to these two Joslin-led trials, several other research institutions have run small studies studying various gastric procedures and medical programs. A consortium called ARMMS-T2D (Alliance of Randomized Trials of Medicine versus Metabolic Surgery in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes) aims to follow up on the roughly 300 patients in all these trials.

      "It's really important to have a variety of different approaches available to treat a complex medical problem like diabetes, and we need to understand the relative merits of each approach," Dr. Goldfine sums up. "There are people for whom remembering to take their medications is highly problematic, and there are people for whom the idea of surgical risk is unbearable. One size does not fit all."

      Weight loss is never easy, but it's important for overweight people with type 2 diabetes seeking to control their blood sugar levels and optimize their hea...
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      Waymouth Farms recalls raw pine nuts

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Waymouth Farms of New Hope, Minn., is recalling raw pine nuts in various sizes.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with the problem.

      The following products, sold nationwide through retail stores and mail order under the Good Sense brand, are being recalled:

      Packaging/SizeUPC"Freshest if Used By" Date or Range
      4 oz. clear plastic tub30243 5079910-24-15 – 11/15/15
      11/20/15
      11/27/15 – 01/14/16
      02/6/16 – 07/21/16
      4 oz. zipper bag30243 8668007/28/15 – 04/08/16
      3 oz. zipper bag30243 8668109/29/15 – 04/02/16
      15 oz. zipper bag30243 8668707/17/15 AND 10/22/15

      The 4-oz. bags listed above may have been sold as a floor display, UPC 30243 86683 with a date range of September 5, 2015, to February 4, 2016.

      The product was also sold in a 5-lb. bulk box, UPC 30243 02860, from June 6, 2014, to March 26, 2015 using the following Julian Codes:

      Julian Code  
      1 155 141 183 141 210 14
      1 223 141 239 141 260 14
      1 281 141 282 141 317 14
      1 351 141 020 151 050 15
      1 085 15  

      This bulk product would have been sold from bulk self-service grocery bins.

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact customer service at 800-527-0094 Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, CST.

      Waymouth Farms of New Hope, Minn., is recalling raw pine nuts in various sizes. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella No illnesses have been re...
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      Corn Maiden Foods expands recall of beef and pork products

      The products contain hydrolyzed soy protein, an allergen not listed on the label

      Corn Maiden Foods of Harbor City, Calif., has added an additional item to the list of 15,600 pounds of pork products recalled earlier this month.

      The products contain hydrolyzed soy protein, an allergen not listed on the label.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following products, produced between April 9, 2014 and April 8, 2015, have been added to the original list of recalled items:

      • 20.625 lb. cases containing 60 5.5 oz. pieces of “Tamales with Pork Carnitas, Green Chile & Oregano Wrapped in Corn Husks.”
      • 9.375 lb. cases containing 60 2.5 oz. pieces of “Tamales with Pork Carnitas, Green Chile & Oregano Wrapped in Corn Husks.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 20949” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to hotels, restaurants and institutional locations in California.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Pascal Dropsy at (310) 784-0400, ext. 221.

      Corn Maiden Foods of Harbor City, Calif., has added an additional item to the list of 15,600 pounds of pork products recalled earlier this month. The pro...
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      Video study documents teen distracted driving

      In-car cameras capture moments just before and after a crash

      A picture is worth a thousand words. Highway safety advocates are hoping in-vehicle video of actual car accidents caused by driver distraction can focus more attention on the problem.

      Back in March the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that distracted driving by teenagers is happening more than anyone previously thought. The foundation reached that conclusion after going to the video tape.

      A company called Lytx installs video in-vehicle event recorders in cars. They are part of a driver training system that also collects audio and accelerometer data when a driver triggers an in-vehicle device by hard braking, fast cornering or an impact that exceeds a certain g-force.

      Just before and just after crash

      The videos are 12-seconds long and provide information from before and after the event. The videos are part of a program for coaching drivers to improve behavior and reduce collisions.

      For its study, the foundation was granted permission to analyze the videos – in particular those featuring teenage drivers. This unique video analysis found that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate to severe incidents featuring teen driver – 4 times as many as the official estimates based on police reports.

      Below is an excerpt from the collection of videos the foundation analyzed.

      Phones not the only distraction

      Phones caused the largest percentage of distractions, but the cameras showed there were plenty of other things distracting young drivers. Cell phone use caused 12% of crashes but looking at something in the vehicle caused 10%. Looking at things outside the vehicle, singing or moving to music, grooming or reaching for something were also sources of distraction.

      “It is troubling that passengers and cell phones were the most common forms of distraction given that these factors can increase crash risks for teen drivers,” said AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet. “The situation is made worse by the fact that young drivers have spent less time behind the wheel and cannot draw upon their previous experience to manage unsafe conditions.”

      The analysis of the video footage found that driving looking at their phones had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final 6 seconds leading up to an accident. The researchers also measured reaction time in rear-end crashes, finding that many teens distracted by a cellphone never reacted, meaning they slammed into the vehicle in front without ever hitting the brakes or swerving.

      The takeaway from the video footage, Darbeinet concludes, is states need to tighten their graduated driving laws (GDL), prohibiting cell phone use by teen drivers and restricting passengers to one non-family member for the first 6 months of driving.

      A picture is worth a thousand words. Highway safety advocates are hoping in-vehicle video of actual car accidents caused by driver distraction can focus mo...
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      Feds fine Regions Bank for gouging customers with illegal overdraft fees

      The bank charged overdraft fees to customers who had not opted-in for coverage, the CFPB charged

      For the first time, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken action against a bank for violating regulations governing bank overdraft fees.

      The bureau announced Tuesday that Regions Bank has been fined $7.5 million for charging overdraft fees to thousands of consumers who had not opted-in for overdraft coverage. The fine comes on top of a consent order with the bureau, also announced Monday, requiring the Birmingham, Ala.-based bank to pay back all consumers who had been affected by the unwarranted overdafts.

      “Today the CFPB is taking its first enforcement action under the rules that protect consumers against illegal overdraft fees by their banks,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Regions Bank failed to ask consumers if they wanted overdraft service before charging them fees. In the end, hundreds of thousands of consumers paid at least $49 million in illegal charges. We take the issue of overdraft fees very seriously and will be vigilant about making sure that consumers receive the protections they deserve.”

      Regions Bank operates approximately 1,700 retail branches and 2,000 ATMs across 16 states. With more than $119 billion in assets, it is one of the country's largest banks.

      First such action

      Consumers rate Regions Bank

      The action taken by the bureau is the first time it has punished a bank for violating overdraft regulations since new federal rules took effect in 2010, part of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, that prohibited banks and credit unions from charging overdraft fees on ATM and one-time debit card transactions unless consumers affirmatively opted in. If consumers don’t opt-in, banks may decline the transaction, but won’t charge a fee.

      The bureau found that Regions bank allowed consumers to link their checking accounts to savings accounts or lines of credit. Once that link was established, funds from the linked account would automatically be transferred to cover a shortage in a consumer’s checking account. But Regions never provided customers with linked accounts an opportunity to opt in for overdraft. Because those consumers had not opted in, Regions could have simply declined ATM or one-time debit card transactions that exceeded the available balance in both the checking and linked accounts. Instead, the bank paid those transactions, tacking on and overdraft fee of $36, in violation of the opt-in rule.

      However, Regions Bank had been aware of the issue for some time. According to the bureau, an internal bank review revealed the violation 13 months after the new overdraft rules went into effect. The bureau said that senior executives at the bank were not made aware of the issue for another year after that, at which point they notified the CPFB. In June 2012, the bank reprogrammed its systems to stop charging the unauthorized fees. Then, this past January, the bank discovered more bank accounts that had been charged unauthorized fees.

      Regions Ready

      The bureau also said that Regions charged overdraft and non-sufficient funds fees with its deposit advance product, called Regions Ready Advance, despite claiming it would not. Specifically, if the bank collected payment from the consumer’s checking account that would cause the consumer’s balance to drop below zero the bank would either cover the transaction and charge an overdraft fee or reject its own transaction and charge a non-sufficient funds fee. At various times from November 2011 until August 2013, the bank charged non-sufficient funds fees and overdraft charges of about $1.9 million to more than 36,000 customers.

      Regions Bank voluntarily reimbursed approximately 200,000 consumers a total of nearly $35 million in December 2012 for the illegal overdraft fees discovered then. After the bureau alerted the bank to more affected consumers, Regions returned an additional $12.8 million in December 2013. In January 2015, the bank identified even more affected consumers and is now required to provide them with a full refund. Regions has been ordered to hire an independent consultant to identify all remaining consumers who were charged the illegal fees. Regions will return these fees to consumers, if not already refunded. If the consumers have a current account with the bank, they will receive a credit to their account. For closed or inactive accounts, Regions will send a check to the affected consumers.

      The $7.5 million fine the bank has been ordered to pay could have been larger, according to the bureau, which noted the delay in notifiying senior bank officials of the violations. But the bureau credited Regions for making reimbursements to consumers and promptly self-reporting these issues to the Bureau once they were brought to the attention of senior management.

      For the first time, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken action against a bank for violating regulations governing bank overdraft fees. Th...
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      Scam warning: watch out for fraudulent Nepalese-earthquake charities

      Don't let con artists fleece you with your own charitable impulses

      On Saturday a massive earthquake devastated the Himalayan nation of Nepal, and the dust had barely settled before scammers and con artists started using the tragedy to fleece money out of people, either by establishing fake charities ostensibly to help earthquake victims, or posing as legitimate charities to send out phishing-bait messages.

      Give.org is the website maintained by the Better Business Bureau's “Wise Giving Alliance,” which essentially rates charities same way the BBB rates businesses. Yesterday, the WGA issued a warning “advis[ing] donors to avoid being taken advantage of by questionable solicitations or wasting their money on poorly managed relief efforts” connected to the earthquake.

      Along with the warning, Give.org posted an alphabetized list of BBB/WGA-accredited charities currently collecting contributions for relief efforts in Nepal. If you want to donate to a charity, check first to see if that charity is on the list.

      In addition, you must also take all the standard precautions against phishing scams. “Phishing” is basically the online-scam equivalent of “impersonation”: a phisher will send you an email claiming to be from somebody else — anybody from your bank to Netflix to the IRS or some other government agency — in hope of tricking you into handing over your money, or your passwords or other confidential information.

      The best way to defend yourself against phishers is to follow the communication rule “Don't call me; I'll call you.” Suppose, for example, you think there might be a problem with your Netflix account. Under those circumstances, you should definitely contact Netflix and speak to a representative about it. But if you get an out-of-the-blue email, purportedly from Netflix, warning you about a problem you didn't even know you had — don't believe it. That message almost certainly is not from Netflix, but from a phisher.

      A similar “Don't call me; I'll call you” applies to charitable giving. If you want to donate to a charity helping Nepalese earthquake victims, you should reach out to contact that charity (after first confirming it's on the WGA/BBB's accredited-charity list). However, do not respond to any emails or text messages purporting to seek donations on behalf of any such charity, and if you receive such messages, do not click on any links or download any attachments they might have. (Better yet, don't open such messages at all; just delete them immediately.)

      On Saturday a massive earthquake devastated the Himalayan nation of Nepal, and the dust had barely settled before scammers and con artists started using th...
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      Home prices post widespread gains in February

      Prices have posted year-over-year advances for 34 straight months

      Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

      Both the 10-City and 20-City Composites saw larger year-over-year increases in February than were registered the month before. The 10-City Composite jumped 4.8% year-over-year, versus January's 4.3% advance, while the 20-City Composite gained was up 5.0% following a 4.5% increase in January.

      The S&P/CaseShiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which covers all 9 U.S. census divisions, recorded a 4.2% annual advance in February 2015. Denver and San Francisco reported the highest year-over-year gains, as prices increased by 10.0% and 9.8%, respectively, over the last 12 months -- the first double digit increase for Denver since August 2013.

      Seventeen cities reported higher year-over-year price increases in the year ended February 2015 than in the year ended January 2015, with San Francisco showing the largest acceleration. Three cities -- San Diego, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., -- reported that the pace of annual price increases slowed.

      “Home prices continue to rise and outpace both inflation and wage gains,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The S&P/Case-Shiller National Index has seen 34 consecutive months with positive year-over-year gains; all 20 cities have shown year-over-year gains every month since the end of 2012.'

      Month-over-month

      The National Index rebounded in February, reporting a 0.1% change for the month. Both the 10- and 20-City Composites reported significant month-over-month increases of 0.5%, their largest increase since July 2014. Of the 16 cities that reported increases, San Francisco and Denver led all cities in February with gains of 2.0% and 1.4%. Cleveland reported the largest drop as prices fell 1.0%. Las Vegas and Boston reported declines of -0.3% and -0.2% respectively.

      “A better sense of where home prices are can be seen by starting in January 2000 -- before the housing boom accelerated -- and looking at real or inflation adjusted numbers,” said Blitzer. “Based on the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, prices rose 66.8% before adjusting for inflation from January 2000 to February 2015; adjusted for inflation, this is 27.9% or a 1.7% annual rate.”

      Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. Both the 10-City and 20...
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      Tyson Foods will cull antibiotics from its chicken flocks

      Antibiotic-resistant infections "a global health concern"

      Tyson Foods is the latest to say it will phase out the use of human antibiotics. The company says its U.S. broiler chicken flocks will be free of antibiotics by the end of September 2017.

      Tyson says it has already stopped using all antibiotics in its 35 broiler hatcheries, requires a veterinary prescription for antibiotics used on broiler farms and has reduced human antibiotics used to treat broiler chickens by more than 80 percent since 2011.

      “Antibiotic-resistant infections are a global health concern,” said Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods. “We’re confident our meat and poultry products are safe, but want to do our part to responsibly reduce human antibiotics on the farm so these medicines can continue working when they’re needed to treat illness.”

      Tyson said it is also forming working groups with independent farmers and others in the company’s beef, pork and turkey supply chains to discuss ways to reduce the use of human antibiotics on cattle, hog and turkey farms.

      FDA plan

      In December 2013, the Food and Drug Adminitration (FDA) formulated a plan under which food manufacturers are being asked to voluntarily withdraw the routine use of human antibiotics in animals raised as food.

      “We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” said William Flynn, DVM, MS, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”

      Tyson said it will work with food industry, government, veterinary, public health and academic communities, and provide funding, to accelerate research into disease prevention and antibiotic alternatives on the farm. 

      “One of our core values is to serve as responsible stewards of animals – we will not let sick animals suffer,” Smith said.  “We believe it’s our responsibility to help drive action towards sustainable solutions to this challenge by working with our chicken, turkey, beef and pork supply chains.”  

      Tyson Foods is the latest to say it will phase out the use of human antibiotics. The company says its U.S. broiler chicken flocks will be free of antibioti...
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      Greystone Foods recalls vegetable products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Greystone Foods of Birmingham, Ala., is recalling Today’s Harvest frozen Field Peas with Snaps, Broccoli Florets, and Silver Queen Corn.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled products come in 32-oz clear plastic bags and are sold in the freezer section of Publix Supermarkets. The sell by date of 04/21/16 is printed along the bottom seal of the bag in black ink.

      Customers who purchased these products should return them to the store where they were purchased for a refund.

      Consumers with questions may call 1-205-945-9099.

      Greystone Foods of Birmingham, Ala., is recalling Today’s Harvest frozen Field Peas with Snaps, Broccoli Florets, and Silver Queen Corn. The products may ...
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      Alpine Sausage Kitchen recalls beef and pork products

      The products contain soy, an allergen not listed on the label

      Alpine Sausage Kitchen of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling approximately 3,350 pounds of beef and pork products.

      The products contain soy, an allergen not listed on the label.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following sausage products, produced from February 4, 2014 through March 26, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 10-lb. boxes containing “Alpine Sausage Kitchen VIENNA SAUSAGE Calcium Reduced Dried Skim Milk Added.”
      • 10-lb. boxes containing “Alpine Sausage Kitchen COOKED BRATWURST (GERMAN BRAND).”
      • The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “EST. 7060” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

      The recalled items were shipped to a retail location in Texas.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact William Schmaeh at (505) 266-2853.  

      Alpine Sausage Kitchen of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling approximately 3,350 pounds of beef and pork products. The products contain soy, an allergen not ...
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      Hong Ha recalls beef and pork products

      The products contain wheat flour, eggs and milk, allergens not listed on the label

      Hong Ha of Hyattsville, Md., is recalling approximately 10,164 pounds of beef and pork products.

      The products contain wheat flour, eggs and milk, allergens not listed on the product label.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following beef and pork items, produced between December 1, 2014, and April 23, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 6-oz. packages containing “HONG HA GIO HUE (Vietnamese Brand Seasoned Pork Patty Mix)”
      • 7-oz. packages containing “HONG HA NEM (Vietnamese Brand Fresh Seasoned Pork Pattie Mix for Barbecue)”
      • 8-oz. packages containing “HONG HA CHA CHIEN (Vietnamese Brand Seasoned Pork, Patty Mix)”
      • 12-oz. vacuum sealed packages containing “HONG HA BO VIEN GAN (Vietnamese Brand Beef & Pork Meat Balls. Beef Tendons Added)”
      • 12-oz. vacuum sealed packages containing “HONG HA BO VIEN (Vietnamese Brand Beef & Pork Meat Balls)”
      • 14-oz. packages containing “HONG HA NEM NUONG (Vietnamese Brand Seasoned Pork Meat Balls, Anchovy Flavored Fish Sauce Added)”
      • 14-oz. packages containing “HONG HA GIO SONG (Vietnamese Brand Fresh Seasoned Pork, Pattie Mix)”
      • 32-oz. banana leaf and plastic packages containing of “HONG HA GIO DAC BIET (Vietnamese Brand Seasoned Pork Patty Mix)”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 4261” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to restaurants and retail locations in Maryland and Virginia.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Magdi Abadir at (301) 341-1175.

      Hong Ha of Hyattsville, Md., is recalling approximately 10,164 pounds of beef and pork products. The products contain wheat flour, eggs and milk, allergen...
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      Nylabone Products recalls Puppy Starter Kit

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Nylabone Products of Neptune, N.J., is recalling one lot of its 1.69-oz. package of the Puppy Starter Kit dog chews.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled Puppy Starter Kit consists of one lot of dog chews that were sold nationwide, in Canada, and through one domestic online mail order facility.

      It comes in a 1.69-oz. package marked with Lot #21935, UPC 0-18214-81291-3, and an expiration date of 3/22/18 on the back of the package.

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discontinue use of it and may return the unused portion to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-877-273-7527, Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm CT.

      Nylabone Products of Neptune, N.J., is recalling one lot of its 1.69-oz. package of the Puppy Starter Kit dog chews. The product may be contaminated with ...
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      Ford recalls Ford Fiestas, Fusions, and Lincoln MKZs

      The vehicles may have a broken door latch pawl spring tab

      Ford Motor Company is recalling approximately 390,000 model year 2012-2014 Ford Fiestas, and 2013-2014 model year Ford Fusions and Lincoln MKZs.

      The door latch in the recalled vehicles may experience a broken pawl spring tab, which typically results in a condition where the door will not latch. If a customer is then able to latch the door, there is potential the door may unlatch while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of injury.

      Ford is aware of two reports of soreness resulting from an unlatched door bouncing back when the customer attempted to close it, and one accident report when an unlatched door swung open and struck an adjacent vehicle as the driver was pulling into a parking space.

      Approximately 390,000 vehicles are located in North America, including 336,873 in the U.S. and federalized territories, 30,198 in Canada and 22,514 in Mexico.

      Dealers will replace all four door latches at no cost to the customer.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling approximately 390,000 model year 2012-2014 Ford Fiestas and 2013-2014 model years Ford Fusions and Lincoln MKZs. The door...
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      Corinthian Colleges ceases operations, closes all remaining schools

      Corinthian-run Everest, WyoTech and Heald campuses closed; other Everest locations remain open

      Corinthian Colleges, the long-embattled chain of for-profit (and not necessarily accredited) schools, announced on its website that it would close all of its remaining campuses effective today. Those campuses include “Everest and WyoTech campuses in California, Everest College Phoenix and Everest Online Tempe in Arizona, the Everest Institute in New York, and 150-year-old Heald College -- including its 10 locations in California, one in Hawaii and one in Oregon.”

      Take note: although Corinthian does – or did – operate schools under the Everest name, not all Everest schools were run by Corinthian, so not all of them will be closing. For example: when ConsumerAffairs called the Everest College campus in Woodbridge, Virginia, this morning, we were told that it was not shutting down since Corinthian did not own it.

      The CCI website says, “The company is working with other schools to provide continuing educational opportunities for its approximately 16,000 students. Corinthian said those efforts depend to a great degree on cooperation with partnering institutions and regulatory authorities.”

      Translation: Those efforts depend to a great degree on whether any reputable, regionally accredited educational institutions will accept transfer credits from Corinthian courses -- and Everest schools, Corinthian-owned or otherwise, have a poor track record in that regard.

      California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said Corinthian "continued to deceive its students to the end."

      "Closure of these campuses should help students get out from under the mountains of debt Corinthian imposed upon them through its lies," Harris said. "Federal and state regulators rightly acted to prevent taxpayer dollars from flowing to Corinthian, which preyed on the educational dreams of vulnerable people such as low-income individuals, single mothers and veterans by misleading students and investors about job placement rates and course offerings."

      Multiple troubles

      In February 2013, for example, an Everest graduate sued the school, alleging that none of the credits he took at Everest were transferable to a state community college. Many consumers posting on ConsumerAffairs have complained of problems transferring their credits.

      “I attended Everest here in Miami in 2010,” former student Lucy said in a ConsumerAffairs posting last summer. “At the time I had no high school diploma. I completed a test that qualified me for the pharmacy technician program. ... I passed with flying colors.”

      But that hasn't done Lucy much good. “To make a long story short, I am $13,000 in debt and still no employment in my field of study,” she said. “We cannot transfer our education credits because it's not considered real.”

      Last June, the Department of Education temporarily halted all federal student aid to Corinthian-owned schools. In September, the feds sued Corinthian on charges of predatory lending practices toward its students. (Remember, too, that student loan debt is far worse than other kinds, because student loans can't even be discharged in bankruptcy.)

      Hefty fine levied

      Less than two weeks ago, the Department of Education levied a $30 million fine against Corinthian, and ordered its Heald College schools to stop enrolling new students, after an investigation “confirmed cases” that the company misrepresented the schools' job placement rates to current and prospective students of Corinthian-owned Heald Colleges.

      For example: the DoE's investigation found that Heald paid companies to hire graduates for temporary positions lasting as little as two days, performing such basic tasks as moving computers and organizing cables, then counted those graduates as “placed in field.” (In many instances, those temp jobs were actually on Heald campuses.) Heald also counted obvious out-of-field jobs as in-field placements, including one graduate of an accounting program whose food-service gig at Taco Bell was counted as “in-field” work.

      Despite all of this, the closing announcement on the Corinthian Colleges website says that, “The Company said that its historic graduation rate and job placement rates compared favorably with community colleges,” and quoted Corinthian's CEO, Jack Massimino, as saying “We believe that we have attempted to do everything within our power to provide a quality education and an opportunity for a better future for our students.”

      Corinthian Colleges, the long-embattled chain of for-profit schools, announced on its website that it would close all remaining campuses immediately...
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      Report: Russian hackers could read President Obama's email correspondence

      Last summer's White House hacking was even worse than previously admitted

      Last summer, hackers with suspected Russian-government backing were able to breach computer network security at the State Department, then use that as a jumping-off point to later hack into the network of the White House itself — though not until earlier this month did the public learn about the White House hacking.

      At the time, it was reported that the hackers had gained illicit real-time access to information including non-public details of the president's own daily schedule. However, although they were able to get such sensitive data, White House spokespeople said the hackers were unable to get any classified data, including national security-related information. (In government-security terms, the words “sensitive” and “classified” have distinctly different meanings.)

      But this Saturday, the New York Times reported that last summer's White House hacking went deeper than previously admitted, with the hackers even getting access to some of President Obama's email correspondence, according to unnamed “senior American officials.”

      Not classified

      That said, White House officials still maintain that the hackers never accessed any classified information. (Most senior officials have two different work-computers connected to two different networks: one connected to a highly secure classified network, and another computer connected to the outside world's Internet for unclassified communication.)

      The problem is that despite those dual networks, classified and unclassified communications still aren't segregated as strictly as they should be; certain sensitive (though not officially “classified”) communications still end up going through the unclassified Internet connections, including schedules and email exchanges with diplomats and ambassadors.

      An anonymous official told the Times that the hacking “has been one of the most sophisticated actors we’ve seen,” while another official admitted, “It’s the Russian angle to this that’s particularly worrisome.”

      Last week, in a possibly unrelated incident, researchers at the FireEye cybersecurity firm announced their discovery of certain zero-day software flaws which had been exploited by hackers from a Russian espionage campaign to spy on American defense contractors, NATO officials and diplomats, and others in whom Russia's government might take a particular interest.

      Not just Russia

      But Russia's is not the only foreign government suspected of supporting such illicit cyberwarriors. Last November, for example, the United States Postal Service admitted that hackers (with suspected connections to the Chinese government) breached the USPS database and stole the names, addresses, Social Security numbers, emergency contacts and similar information for all post office employees.

      At the time, security experts said they suspected that the USPS hackers were the same people behind last July's hacking of the federal Office of Personnel Management; those hackers managed to steal data on up to 5 million government employees and contractors who hold security clearances.

      The Chinese are also suspected of involvement in the Anthem insurance company hacking announced in February – possibly because a lot of defense contractors, including employees of Northrop Grumman and Boeing, get their insurance coverage through Anthem.

      However, the Chinese government has denied all such allegations, and points out that hacking is illegal under Chinese law. The Russian government has not admitted to involvement with any American hackings, either.

      Last summer, hackers with suspected Russian-government backing were able to breach computer network security at the State Department, then use that as a ju...
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      Toddlers downing coffee in Boston (and maybe elsewhere)

      The results of a recent study came as a surprise to researchers

      McDonald's used to be the worry when it came to our kids and what they were putting in their bodies, now Starbucks may be the next big target, at least in Boston. About one in seven two-year-olds in Boston drinks coffee, according to a recent study led by Boston Medical Center (BMC) that was published online recently in the Journal of Human Lactation.

      "Our results show that many infants and toddlers in Boston -- and perhaps in the U.S. -- are being given coffee and that this could be associated with cultural practices," principal investigator Anne Merewood, director of the Breastfeeding Center at Boston Medical Center, said in a medical center news release.

      Does anyone really want to spend the day with a toddler hyped up on caffeine? Some cultures apparently embrace it. Research showed that children in Australia, Cambodia and Ethiopia, between the ages of birth to 5 are given coffee.  Research noted that kids coming from Hispanic households also drank coffee at an early age.

      Not much research

      There hasn't been much research on coffee consumption of infants but what has been documented is children who were two and who drank coffee in between meals or at bedtime were three times more likely to be obese in kindergarten. The US has not provided guidelines on coffee consumption for children.

      Using data from a study on infant weight gain and diet, the researchers looked at 315 mother-infant pairs to determine what and how much infants and toddlers were consuming. They examined everything a toddler would drink such as breast milk, formula, water and juice –  and were  shocked  to find out there was something they missed and that was coffee.

      At one year, the rate of coffee consumption reported was 2.5 percent of children. At two years, that number increased to just above 15 percent, and the average daily consumption for these children was 1.09 ounces.

      Other studies have shown what you would most likely suspect when children consumed caffeine. It made them depressed and a good number came down with diabetes. Naturally they had sleep problems, and there was a high incidence of substance abuse and obesity.

      What wasn’t mentioned in the study but is a problem is that when children drink coffee it affects their teeth. Coffee is acidic. Acidic drinks can cause damage in the mouth by weakening teeth; this leads to a decline in tooth enamel and an increase in cavities. Children are more prone to cavities than adults, as it takes years for new enamel to harden after baby teeth have been lost and adult teeth have come in. 

      McDonald's used to be the worry when it came to our kids and what they were putting in their bodies, now Starbucks may be the next big target, at least in ...
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      Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams recalls all products

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is recalling all ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets, and ice cream sandwiches for all flavors and containers.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      In addition, the company is ceasing all sales and closing all scoop shops until all products are ensured to be 100% safe.

      The company says it is not aware of any illness reports to date related to the recalled products.

      The recalled products were distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts and grocery markets throughout the U.S., as well as online at jenis.com.

      Customers who purchased any of these products should dispose of them or return them to the store where they were purchased for an exchange or full refund.

      Consumers may contact Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at 614-360-3905 from 9 am to 5 pm (E.D.T.) Monday through Friday or by email at recall@jenis.com.  

      Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is recalling all ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets, and ice cream sandwiches for all flavors and containers. The product may ...
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      General Motors recalls Buick Regals and Chevrolet Impalas and Monte Carlos

      The valve cover gasket may leak

      General Motors is recalling 1,207 model year 2004 Buick Regals manufactured April 9, 2003, to June 26, 2003, 2004 Chevrolet Impalas manufactured April 8, 2003, to June 25, 2003, and 2004 Chevrolet Monte Carlos manufactured April 7, 2003, to June 25, 2003.

      The valve cover gasket may leak dripping leaking engine oil onto the hot surface of the exhaust manifold, increasing the risk of a fire.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the spark plug wire retainer to redirect the dripping oil. Vehicles that have a 3.8L V6 supercharged engine will also have the left valve cover gasket replaced. These repairs will be done free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300 or Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14574.

      General Motors is recalling 1,207 model year 2004 Buick Regals manufactured April 9, 2003, to June 26, 2003, 2004 Chevrolet Impalas manufactured April 8, 2...
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      Inventure Foods recalls Fresh Frozen Vegetables and Select Jamba "At Home" smoothie kits

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Inventure Foods is recalling certain varieties of its Fresh Frozen line of frozen vegetables, as well as select varieties of its Jamba “At Home” line of smoothie kits.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no known illnesses linked to consumption of these products to date.

      The recalled Fresh Frozen products were distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts, mass merchandise stores and supermarkets in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

      The recalled Jamba “At Home” smoothies’ products were distributed to retail outlets, including mass merchandise stores and supermarkets east of the Mississippi River.

      The following products are being recalled:

      Fresh Frozen Vegetable Products

      UPC CODEFF ITEM NUMBERPACK SIZEDESCRIPTION
      0-86069-20000-11026/2#SPEC. BUTTER BEANS
      0-86069-50000-21054/5#SPEC. BUTTER BEANS
      0-86069-20010-01126/2#BABY LIMA BEANS
      0-86069-50010-11154/5#BABY LIMA BEANS
      0-86069-20020-91246/2#CUT GREEN BEANS
      0-86069-50020-01254/5#CUT GREEN BEANS
      0-86069-20340-81326/2#ITALIAN GREEN BEANS
      0-86069-50340-91354/5#ITALIAN GREEN BEANS
      0-86069-20030-82036/2#CROWDER PEAS
      0-86069-50030-92054/5#CROWDER PEAS
      0-86069-20040-72126/2#BLACKEYE PEAS
      0-86069-50040-82154/5#BLACKEYE PEAS
      0-86069-20041-42226/2#PURPLE HULL PEAS
      0-86069-50041-52254/5#PURPLE HULL PEAS
      0-86069-20050-62426/2#FIELD PEAS W/SNPS
      0-86069-50050-72454/5#FIELD PEAS W/SNPS
      0-86069-20060-52526/2#BUTTER PEAS
      0-86069-20005-62566/2#BUTTER BEANS
      0-86069-20016-214412/24 ozFORDHOOK LIMA BEANS
      0-86069-20061-22626/2#GREEN PEAS
      0-86069-50060-62654/5#GREEN PEAS
      0-86069-20290-62726/2#GREEN PEAS W/CARROTS
      0-86069-50290-72754/5#GREEN PEAS W/CARROTS
      0-86069-20042-12836/2#ZIPPER PEAS
      0-86069-20032-22956/2#WHITE ACRE PEAS
      0-86069-20070-43036/2#CUT OKRA
      0-86069-50240-23054/5#CUT OKRA
      0-86069-20350-73126/2#BABY WHOLE OKRA
      **** NO UPC3154/5#BABY WHOLE OKRA
      0-86069-20075-93236/2#BREADED OKRA
      0-86069-50075-03254/5#BREADED OKRA
      0-86069-20100-84026/2#CUT YELLOW CORN
      0-86069-50100-94054/5#CUT YELLOW CORN
      **** NO UPC42196 CT3" CORN ON COB
      0-86069-20200-54226/2#3" CORN ON COB
      0-86069-50250-14254/5#3" CORN ON COB
      0-86069-20102-24326/2#SHOEPEG CORN
      0-86069-50102-34354/5#SHOEPEG CORN
      0-86069-20300-25026/2#SLICED YELLOW SQUASH
      0-86069-50300-35054/5#SLICED SQUASH
      0-86069-20270-85106/2#BREADED SQUASH
      0-86069-20310-35226/2#SLICED ZUCCHINI
      0-86069-20510-55316/2#CHOPPED VIDALIA ONIONS & SQUASH
      0-86069-20500-65426/2#CHOPPED VIDALIA ONIONS
      0-86069-20295-16036/2#SLICED CARROTS
      **** NO UPC60420#SLICED CARROTS
      0-86069-20355-26596/2#BRUSSEL SPROUTS
      0-86069-20140-47036/2#CUT BROCCOLI
      0-86069-50140-57054/5#CUT BROCCOLI
      0-86069-20141-17086/2#BROCCOLI FLORETS
      **** NO UPC76212/2#DICED CELERY
      0-86069-25071-67746/2#MUSTARD GREENS
      0-86069-25040-27766/2#IQF COLLARDS
      0-86069-25050-17776/2#IQF TURNIP GREENS
      0-86069-25060-07786/2#IQF TURNIP GREENS W/R
      0-86069-25090-77796/2#IQF CHOPPED SPINACH
      **** NO UPC79212/2#DICED ONIONS
      **** NO UPC79512/2#DICED RED PEPPER
      **** NO UPC79812/2#DICED GREEN PEPPER
      0-86069-50080-48054/5#MIXED VEGETABLES
      0-86069-20080-38066/2#MIXED VEGETABLES
      0-86069-20014-88136/2#PREMIUM CALIFORNIA BLEND
      0-86069-20011-78146/2#CALIFORNIA BLEND
      0-86069-50011-88154/5#CALIFORNIA BLEND
      0-86069-20330-98266/2#SUMMER BLEND
      0-86069-20150-38336/2#VEGETABLE GUMBO
      0-86069-20160-28366/2#VEGETABLE SOUP MIX W/TOMATOES
      0-86069-21270-78426/2#STEW MIX
      0-86069-20280-78526/2#STIR FRY BLEND
      0-86069-20285-28626/2#ITALIAN BLEND
      0-86069-20425-28666/2#FAJITA BLEND
      0-86069-20400-98776/2#TEJANO BLEND
      0-86069-20405-48826/2#JALISCO BLEND
      0-86069-20432-08974/5#SEASONING BLEND
      0-86069-20430-68986/2#SEASONING BLEND
      0-86069-20170-18566/2#COUNTRY BLEND
      0-86069-10180-39019912/1#WHOLE STRAWBERRIES
      0-86069-10260-29119912/1#WHOLE BLACKBERRIES
      0-86069-10190-29219912/1#SLICED PEACHES
      0-86069-10500-995224/12 ozBLUEBERRIES
      0-86069-10230-597118/12 ozTRIPLE BERRY BLEND
      0-86069-20120-610026/2#YAM PATTIES
      0-86069-20112-115708/28 ozSWEET POTATO CUTS
      0-86069-50265-515824/5#BOIL BLEND
      0-86069-95015-9402212/12 CTSOUTHERN STYLE BISCUITS
      0-86069-95020-3403112/12 CTCHEESE BISCUITS
      0-86069-95040-1406112/12 CTBUTTER BISCUITS
      0-86069-11200-7S12412/12ozCUT GREEN BEANS
      0-86069-11210-6S26212/12ozGREEN PEAS
      0-86069-11230-4S40212/12ozCUT YELLOW CORN
      0-86069-11260-1S70812/10oz.BROCCOLI FLORETS
      0-86069-11270-0S80612/12ozMIXED VEGETABLES
      0-86069-11275-5S81412/10oz.CALIFORNIA BLEND
      0-86069-11280-9S82612/12ozSUMMER BLEND
      0-86069-11290-8S86212/10oz.ITALIAN BLEND
      0-86069-20001-81029912/1#Speckled Butter Beans
      0-86069-20012-41129912/1#Baby Lima Beans
      0-86069-20021-61249912/1#Cut Green Beans
      0-86069-20341-51329912/1#Italian Green Beans
      0-86069-20043-82129912/1#Blackeye Peas
      0-86069-20051-32429912/1#Field Peas w/ Snaps
      0-86069-20006-32569912/1#Butter Beans
      0-86069-20063-62529912/1#Butter Peas
      0-86069-20071-13039912/1#Cut Okra
      0-86069-20351-43129912/1#Baby Whole Okra
      0-86069-20076-63239912/1#Breaded Okra
      0-86069-20101-54029912/1#Cut Yellow Corn
      0-86069-20301-95029912/1#Sliced Yellow Squash
      0-86069-10530-654318/12 ozChopped Vidalia Onions
      0-86069-20296-86039912/1#Sliced Carrots
      0-86069-20356-96599912/1#Brussel Sprouts
      0-86069-20142-87039912/1#Broccoli Cuts
      0-86069-25070-97749912/1#Mustard Greens
      0-86069-20081-08069912/1#Mixed Vegetables
      0-86069-20013-18149912/1#California Blend
      0-86069-20151-08339912/1#Vegetable Gumbo
      0-86069-20431-38989912/1#Seasoning Blend
      0-86069-21271-48429912/1#Stew Mix
      0-86069-25041-97768012/1#Collard Greens
      0-86069-25051-87778012/1#Turnip Greens
      0-86069-25061-77789912/1#Turnip Greens w/Diced Turnips
      0-86069-25091-4779118/12 ozChopped Spinach

      Jamba At Home Smoothie Kits

      The products affected have best by dates from 18 Mar 2016 through 17 Oct 2016 with code dates from 72644AH01 through 71075AH01.

      Code Format:
      7= JEFFERSON, Production codes starting with 3 are not included in the recall

      Jamba At Home Smoothie Products

      UPC CODEJAMBA ITEM NUMBERPACK SIZEDESCRIPTIONPRODUCTION CODE"BEST BY DATE"
      8-84038-85098-7850988/8ozStrawberries Wild72644AH01 thru71075AH0118 Mar 2016 thru 17 Oct 2016
      8-84038-85100-7851008/8ozRazzmatazz72644AH01 thru71075AH0118 Mar 2016 thru 17 Oct 2016
      8-84038-85099-4850998/8ozMango-A-Go-Go72644AH01 thru71075AH0118 Mar 2016 thru 17 Oct 2016
      8-84038-85168-7851688/8ozOrange Dream Machine72644AH01 thru71075AH0118 Mar 2016thru 17 Oct 2016
      8-84038-85169-4851698/8ozCaribbean Passion72644AH01 thru71075AH0118 Mar 2016 thru 17 Oct 2016
      8-84038-85102-1851028/8ozGreen Fusion72644AH01 thru71075AH0118 Mar 2016 thru 17 Oct 2016
      8-84038-85167-0851678/8ozRed Fusion72644AH01 thru71075AH0118 Mar 2016 thru 17 Oct 2016
      8-84038-85166-3851668/8ozBlue Fusion72644AH01 thru71075AH0118 Mar 2016 thru 17 Oct 2016

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume it and return it to the store where it was purchased for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call at 866-890-1004 24/7 or email the firm at info@inventurefoods.com.

      Inventure Foods is recalling certain varieties of its Fresh Frozen line of frozen vegetables, as well as select varieties of its Jamba “At Home” line of sm...
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      Volkswagen recalls Golf, GTI, and Audi A3 vehicles

      The fuel pump could fail

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 6,204 model year 2015 Volkswagen Golf, GTI, and Audi A3 vehicles.

      Improper nickel plating of components within the fuel pump may result in the fuel pump failing. If the fuel pump fails, the vehicle will not start, or if the engine is running, it will stop and the vehicle will stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the vehicles and replace any affected fuel pumps, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen at 1-800-893-5298 or Audi at 1-800-253-2834.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 6,204 model year 2015 Volkswagen Golf, GTI, and Audi A3 vehicles. Improper nickel plating of components within t...
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      West Liberty Foods recalls grilled chicken breast products

      The products may be contaminated with pieces of plastic

      West Liberty Foods of Tremonton, Utah, is recalling approximately 34,075 pounds of grilled chicken breast products.

      The products may be contaminated with pieces of plastic

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following grilled chicken patties, produced on February 4, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 25-lb. cardboard boxes containing 5-5lb plastic bags of “SUBWAY FULLY COOKED GRILLED CHICKEN BREAST PATTY WITH RIB MEAT”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 34349 or P-34349” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to distributors in Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Utah, and Texas.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Renee Miller at (319) 627-6114.

      West Liberty Foods of Tremonton, Utah, is recalling approximately 34,075 pounds of grilled chicken breast products. The products may be contaminated with ...
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      Texas votes to unsnarl hairbraiding regulations

      Braiders and barbers are not the same, and don't need the same regulations

      Good news for various Texas entrepreneurs: yesterday the state House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of HB 2717, to deregulate businesses which teach or perform the art of traditional African hairbraiding.

      Texas law sets strict regulations on barbers and cosmetologists, primarily on safety grounds: those trades require (among other things) the use of sharp tools and potentially dangerous chemicals. Braiding hair does not, yet in 2007, when the state started regulating hairbraiders and teachers of the art, it mandated that they meet the same licensing requirements as barbers or cosmetologists.

      Dallas resident and African hairbraiding expert Isis Brantley has been braiding hair professionally for over 30 years — and the law has hassled her over it for almost that long.

      She started braiding hair at home in her kitchen, but was arrested when she tried opening a salon. “As soon as I opened up the shop, wow, the red tape was wrapped around my hands,” she told the Texas Tribune. “Seven cops came in, in front of my clients, and arrested me and took me to jail like a common criminal. The crime was braiding without a cosmetology license.”

      Licensed hairbraider

      Brantley spent years challenging the legal hairbraiding restrictions in court, and in 2007, the state modified the requirements somewhat: henceforth, hairbraiders seeking a license would only have to show 35 hours of formal training rather than 1,500 hours, and Brantley specifically was “grandfathered in” and granted a braiding license.

      So she won the right to legally braid hair, but when she tried opening a school to give others the 35 hours of instruction they'd need to become legally licensed hairbraiders, the state told her that a braiding school would have to meet the same standards as a barber school.

      Brantley sued the state in 2013, saying that the barber regulations on her braiding school were unconstitutional and unreasonable. The non-profit Institute For Justice, which joined Brantley in filing her suit, outlined the requirements Texas set before Brantley could legally teach the art of traditional African hairbraiding:

      … Isis must spend 2,250 hours in barber school, pass four exams, and spend thousands of dollars on tuition and a fully-equipped barber college she doesn’t need, all to teach a 35-hour hairbraiding curriculum.  Tellingly, Texas will waive all these regulations if Isis goes to work for an existing barber school and teaches hairbraiding for them. 

      That “fully equipped” barber college would have to include barber chairs and hair-washing stations, neither of which are required to braid hair.

      In January, a federal judge ruled that Texas' regulations on hairbraiding schools were unconstitutional and did nothing to advance public health or safety, nor meet any other legitimate government interest.

      During that trial Arif Panju, the Institute For Justice attorney who represented Brantley in her court battle, noted that the state couldn't identify a single hairbraiding school capable of meeting those strict barber-school requirements.

      After the trial, he said that the judge's ruling “makes it crystal clear to the Legislature that what’s happening here is nothing to do with public health and safety and everything to do with economic protectionism.”

      Good news for various Texas entrepreneurs: yesterday the state House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of HB 2717, to deregulate businesses whi...
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      New York sues tanning salons for minimizing skin cancer risks

      "Nothing safe about indoor tanning," NY attorney general declares

      Saying there is "nothing safe about indoor tanning," New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed lawsuits against two tanning salon franchises -- Portofino Spas, LLC and Total Tan, Inc., and served notice he also intends to sue Beach Bum Tanning Salons and Planet Fitness.

      The suits accuse the salons of false advertising by

      • denying or minimizing scientific evidence linking tanning to an increased cancer risk;
      • promoting indoor tanning as a safe way to reap the benefits of vitamin D and other purported health benefits; and
      • asserting the safety of indoor tanning compared to tanning outdoors.

      Altogether the four franchises operate 155 tanning salons around the state.

      “Make no mistake about it: There is nothing safe about indoor tanning. The use of ultra-violet devices increases exposure to cancer-causing radiation and puts millions of Americans in serious danger – young adults, in particular,” said Schneiderman. “Irresponsible businesses that seek to rake in profits by misleading the public about the safety of their services will be held accountable by my office. Advertising and marketing cannot be used as a tool to confuse and endanger New York consumers.”

      Danger documented

      Over the past decade, scientific evidence has clearly documented the dangers of indoor tanning, Schneiderman said. By 2009, the World Health Organization added indoor tanning to its list of most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation and placed it in the highest cancer risk category: “carcinogenic to humans,” the same category as tobacco.

      In July 2014, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a “Call to Action To Prevent Skin Cancer,” a report documenting the rise in skin cancers and outlining action steps to prevent these cancers going forward, including reduction of intentional, and unnecessary, ultraviolet (UV) light exposure for the purpose of tanning.

      Indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer – which is responsible for 9,000 deaths in the United States each year. Indoor tanning also increases the risk of nonmalignant skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma). While not deadly, these nonmalignant cancers can cause noticeable disfigurement. In addition to increasing the risk of skin cancer, UV exposure can also harm the immune system and cause premature skin aging.

      New York law currently prohibits tanning for children under 17 and requires parental consent for children between the ages of 17 and 18.

      Additionally, New York law requires that warning signs be posted outside of tanning beds, that tanning hazards information sheets and acknowledgement forms be distributed to tanning patrons, and that free protective eyewear be made available to tanning patrons.

      The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that Portofino did not post the required state warning sign near every tanning devices as required by the law and that total tan required patrons pay for protective eyewear when the eyewear is required to be provided without cost to consumers.

      In the face of the scientific evidence linking indoor tanning and early onset of skin cancer, some indoor tanning salon businesses have sought to counter the scientific evidence by purposefully advertising the opposite message – that indoor tanning actually improves health.

      Saying there is "nothing safe about indoor tanning," New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed lawsuits against two tanning salon franchis...
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      Agriculture Department joins effort to cut food waste

      Develops app to help consumers keep track of expiration dates

      The U.S. Agriculture Department's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says American consumers waste billions of pounds of still-edible food because they aren't sure if the food has spoiled.

      They look at the sell-by date and see that it is long past, so they throw it out. FSIS says they shouldn't. As we have previously reported, sell-by dates are different from use-by dates on packaging.

      USDA estimates that 21% of the available food in the U.S. goes uneaten at the consumer level. It says on average, 36 pounds of food per person is wasted each month at the retail and consumer levels.

      To help consumers better understand how different storing methods affect a product’s shelf life, FSIS has introduced a free app called FoodKeeper. It's designed to help consumers maximize the storage life of foods and beverages and remind them to use items before they are likely to spoil.

      You can download the app here.

      “Many products might have a sell-by date of April 1 but they could be good in your pantry for another 12 or 18 months,” said Chris Bernstein, spokesman for FSIS. “By throwing those out, what you're doing is contributing to food waste in the United States. Say you buy a box of fresh pasta, which is good for a limited amount of time, you can have your calendar tell you a couple of days before that fresh pasta is going to go bad that you should think about eating it.”

      U.S. Food Waste Challenge

      The app is part of an effort by USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. Launched in 2 years ago, it urges players across the food chain – farms, agricultural processors, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, universities, schools, and local governments – to help reduce food waste by improving product development, storage, shopping/ordering, marketing, labeling, and cooking methods.

      It also connects potential food donors to hunger relief organizations and, what isn't fit for human consumption, is redirected to feed animals or to create compost, bioenergy, and natural fertilizers.

      Just Eat It

      This all appears to be part of a growing trend to make sure more of the food we produce gets consumed. A recent documentary, “Just Eat It,” focuses on food waste at the producer and retail level. Much of the food we produce never makes it to the supermarket because of its appearance, for example.

      The film follows one couple as they swear off grocery shopping and try to subsist on food that would otherwise go in the dumpster. The trailer is below.

      For consumers, there are very good economic reasons to get on the anti-food waste band wagon.

      When food product goes to waste, less of it gets to market. The laws of supply and demand would suggest that eating more of the food that currently goes in a landfill might not lower prices but might keep them from rising as fast.

      The U.S. Agriculture Department's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says American consumers waste billions of pounds of still-edible food be...
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      RB recalls Mucinex Fast-Max products

      The products' back label may not list all active ingredients

      RB -- formerly Reckitt Benckiser -- is recalling certain lots of liquid bottles of Mucinex Fast-Max Night Time Cold & Flu; Mucinex Fast-Max Cold & Sinus; Mucinex Fast-Max Severe Congestion & Cough and Mucinex Fast-Max Cold, Flu & Sore Throat.

      The over-the-counter medications, which correctly label the product on the front of the bottle and lists all active ingredients, may not have the correct corresponding drug facts label on the back.

      This mislabeling could cause the consumer to be unaware of side effects and/or risks associated with the ingestion of certain product ingredients which include Acetaminophen, Dextromethorphan, Guaifenesin, Phenylephrine and/or Diphenhydramine.

      Consumers would not be adequately warned of side effects which could potentially lead to health complications requiring urgent medical intervention, particularly in the case of acetaminophen use in people with liver impairment, taking three or more alcoholic drinks or when taking other medicines containing this active ingredient without consulting a doctor.

      RB is asking consumers to dispose of any unused product in the following manner:

      • Mix liquid medicines with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds; place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag; and throw the container in your household trash.

      Consumers who purchased the recalled products may contact the RB Mucinex Fast-Max recall toll free number at 1-888-943-4215 between 8:00 a.m.- 8:00 p.m EST.

      List of potentially affected batches

      Product NameLOT NUMBERExpiry
      Mucinex Fast-MAX Night Time Cold & Flu LiqMNT00047/31/2016
      MNT00037/31/2016
      MNT00057/31/2016
      MNT00067/31/2016
      MNT00077/31/2016
      MNT00087/31/2016
      MNT00097/31/2016
      MNT00107/31/2016
      MNT00127/31/2016
      MNT00137/31/2016
      MNT00117/31/2016
      MNT001410/31/2016
      MNT001510/31/2016
      MNT001710/31/2016
      MNT001610/31/2016
      MNT001610/31/2016
      AA0801/31/2017
      MNT001811/30/2016
      MNT001911/30/2016
      MNT002012/31/2016
      MNT002112/31/2016
      MNT002212/31/2016
      MNT002312/31/2016
      MNT002412/31/2016
      MNT002512/31/2016
      AA03712/31/2017
      AA06012/30/1940
      AA0801/31/2017
      AA0971/31/2017
      Mucinex Fast Max Cold & Sinus LiquidMCS00207/31/2016
      MCS00217/31/2016
      MCS00197/31/2016
      MCS00228/31/2016
      MCS00238/31/2016
      MCS00249/30/2016
      MCS00259/30/2016
      MCS00269/30/2016
      MCS002711/30/2016
      MCS002810/31/2016
      MCS002910/31/2016
      MCS003012/31/2016
      MCS003112/31/2016
      MCS003212/31/2016
      MCS003312/31/2016
      Mcinex FastMax Severe Congestion&Cough LiqMSC00498/31/2016
      MSC00508/31/2016
      MSC00518/31/2016
      MSC00528/31/2016
      MSC00538/31/2016
      MSC00548/31/2016
      MSC00558/31/2016
      MSC00569/30/2016
      MSC00579/30/2016
      MSC00589/30/2016
      MSC005910/31/2016
      MSC006410/31/2016
      MSC006610/30/2016
      MSC006510/31/2016
      MSC006310/31/2016
      MSC006110/31/2016
      MSC006210/31/2016
      MSC006010/31/2016
      MSC007111/30/2016
      MSC007912/31/2016
      MSC006711/30/2016
      MSC006811/30/2016
      MSC006911/30/2016
      MSC007011/30/2016
      MSC007111/30/2016
      MSC0072TBD
      MSC007311/30/2016
      MSC007411/30/2016
      MSC007511/30/2016
      MSC007611/30/2016
      MSC007712/31/2017
      MSC007812/31/2016
      MSC007912/31/2016
      MSC008012/31/2017
      MSC008212/31/2016
      Mucinex Fast-Max Cold,Flu & Sore Throat LiqMCF00517/31/2016
      MCF00487/31/2016
      MCF00528/31/2016
      MCF00538/31/2016
      MCF00548/31/2016
      MCF00558/1/2016
      MCF00568/31/2016
      MCF00578/31/2016
      MCF00588/31/2016
      MCF005910/1/2016
      MCF00608/31/2016
      MCF00618/31/2016
      MCF00628/31/2016
      MCF00639/30/2016
      MCF00649/30/2016
      MCF00659/30/2016
      MCF00669/30/2016
      MCF00679/30/2016
      MCF00689/30/2016
      MCF007010/31/2016
      MCF006910/1/2016
      MCF007110/31/2016
      MCF007210/31/2016
      MCF007310/31/2016
      MCF007410/31/2016
      MCF007510/31/2016
      MCF007610/31/2016
      MCF007710/31/2016
      MDM004411/30/2016
      MUCINEX FAST-MAX  Liquid combination - Day Night Severe Cold and Night-Time Cold & Flu.3O007268658/20/2015
      WO007268646/30/2016
      WO007379791/31/2017
      WO007404051/31/2017
      WO007065717/31/2016
      WO007074427/31/2016
      WO007074437/31/2016
      WO007074447/31/2016
      WO007078227/31/2016
      WO007099537/31/2016
      WO007099556/30/2016
      WO007207807/31/2016
      WO007210527/31/2016
      WO007211707/31/2016
      WO007211717/31/2016
      MUCINEX FAST-MAX  Liquid combination packs - Daytime Severe Congestion & Cough Nighttime Cold& FluWO007211749/30/2016
      WO0072117710/31/2016
      WO0072686010/31/2016
      WO007268626/30/2016
      WO007269528/31/2016
      WO007288616/30/2016
      WO007288787/31/2016
      WO007288799/30/2016
      WO007078255/31/2016
      WO007132267/31/2016
      WO007153106/30/2016
      WO007155057/31/2016

      RB -- formerly Reckitt Benckiser -- is recalling certain lots of liquid bottles of Mucinex Fast-Max Night Time Cold & Flu; Mucinex Fast-Max Cold & Sinus; M...
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      General Motors recalls Cadillac CTS-V vehicles

      The braking system could become corroded and leak

      General Motors is recalling 4,907 model year 2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V vehicles manufactured between September 6, 2003, and June 11, 2007.

      The recalled vehicles are currently registered, or were originally sold, in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

      Snow or water containing road salt or other contaminants may corrode the front brake hose fitting at the caliper. Corrosion may cause the brake system to leak which could lengthen the distance needed to stop the vehicle and increase the risk of a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace both front brake hose assemblies, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006. GM's number for this recall is 15149.  

      General Motors is recalling 4,907 model year 2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V vehicles manufactured between September 6, 2003, and June 11, 2007. The recalled veh...
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      Promising results in macular degeneration treatment

      Researchers say stem cell treatment yields positive results

      This story has been removed because of questions about the accuracy of the news release on which it was based. 

      There is little hope when diagnosed with macular degeneration. You progressively begin to lose your eyesight. There is no treatment that slows it down and ...
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      New home sales plunge in March

      Housing prices were mixed

      Sales of new single-family houses dropped sharply last month.

      Data released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales were down 11.4% in March -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000. At the same time, the February rate was revised up from the initially reported 539,000 to 543,000.

      Even with the large March decline, the sales rate is 19.4% above the year-ago level of 403,000.

      Home prices

      The median sales price of new houses sold in March was $277,400 -- down $4,900 from a year earlier. The average sales price was posted a year-over-year gain of $11,800 -- to $343,300.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of last month was 213,000, representing a supply of 5.3 months at the current sales rate.

      From the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), word that its monthly House Price Index (HPI) was up 0.7% in February after rising 0.3% a month earlier.

      For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes ranged from -1.3% in the East South Central division to +1.8% in the South Atlantic division.

      The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +2.6% in the Middle Atlantic division to +6.9% in the Pacific division.

      The FHFA HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

      The complete sales and price reports are available on the Commerce Department and FHFA websites, respectively.

      Initial claims

      Separately, the Labor Department reports first-time applications for unemployment benefits inched up by 1,000 in the week ending April 18 to a seasonally adjusted 295,000.

      The government says there were no special factors affecting this week's initial claims.

      The 4-week moving average was 284,500 -- up 1,750 from the previous week. The 4-week tally is less volatile than the initial claims data and considered a more accurate barometer of the labor market.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.  

      Sales of new single-family houses dropped sharply last month. Data released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Deve...
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      Kayem Foods recalls sausage products

      The products may be contaminated with pieces of plastic

      Kayem Foods of Chelsea, Mass., is recalling approximately 59,203 pounds of fully cooked chicken sausage products.

      The products may be contaminated with pieces of plastic.

      There are no reports of any injuries associated with consumption of these products.

      The following chicken sausage products, produced on various dates in March 2015, are being recalled:

      • 12-oz. packages of Trader Joe’s brand “Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage” with the case code 9605 and use by/freeze by dates of “4 22 15,” “4 25 15,” and “4 29 15.”
      • 8-oz. packages of al fresco brand “Apple Maple Fully Cooked Breakfast Chicken Sausage” with the case code 9709 and use by/freeze by dates of “JUN 13 2015” and “JUN 20 2015.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “P7839” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail locations nationwide.

      The problem was discovered after the firm received complaints from two consumers who found small pieces of plastic in the product.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Joellen West at (800) 426-6100 ext. 247.  

      Kayem Foods of Chelsea, Mass., is recalling approximately 59,203 pounds of fully cooked chicken sausage products. The products may be contaminated with pi...
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      La Clarita Queseria Queso Fresco Fresh Cheese recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus

      Queseria La Poblanita of New York, N.Y., is recalling La Clarita Queseria Queso Fresco Fresh Cheese.

      The product may be contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      .

      The recalled Spanish-style cheese is sold in 12-oz. plastic tub packages with a label declaring a plant # 36/8585, and a product lot code of MAY 13, 2015. It was distributed to stores and delis in the metropolitan New York area.

      Consumers who purchased the recalled product should return it to the place of purchase or discard it.

      Queseria La Poblanita of New York, N.Y., is recalling La Clarita Queseria Queso Fresco Fresh Cheese. The product may be contaminated with Staphylococcus a...
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      Audi Q3 vehicles recalled

      The sunroof may continue to close instead of stopping when the vehicle is turned off

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 3,646 model year 2015 Audi Q3 vehicles manufactured April 4, 2014, to November 5, 2014.

      If the vehicle is turned off while the sunroof is closing, the sunroof may continue to close instead of stopping. If a vehicle occupant is in the sunroof's path, there is an increased risk of injury.

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will update the sunroof control module software, free of charge. The recall began on April 13, 2015.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 60C1.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 3,646 model year 2015 Audi Q3 vehicles manufactured April 4, 2014, to November 5, 2014. If the vehicle is turned...
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      Trek recalls bicycles equipped with front disc brakes

      The front wheel could come to a sudden stop or separate from the bicycle

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 998,000 Trek bicycles equipped with front disc brakes in the U.S. and Canada.

      An open quick release lever on the bicycle’s front wheel hub can come into contact with the front disc brake assembly, causing the front wheel to come to a sudden stop or separate from the bicycle, posing a risk of injury to the rider.

      The company reports 3 incidents, all including injuries. One incident resulted in quadriplegia. One incident resulted in facial injuries. One incident resulted in a fractured wrist.

      This recall involves all models of Trek bicycles from model years 2000 through 2015 equipped with front disc brakes and a black or silver quick release lever on the front wheel hub that opens far enough to contact the disc brake.

      Bicycles with front quick release levers that do not open a full 180 degrees from the closed position, are not included in this recall.

      The bicycles. Manufactured in China and Taiwan, were sold at bicycle stores nationwide from about September 1999, through April 2015, for between $480 and $1,650.

      Consumers should stop using the bicycles immediately and contact an authorized Trek retailer for free installation of a new quick release on the front wheel. Trek will provide each owner who participates in the recall with a $20 coupon redeemable by December 31, 2015 toward any Bontrager merchandise. (The coupon has no cash value.)

      Consumers may contact Trek at (800) 373-4594 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 998,000 Trek bicycles equipped with front disc brakes in the U.S. and Canada. An open quick...
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      Lenovo expands recall of ThinkPad Notebook battery packs

      The battery packs can overheat

      Lenovo of Morrisville, N.C., is recalling about 166,50 ThinkPad notebook computer battery packs in the U.S and Canada. About 37,400 were recalled in the U.S. and Canada in March 2014.

      The battery packs can overheat, posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received 4 reports of incidents of battery packs overheating and damaging the computers, battery packs and surrounding property. One incident included a consumer's skin being reddened and burn marks on the consumer's clothing.

      This recall involves Lenovo battery packs sold with the following ThinkPad notebook computers: the Edge 11, 13, 14, 15, 120, 125, 320, 325, 420, 425, 430, 520, 525 and 530 series; the L412, L420/421, L512 and L520 series; the T410, T420, T510 and T520 series; the W510 and W520 series; and the X100e, X120e, X121e, X130e, X200, X200s, X201, X201s, X220 and X220t series.

      The battery packs were also sold separately. The black battery packs measure between 8 to 11 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide and about 1 inch high. Recalled battery packs have one of the following part numbers starting with the fourth digit in a long series of numbers and letters printed on a white sticker below the bar code on the battery pack: 42T4695, 42T4711, 42T4740, 42T4798, 42T4804, 42T4812, 42T4816, 42T4822, 42T4826, 42T4828, 42T4834, 42T4840, 42T4862, 42T4868, 42T4874, 42T4880, 42T4890, 42T4944, 42T4948, 42T4954, 42T4958, 45N1022 and 45N1050.

      The battery packs, manufactured in China, were sold at computer and electronics stores, and authorized dealers nationwide and online at www.lenovo.com from February 2010, through June 2012, for between $350 and $3,000 when sold as part of ThinkPad notebook computers. The battery packs were also sold separately for between $80 and $150.

      Consumers should immediately turn off their ThinkPad notebook computer, remove the battery pack and contact Lenovo for a free replacement battery pack. Consumers may continue to use their ThinkPad notebook without the battery pack by plugging in the AC adapter and power cord.

      Consumers may contact Lenovo at (800) 426-7378 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

      Lenovo of Morrisville, N.C., is recalling about 166,50 ThinkPad notebook computer battery packs in the U.S and Canada. About 37,400 were recalled in the U....
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      Jeep fire case may be reopened as highway safety agency gets into high gear

      New NHTSA director wants automakers to be more "proactive" in addressing safety issues

      Federal safety regulators are frequently heard to complain that most of us drive too fast. Automakers, on the other hand, are moving way too slowly in carrying out safety recalls, top safety agency officials say.

      Case in point: the older Jeep Cherokees with gas tanks behind the rear axle. They're prone to catch fire when struck from the rear but a recall of 1.56 million Jeeps has been creeping along with most vehicles still unfixed. Likewise, the recall of millions of cars equipped with Takata airbags, which can spray passengers with shards of metal. Millions of cars have yet to have their airbags replaced.

      Other recalls great and small plod along with all manner of delays. In all too many cases, consumers' cars sit idle at dealerships waiting for parts while consumers make do with no car or a loaner.

      Take Nikki of Mobile, Ala. "I have a problem with Chrysler not ordering the part for the safety,recall,of the rear quarter vent window switch. They dismantled my switch almost 7 months ago and I have been waiting for the part since then," she told ConsumerAffairs. They have only shipped 4 parts to the dealership in Mobile and they won't respond to complaints."

      Nikki said she is number 19 on her dealer's list of customers waiting for the part.

      What's the point?

      BMW owner Patricia reported a similar situation:,"I own a 2003 325ci that is affected by the (airbag) recall,and I called the nearest dealership to schedule the repair., I was told, by them, that that the part is on backorder and they will call me when it becomes available."

      "Not wanting to wait, I checked to see if the repair would be available elsewhere., I went to the website BMWusa.com and entered the required information from my VIN number and the response from the site says that 'remedy is not available,'" Patricia said.

      "What is the point of issuing a,recall,when there is no remedy available?" she,asked. "Owners of the affected vehicles are told that that the problem with the airbag can cause 'serious injury to passengers and other occupants' yet they don’t have the ability to remedy the situation?"

      Plodding pace

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn't seem particularly perturbed about this when David Strickland was at its helm. He "retired" last year along with his boss, ex-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, after working out a highly unusual Jeep recall deal with Chrysler.,

      The agency's new head, Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., is an actual safety expert -- something rare in NHTSA's history. He was previously a member of the National Transportation Safety Board and has performed extensive research into human fatigue and other safety factors at NASA.

      Now that he has settled into his new job, Rosekind has made it clear he expects automakers to be more "proactive" in handling safety issues -- an expectation that covers everything from building safer cars with fewer defects, being faster to identify problems and faster yet to conduct recalls when needed.

      "The most important thing was to be able to generate a range of options for us to kind of decide where we want to address these issues in a strategic but timely way,” Rosekind said yesterday, Automotive News reports. “For both [the Takata and Jeep recalls], I think we’re one or two weeks away from actually having some concrete things to start taking action on.”

      Bloomberg News reported earlier that the agency may be thinking about reopening the investigation into the Jeeps. Safety advocates have been highly critical of the unusual way in which the recall and a related safety campaign were arrived at -- in a secret airport meeting instead of in the laboratory where a tried-and-tested approach might have been found.

      Instead, the agency gave its OK to retrofitting trailer hitches on the Jeeps, on the largely untested,theory that the hitch would protect the gas tank in a collision.

      Jeep owners have complained that the hitch itself is a safety hazard, since dealers are installing only the hitch and not the other towing package components that are needed to tow a trailer safely. Future owners of the Jeeps may not know the hitches are unsafe, they say.,

      Burning Jeep (Photo: Sedona, Ariz., Fire Dept.) Federal safety regulators are frequently heard to complain that most of us drive too fast. Automakers,...
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      Existing-home sales hit 18-month high

      Year-over-year levels were higher as well

      Improvement across the U.S. pushed sales of previously owned homes to their highest level since September 2013.

      Figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show total sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- shot up 6.1% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million.

      Additionally, sales have now increased year-over-year for 6 consecutive months and are 10.4% above a year ago -- the highest annual increase since August 2013's 10.7%. The March surge in sales was the largest monthly gain since the 6.2% gain in December 2010.

      Picking up steam

      "After a quiet start to the year, sales activity picked up greatly throughout the country in March," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "The combination of low interest rates and the ongoing stability in the job market is improving buyer confidence and finally releasing some of the sizable pent-up demand that accumulated in recent years."

      Total housing inventory at the end of March climbed 5.3% to 2.00 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 2.0% above a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.7 months in February.

      The median existing-home price for all housing types in March was $212,100 -- 7.8% above March 2014, marking the 37th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains and the largest since February 2014.

      "The modest rise in housing supply at the end of the month despite the strong growth in sales is a welcoming sign," Yun noted. "For sales to build upon their current pace, homeowners will increasingly need to be confident in their ability to sell their home while having enough time and choices to upgrade or downsize. More listings and new home construction are still needed to tame price growth and provide more opportunity for first-time buyers to enter the market."

      Regional Breakdown

      • Existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 6.9% in March to an annual rate of 620,000, and are 1.6% above a year ago. The median price was $240,500 -- 1.6% below a year ago.
      • In the Midwest, existing-home sales jumped 10.1% to an annual rate of 1.20 million, and are now 12.1% above March 2014. The median price surged 9.7% from the same time last year -- to $163,600.
      • Sales in the South climbed 3.8% to an annual rate of 2.19 million in March, and are now 11.7 percent above March 2014. The median price was $187,900 -- up 9.3% from a year ago.
      • The West posted an existing-home sales increase of 6.3% to an annual rate of 1.18 million in March; sales are now 11.3% and the median price is up 8.3% year-over-year to $305,000.
      Improvement across the U.S. pushed sales of previously owned homes to their highest level since September 2013. Figures released by the National Associati...
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      Mortgage applications rebound

      It's the fourth increase in 5 weeks

      After posting a slight decline the previous week, applications for mortgages moved higher the week ending April 17.

      According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey

      applications were up 2.3% last week.

      percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending April 17, 2015.

      “Purchase applications increased for the fourth time in 5 weeks as we proceed further into the spring home buying season,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist. “Despite mortgage rates below 4%, refinance activity increased less than 1% percent from the previous week.”

      That slight increase in the Refinance Index pushed the refinance share of mortgage activity down 2% -- to 56% of total applications, its lowest level since October 2014. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 5.5% percent of total applications.

      The FHA share of total applications inched up to 13.6% from 13.5% the week prior. The VA share of total applications slipped decreased from 11.1% to 11.0%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.8%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dropped 4 basis point -- from 3.87% to 3.83%, its lowest level since January 2015. Points fell to 0.32 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) decreased inched down to 3.83% from 3.84%, with points decreasing to 0.22 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA dipped 2 basis points to 3.65%, its lowest level since May 2013, with points decreasing to 0.12 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs fell to 3.11%, its lowest level since January, from 3.16%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose 7 basis points to 2.89%, with points decreasing to 0.29 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      After posting a slight decline the previous week, applications for mortgages moved higher the week ending April 17. According to the Mortgage Bankers Asso...
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      Realtors say mortgage standards still too tight

      Industry group asks Congress to review new lending rules

      In the wake of the financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, mortgage lenders raised standards for qualifying for loans and Congress approved tighter regulation of the mortgage market.

      It was not an unreasonable response after nearly a decade of very loose lending standards that resulted in many consumers buying homes without being required to prove they could actually afford them.

      But Realtors complained from the beginning that the reaction went too far, choking off the housing market's recovery. They pointed out that each month, nearly a third of home buyers paid with cash without having to borrow the money.

      Now, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is pressing its case to Congress, telling the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that some of the new regulatory requirements are unnecessary and are blocking otherwise qualified, credit worthy consumers from buying a home.

      Pendulum has swung too far

      NAR President Chris Polychron told the committee that the industry supports strong underwriting standards, put in place after the housing crisis to protect consumers from risky lending practices. But Polychron insists the pendulum has swung too far.

      “In some cases, well-intentioned, but over-corrective policies are severely hampering the ability of millions of qualified buyers to purchase a home,” he said. “I believe, and our members believe, that we have yet to strike the right balance between regulation and opportunity.”

      To bolster their case the Realtors say the near record low mortgage rates that have prevailed since 2009 should have resulted in surging home sales. But that hasn't been the case.

      Sales of existing homes in February were up a healthy 4.7% over the previous year, but at the rather anemic annual rate of 4.88 million. Anemic when compared to 2005's existing home sales, which totaled more than 7 million.

      Homeownership rate is falling

      Today, even with mortgage rates well under 4%, NAR says the number of first-time buyers entering the market is at the lowest point since 1987. The homeownership rate is back to 1990 levels.

      So what exactly is it that the Realtors would like to see? For one, the industry trade group wants to change some new regulations it says limit opportunities for buyers to own condos. NAR says condos often represent the most affordable buying options for first-time homebuyers and minorities.

      Concern about new rules

      Realtors are also concerned about rules that haven't yet taken effect. Polychron says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should be ready for problems that might crop up during the implementation of the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act and Truth in Lending Act changes.

      Those rule changes just happen to take effect on August 1, the busiest transaction time of the year. To make loans close more smoothly, Polychron suggested the CFPB take a “restrained” approach to enforcement as the rule goes into effect.

      Polychron also took aim at a provision in the Ability-to-Repay rules that limits mortgage fees and points to 3% in order for home loans to be considered Qualified Mortgages. The rule is designed to protect consumers but Polychron said the unintended consequence is that consumers, including lower-end buyers, are finding reduced choices and added obstacles in their efforts to buy a house.

      “No one wants to see a return to the unscrupulous, predatory lending practices that caused the Great Recession, but some modifications to existing regulations would help restore the homeownership rate to pre-bubble levels,” said Polychron.

      In the wake of the financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, mortgage lenders raised standards for qualifying for loans and Congress approve...
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      Superior Nut & Candy recalls pine nuts

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Superior Nut & Candy Co., is recalling 4-oz. packages of Pine Nuts.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with the problem.

      The recalled Pine Nuts were distributed nationwide in retail stores.

      The recalled product comes in a 4-oz. package with a clear front and tan-colored label on the back and were sold in retail store produce departments nationwide.

      The back label lists pine nuts as the only ingredient and has the UPC Number of 72549320016 with a Best By date between 10/22/2015 and 12/27/2015.

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact customer relations at (773) 254-7900 Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, CST.

      Superior Nut & Candy Co., is recalling 4-oz. packages of Pine Nuts. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been reported to d...
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      Michigan Brand recalls turkey and beef products

      The products contain sodium nitrite, which is not listed label

      Michigan Brand of Bay City, Mich. is recalling approximately 737 pounds of turkey and beef products.

      The products contain sodium nitrite, which is missing the word “nitrite” on the product label.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following smoked turkey and beef items, produced on various dates between February 9 and April 16, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 8 and 16 oz. packages of “Michigan Brand Honey Glazed Smoked Turkey.”
      • 8 oz. packages of “The Jerky Outlet Jalapeno Flavored Smoke Beef.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 10306” or “P-10306” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to retail and distribution locations in Michigan.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company’s main line at (989) 893-9589.

      Michigan Brand of Bay City, Mich. is recalling approximately 737 pounds of turkey and beef products. The products contain sodium nitrite, which is missing...
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      Hines Nut Company recalls walnut halves and pieces

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Hines Nut Company of Dallas, Texas is recalling Lot Number 6989 of walnut halves and pieces.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      The company says it has not received any complaints concerning illness to date.

      The following product is being recalled:

      • Hines Nut Brand, 128 cases, 25 trays per carton, in black foam trays with a green and gold label; Tray weight of 16-oz., packaged March 3, 2015; lot number 6989 printed on the label; Best Buy Date of 12.28.15; UPC 07826406516-5

      The product was sold by Randalls Food Stores in Texas.

      Customers who purchased the the recalled product should not eat it and contact the company for information regarding a full refund or disposal information.

      Consumers may contact Hines Nut Company at 1 800-561-6374 Monday – Friday, 7 am – 4 pm CST.

      Hines Nut Company of Dallas, Texas is recalling Lot Number 6989 of walnut halves and pieces. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. The compan...
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      Conway Organic Sesame Ginger and Citrus Organic Vinaigrette dressings recalled

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Conway Import Co., is recalling Conway Organic Sesame Ginger Dressing and Conway Citrus Organic Vinaigrette Dressing.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, distributed in Illinois, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Texas, and packed in plastic gallon jars with the manufacturing code printed on the top of the cap and the cardboard shipping container, are being recalled:

      • Conway Organic Sesame Ginger Dressing Recipe Code N-22; MFG.CODE DATE: 28814....363014....030015....051015
      • Conway Citrus Organic Vinaigrette Dressing Recipe Code L-18; MFG.CODE DATE: 276014....337014

      Consumers with questions may contact Conway Import at 847-455-5600.

      Conway Import Co., is recalling Conway Organic Sesame Ginger Dressing and Conway Citrus Organic Vinaigrette Dressing. The products may be contaminated wit...
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      Study finds TV sets quickly becoming old technology

      Consumers would rather "watch TV" on their phones and computers

      Recently my cousin and his family came for a visit and we encamped his two pre-teen daughters in the living room, with inflatable beds and sleeping bags.

      I prepared to give the girls a primer on the TV remote control and a tour of our cable channels but I noticed a decided lack of interest on their part.

      “Do you guys want to watch TV?” I asked.

      “No,” they replied in unison, not once looking up from their smartphones. Indeed, the TV remained off all weekend.

      Emerging trend

      What I witnessed in my living room is fairly typical, according to new research from Accenture. In its study of consumer trends, the company found the television set was the only digital product category to see uniform, double-digit usage declines among viewers in most age groups.

      Increasingly, consumers are turning off TV and replacing their sets with a combination of laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones when they want to view video content, what we so quaintly referred to in the past as “watch television.”

      Young viewers seem to be abandoning television the fastest. The study found 14- to 17-year-olds are dropping TV at the rate of 33% for movies and television shows and 26% for sporting events.

      The decline continues for older demographics until it flattens out for those 55 and older. But even among Baby Boomers, the trend is moving away from TV.

      Pendulum shift

      ”We are seeing a definitive pendulum shift away from traditional TV viewing,” said Gavin Mann, Accenture’s global broadcast industry lead. “TV shows and movies are now a viewing staple on mobile devices of all shapes and sizes, thanks to improved streaming and longer battery life. The second screen viewing experience is where the content creators, broadcasters and programmers will succeed or fail.”

      Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and the TV broadcast networks’ own streaming platforms, allow viewers to watch what they want, when they want. Increasingly, they are doing so. In industry jargon it's called “over the top content,” and more is emerging all the time.

      Now you don’t have to subscribe to cable TV to get HBO. The company has just launched HBO Now, promising “instant access to all of HBO” on your streaming device on a subscription basis. It's marketing slogan says “all you need is the Internet.”

      Previously consumers had to subscribe to cable – and with a significant package at that -- for the ability to add premium channels like HBO.

      Room for improvement

      While anytime, anywhere viewing is becoming mainstream, consumers are not completely satisfied with the viewing experience so far. For the most part, complaints are about the Internet service delivering the programming.

      More than half the people in the survey who said they watch streaming content complained about buffering and other technical issues, as well as advertising placement.

      Accenture’s take? Content producers – notably the broadcast networks – are still in a favorable position but will have to improve delivery as well as keep content to the standards consumers expect.

      “Understanding consumers and ensuring decision-making is centered on consumer insights will be increasingly key to success,” said Mann. “The future leaders in media and entertainment will be those who listen to the audience and can tailor their content and services to this new reality.”

      ...
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      Bird flu outbreak could impact poultry supplies

      Hormel warns it will have less turkey product this year

      An outbreak of H5N2 avian, or bird flu, spread quickly this week through poultry operations in the upper Midwest, resulting in the deaths of millions of bird, potentially affecting supplies and prices for consumers.

      The disease was discovered in poultry operations in Osceola County, Iowa, a major egg-producing region. Hen losses have been estimated at 5.3 million.

      The impact on egg prices is unclear. Bloomberg News reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture had earlier projected an increase in 2015 egg production and a decline in prices from last year. So it is possible consumers will notice no increase in prices.

      Turkeys

      Earlier, in neighboring Minnesota, bird flu swept through at least 28 turkey-producing farms. Turkey losses are estimated at 1.7 million.

      The impact was severe enough that Hormel Foods, a publicly traded company, warned it would likely be felt when the company reported its quarterly earnings.

      “We are experiencing significant challenges in our turkey supply chain due to the recent HPAI outbreaks in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” said Jeffrey Ettinger, chairman and CEO of Hormel Foods.

      Ettinger said he expects the outbreaks will subside as the weather improves but in the short term Hormel will face “turkey supply challenges.”

      Hormel said its Jennie-O Turkey Store is managing the outbreak in cooperation with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and state agency officials. The company said all flocks are tested for influenza prior to processing and no birds diagnosed with HPAI are allowed to enter the food chain.

      Little risk for humans

      According to health officials, the outbreak is an economic issue at this point, not a public health problem.

      “The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Iowa Department of Public Health considers the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry, to be low,” the Iowa Department of Agriculture said in a statement. “No human infections with the virus have ever been detected.”

      Still, consumers should err on the side of caution. The department notes these virus strains can travel in wild birds without those birds appearing sick. People should avoid contact with sick or dead poultry or wildlife. If contact occurs, you should wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.

      Bird owners – whether commercial producers or backyard flock owners – are being advised to prevent contact between their birds and wild birds. When birds appear sick or die suddenly, it should be reported to state or federal agriculture officials.

      Other strains

      There are several strains of bird flu. Earlier this month the avian A strain H7N9 was confirmed in areas near China's border with Myanmar. Like other strains of bird flu, it can be passed from bird to humans but not from human to human.

      The World Health Organization has called H7N9 an unusually dangerous virus for humans, with about 30% of people who get it dying.

      An outbreak of H5N2 avian, or bird flu, spread quickly this week through poultry operations in the upper Midwest, resulting in the deaths of millions of bi...
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      Travel sites don't always tell the whole story about your next hotel

      It's a problem that predates online travel sites but whether it has gotten any better is debatable

      Hotels always look great on their websites. The rooms are sparkling, the beds are clean, the floors are dry and there are no nasty little vermin crawling around biting people.

      But that's not always the reality, as Danielle tells us she found when she spent a few nights at the Clinton Hotel in Miami's South Beach neighborhood. 

      It sounds like Expedia did what it could to help Danielle and her friend but the overall experience still left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, that's the case with many online reservations.

      While we don't hear about too many leaking toilets, Expedia gets more than its share of complaints about duplicate reservations, lost reservations and prices that seem to change without notice.

      Consumers rate Expedia

      In many cases, consumers think they're shopping around only to learn they've made a reservation. That's what happened to Julie of Flushing, Mich.

      "Thought I was checking for availability and the reservation was made. I called within one minute of realizing my mistake and was given the runaround. Asked agent to cancel the reservation, which he told me he did, but the refund on my debit card would take two weeks," Julie said.

      Aleksandra had the changing-price experience. "I tried booking 2 separate all inclusive packages. Expedia's web showed a price per booking which we were interested and booked 1 room, however when finishing 2nd booking, the price changed increased 3 times (by over $300.00) in the matter of seconds," she said.

      Wrong rupee

      But perhaps the most unusual price-changing complaint comes from Sam of Pelawatte, Sri Lanka.

      "I went to the Expedia url page. I was quoted a price in Rps (rupees) which was very reasonable," Sam said. "I booked the hotel room only to discover that the Rps price was not in Sri Lankan Rps (as I was in Sri Lanka) but in twice as expensive Rps of India. It was a non-refundable price but when I called customer service they could not understand the confusion. They were totally unhelpful. Most sites distinguish Indian Rps as INRPS but not Expedia."

      ...
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      Blue Bell Creameries expands recall to include all products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Blue Bell Ice Cream of Brenham, Texas, is recalling all of its products currently on the market made at all of its facilities -- including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      Five patients were treated in Kansas and 3 in Texas after testing positive for Listeria.

      The recalled products sold at retail outlets -- including food service accounts, convenience stores and supermarkets -- in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming and international locations.

      The decision to expand the recall resulted from findings from an enhanced sampling program which revealed that Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream half gallons produced on March 17, 2015, and March 27, 2015, contained the bacteria.  

      Blue Bell Ice Cream of Brenham, Texas, is recalling all of its products currently on the market made at all of its facilities -- including ice cream, froze...
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      Nissan recalls Sentras in high humidity areas

      The passenger side frontal air bag inflator may rupture

      Nissan North America is recalling 45,000 model year 2006 Sentras manufactured January 2, 2006, to August 26, 2006, originally sold, or currently registered, in geographic locations associated with high absolute humidity.

      Specifically, vehicles sold, or currently registered, in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Florida and adjacent counties in southern Georgia, as well as the coastal areas of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are being recalled.

      Upon deployment of the passenger side frontal air bag, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture during deployment, with metal fragments striking and potentially seriously injuring the vehicle occupants.

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger air bag inflator, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.  

      Nissan North America is recalling 45,000 model year 2006 Sentras manufactured January 2, 2006, to August 26, 2006, originally sold, or currently registered...
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      Chef’s Express California Pasta Salad recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Schnuck Markets of St. Louis, Mo., is recalling its Chef’s Express California Pasta Salad.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses related to the consumption of this product have been reported to date.

      The product was sold in 99 Schnuck stores Deli/Chef’s Express departments April 2 – April 14, 2015 in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa.

      The product was labeled “Chef’s Express California Pasta Salad” and sold by weight through the company’s Deli/Chef’s Express departments.

      Customers may return any unused portion to their nearest store for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the Schnuck consumer affairs department Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 314-994-4400 or 1-800-264-4400.

      Schnuck Markets of St. Louis, Mo., is recalling its Chef’s Express California Pasta Salad. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses ...
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      Whole Foods Market recalls packaged raw macadamia nuts

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Whole Foods Market is recalling packaged raw macadamia nuts.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to-date.

      The recalled product, labeled as “Whole Foods Market Raw Macadamia Nuts,” was packaged in 11-oz. plastic tubs with a best-by date of Feb. 4, 2016, and a UPC code of 7695862059-1.

      The nuts were sold in Whole Foods Market Stores in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

      Customers who purchased this product should discard it and bring in their receipt for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Whole Foods Market customer service at 512-477-5566, ext. 20060 Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm CDT.

      Whole Foods Market is recalling packaged raw macadamia nuts. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been reported to-date. ...
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      Telemarketers: readers sound off

      Our comments section is overflowing with ideas for dealing with unwanted calls

      Our story last week about ways to reduce the growing number of unwanted telemarketer calls to cell phone numbers triggered a lot of response from readers. No surprise there since hatred of telemarketers seems to be a universal bond.

      Several used our story as a jumping-off point to talk in the comments section about telemarketers in general and trade ideas for dealing with them. We thought some of the discussion was worthy of passing along.

      Going on the offensive

      A reader named Greg says his answer to telemarketers is to go on the offensive. He says you have to let your creativity flow.

      “Start by asking if they were raised by a good family who taught them right from wrong, and if so why are they knowingly working for a criminal organization” he writes.

      Other times he says he tells them he works for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If it sounds like Greg spends a lot more time talking to telemarketers than most people want to do, he does. But he says there’s a point to that.

      “Sometimes I just taunt them endlessly, telling them that it's my sole purpose to simply waste as much of their time as I possibly can,” Greg writes. “They usually get all arrogant and snotty until they realize they ARE in fact getting played the longer they stay on the phone.”

      Engaging telemarketers is a common tactic. A retired Baptist minister listens patiently to any telephone pitch, then asks if he can talk with the caller about his or her personal relationship with Jesus. The elderly gentleman says he is rarely called twice by the same telemarketer.

      Do Not Call list

      The assumption of many readers posting comments is the FTC’s Do Not Call list “doesn’t work.” Otherwise, why would they be getting so many calls? A reader named Larry set them straight.

      “Any organization that is out to scam you will simply ignore the Do Not Call List and there is nothing the FTC can do about it,” Larry writes.

      Exactly. Scammers out to steal your money usually operate outside U.S. borders and have nothing to fear from the FTC. But legitimate U.S.-based businesses have to respect the Telemarketing Sales Rule or face potential sanctions. Registering your number won’t stop all the calls but will reduce them.

      Bad idea?

      David pointed out that if you listen to the end of a telemarketer’s call, it will ask you to press a number if you want to be taken off that particular caller’s list. But Joel responded that would be a mistake.

      “This alerts the caller it’s a real number and somebody will answer it and resells your number to hundreds of other scam artists,” Joel warns.

      A reader named Earl suggests making telemarketing a capital crime, suggesting any candidate making that a plank in his or her platform would win in a landslide.

      Things to keep in mind

      Here are a few points our readers need to keep in mind. Even if your number is on the Do Not Call list, charities, political organizations and pollsters are allowed to call. Also, if you have initiated contact with a business, it is allowed to follow up with telemarketing calls for 18 months after your last purchase, payment of delivery.

      Engaging with a telemarketer who is an obvious scammer might sound fun but might not be a good idea. There’s no need to antagonize a criminal. As for pranking a legitimate telemarketer, let’s face it, not everyone is Jerry Seinfeld.

      When calls come in from people you don’t want to talk to, simply hang up. If you have Caller ID and the number is blocked or is unfamiliar, just let it go to voicemail. Sooner or later, they’ll take the hint.

      Our story last week about ways to reduce the growing number of unwanted telemarketer calls to cell phone numbers triggered a lot of response from readers. ...
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      Genetically modified food becoming the next battleground in food wars

      Congressional measure would quash state labeling laws

      The subject of food is packed with emotion these days. A growing number of consumers have strong feelings about what they eat, where it comes from and how it is raised.

      Considering that, it might not be surprising that genetically modified food, or food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), has evoked a lot of heated debate.

      The U.S. government is stepping in to stake out its official position in this dispute that increasingly is taking on political overtones – of small natural and organic growers against large agricultural and processing enterprises. The federal information website, USA.gov, has issued a fact sheet on the government’s official position.

      Here are some of the key points it contains:

      Transferring genes

      First, what happens when food is genetically engineered? It’s a scientific method in which the DNA genes of one organism are transferred to another organism.

      That’s done to make crops grow better, but also to enhance flavor or extend shelf life. It might also make plants heartier, able to withstand longer periods of drought. It may also make food more resistant to insects, reducing the need for pesticides.

      Growers and food manufacturers tend to like GMOs, introduced to the market in the 1990s, for economic reasons. Fewer crops are lost to insects, extreme weather and spoilage.

      Taking exception

      Food activists, in general, highly disapprove of GMOs. For example, a group called the Non GMO Project claims none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit touted by proponents.

      The group also cites what it calls “a growing body of evidence” linking GMOs with health problems. But the government fact sheet says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates and evaluates genetically modified food and hasn’t found any health issues in the genetically modified food currently available.

      The agency assesses whether the genetically modified food is toxic or contains allergens, has generally the same nutritional value as traditionally-grown food, or might have long-term health effects. It analyzed its findings to determine if the food complies with safety laws.

      Labels

      The argument has now shifted to disclosure. Does a consumer have the right to know if the food item he or she purchases contains GMOs?

      Food activists say yes and have pushed for legislation at the state level to require that information on food labels. The Center for Food Safety, an environmental advocacy organization, reports lawmakers in 30 states have introduced legislation requiring food labels to inform consumers if a product contains GMOs, or outlaw them altogether.

      The food industry has pushed back. In Congress, bipartisan sponsors have introduced GMO labeling legislation that would preempt state attempts to regulate GMOs.

      In late March Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) introduced a measure to created a voluntary federal labeling standard.

      The subject of food is packed with emotion these days. A growing number of consumers have strong feelings about what they eat, where it comes from and how...
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      Satellite, cable providers often strike out when it comes to sports

      Channels come and go, often leaving sports fans alone in the bleachers

      Satellite and cable TV providers could give Congress a run for its money in the public disdain department. Just about everything they do annoys consumers, putting the TV subscription and Internet service business a slot or two below airlines in the public estimation.  

      Consumers rate DISH Network

      DISH Network is certainly no exception. Consumers complain about everything from reliability to fees to contract terms to program selection. The signal fails when it rains (and even when it's sunny), they say. Fees are higher than expected and contracts seem to run forever.

      And as for the channel line-ups, there've been several near-uprisings over the last year or so, when DISH booted channels from Fox, CNN and others in contract disputes. Some of the channels returned, some didn't.

      But while we can all live without news and old movies, baseball is another matter. Fans who signed up for DISH and other providers often think they'll get to see all of their favorite team's schedule but it doesn't always work out that way.

      Take Jay of Cartersville, Ga., a Braves fan. He filed this video review:

      It's not just the Braves. Joel of Bangor, Pa., thought he'd get all the Pirates games but it didn't turn out that way.

      "I switched from DirecTv to DISH Network as part of a package deal from my phone company. I asked and was told that there would be no problem getting Pittsburgh Pirate baseball," Joel said. "I was not able to get the games and was told they were blacked out. However, a neighbor down the road was able to get those games on DirecTv so they were not blacked out."

      Joel switched back to DirecTV and now faces a $440 contract termination charge from DISH.

      DISH is not alone, of course. All the TV subscription services generate similar complaints. Take Comcast, for example. 

      "I have 'basic cable.' I used to get the Red Sox baseball games and the local news on basic cable," said Richard of Groveland, Mass. "Xfinity changed that so all I get with 'basic cable' is a bunch of Spanish channels, two Boston channels, and a bunch of PBS stations. I can no longer get Red Sox baseball or the New England Patriots football."

      The only way to avoid situations like this is to read the contract very carefully before signing it, while ignoring whatever the salesperson is telling you. In most cases, cable and satellite companies have the option to add and drop channels as they see fit. And sometimes, upstream changes in licensing leave them no choice. 

      Satellite and cable TV providers could give Congress a run for its money in the public disdain department. Just about everything they do annoys consumers,...
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      Operation RussianDoll exploits zero-day flaw in Adobe Flash and Microsoft Windows

      Russian hackers behind scheme to spy on NATO diplomats and U.S. weapon-makers

      Over the weekend, researchers at the FireEye cybersecurity firm announced their discovery of zero-day flaws in Adobe Flash and Microsoft Windows, flaws apparently exploited by hackers from a Russian espionage campaign in order to spy on American defense contractors, NATO officials and diplomats, and others in whom Russia's government might take a particular interest.

      FireEye nicknamed the campaign “Operation RussianDoll,” and refers to the hackers behind it as Advanced Persistent Threat 28, or APT 28. The official designations for the zero-day flaws themselves are CVE-2015-3043 for Adobe, and CVE-2015-1701 for Microsoft.

      On April 18, when it made the announcement, FireEye said Adobe had already independently patched its security hole, and that “While there is not yet a patch available for the Windows vulnerability, updating Adobe Flash to the latest version will render this in-the-wild exploit innocuous. We have only seen CVE-2015-1701 in use in conjunction with the Adobe Flash exploit for CVE-2015-3043.” Windows 8 and later versions are not affected by the flaw.

      It's suspected that the APT 28 hackers are connected to or associated with the hackers who breached the State Department and White House computers last year.

      The RussianDoll zero-day attacks started April 13 and are still ongoing.

      “Zero-day” is tech-speak for any threat that exploits a previously unknown vulnerability, so zero days pass between the discovery of the vulnerability, and the discovery of the attack. (Imagine a homeowner saying “I had no idea that back door even existed – until I discovered burglars walking through it and stealing my stuff.” The back door was a zero-day flaw, the burglary a zero-day exploit.)

      Neither U.S. nor Russian government officials have commented on FireEye's announcements yet.

      ...
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      Leading Economic Index up moderately in March

      However, weaker growth may lie ahead

      A closely watched economic prognosticating tool is suggesting continued economic growth, although at a slower pace.

      The Conference Board says its Leading Economic Index (LEI) was up 0.2% last month following modest gains dating back to December.

      “Although the leading economic index still points to a moderate expansion in economic activity, its slowing growth rate over recent months suggests weaker growth may be ahead,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Economist at The Conference Board. “Building permits was the weakest component this month, but average working hours and manufacturing new orders have also slowed the LEI’s growth over the last six months.”

      The 10 components of The Conference Board Leading Economic Index:

      1. Average weekly hours, manufacturing
      2. Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
      3. Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods and materials
      4. Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Index of New Orders
      5. Manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
      6. Building permits, new private housing units
      7. Stock prices, 500 common stocks
      8. Leading Credit Index
      9. Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
      10. Average consumer expectations for business conditions
      A closely watched economic prognosticating tool is suggesting continued economic growth, although at a slower pace. The Conference Board says its Leading ...
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      Dog flu reaching epidemic status in parts of the Midwest

      The disease is spreading beyond the Chicago area

      The dog flu is reaching epidemic proportions and now has crossed state lines. Originally Chicago was the city hit the hardest but it has spread across the state and now it has infiltrated into neighboring Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.  The concern that is the virus is a different strain than originally reported.

      The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab identified the strain as H3N2, not H3N8 as previously thought. The virus has affected at least 1,000 dogs in all four states. If your dog was inoculated it's possible that the vaccine will not be effective because it is for a totally different strain. 

      Although the strains are different symptoms remain the same with coughing and sneezing, runny nose and a fever. It is still recommended to get the vaccine because it may provide protection if the other strain is still circulating said Keith Poulsen from the UW veterinary school.

      There is no evidence that this virus will be contagious to humans but the  H3N2 is contagious to cats.

      Asian import

      According to Myfoxchicago.com this new strain likely came from Asia and worked its way into the U.S. There is a small window of time that the dogs are contagious with the virus. So the dog must have hopped a plane on a trip from Asia to the U.S.

      It was scientists at Cornell University that discovered we were blaming the wrong strain of virus. This is the first time H3N2 has been identified in North America. The last outbreak of the strain occurred in China and South Korea.

      At this moment there haven't been any reports of any cats getting the virus but H3N2 can be transmitted from dogs to cats, but whether cats can transmit it to another animal is not known. 

      To help prevent the virus from spreading it has been recommended to stay away from dog parks, boarding facilities and groomers.

      The dog flu is reaching epidemic proportions and now has crossed state lines. Originally Chicago was the city hit the hardest but it has spread across the ...
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      Possible processing deviation prompts recall of B & R pork products

      The product may be contaminated with staphylococcal enterotoxin

      B & R Meat Processing of Winslow, Ark., is recalling approximately 2,129 pounds of pork products.

      A possible processing deviation may have led to staphylococcal enterotoxin contamination.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following cured and uncured pork items, produced between August 7, 2014, and April 1, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 1-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED HAM PORK SAUSAGE.”
      • 1-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED PORK CANADIAN BACON.”
      • 1-lb. cryovac packages of B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED RATTLESNAKE PORK.”
      • 1 to 2-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED HAM PORK.”
      • 0.5 to 1-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED PORK JOWLS.”
      • 1-lb. cryovac packages B & R MEAT PROCESSING CURED AR PORK BACON.”
      • 1-lb. cryovac packages of “B & R MEAT PROCESSING UNCURED SMOKED PORK BACON.”
      • 0.5 to 1-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING SMOKED PORK JOWLS.”
      • 0.5 to 1-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING PORK HOCKS.”
      • 1-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING UNCURED PORK CANADIAN BACON.”
      • 1-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING CURED BACON PORK”
      • 1 to 2-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING UNCURED SMOKED PORK HAM.”
      • 1 to 2-lb cryovac packages of “B&R MEAT PROCESSING UNCURED SMOKED PORK AR BACON.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “Est. 46910” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to local stores and farmer’s markets in Arkansas.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Scott Ridenoure of B&R Meat Processing, at (479) 634-2211.

      B & R Meat Processing of Winslow, Ark., is recalling approximately 2,129 pounds of pork products. A possible processing deviation may have led to staphylo...
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      BMW recalls older Cooper vehicles with air bag issue

      The front passenger air bag may not deploy in a crash

      BMW of North America is recalling 91,800 model year 2005-2006 MINI Cooper and Cooper S vehicles manufactured January 5, 2005, to November 28, 2006, and 2005-2008 MINI Cooper Convertible and Cooper S Convertible vehicles manufactured January 5, 2005, to July 31, 2008.

      Due to manufacturing, installation, and exposure issues, the front passenger seat occupant detection mat may not function properly and, as a result, the front passenger air bag may not deploy in a crash.

      Failure of the air bag to deploy increases the passenger's risk of injury.

      MINI will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger seat occupant detection mat, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin May 1, 2015.

      Owners may contact MINI customer service at 1-866-825-1525.

      BMW of North America is recalling 91,800 model year 2005-2006 MINI Cooper and Cooper S vehicles manufactured January 5, 2005, to November 28, 2006, and 200...
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      Civia Cycles Recalls Hyland bicycles,aluminum Civia fenders

      The fender mounting bracket can break or bend

      Civia Cycles, of Bloomington, Minn., is recalling about 1,000 Hyland bicycles and aluminum fenders.

      The fender mounting bracket can break or bend, posing a fall hazard to the rider.

      The company has received 1 report in which a consumer stated that a bracket broke and resulted in the consumer suffering a cervical spine injury and nerve damage.

      This recall includes all Civia aluminum fenders sold separately as aftermarket sets and all Civia Hyland bicycles sold with the fenders as original equipment. The recalled fenders are round, designed for use with 700c wheels and tires and have the Civia logo on the front and rear sides of each fender. Fender sets came in black, blue, green, olive, red and silver.

      Hyland bicycles came in blue, green, olive and red. The bikes have "Hyland" on the top tube, "Civia" on the down tube and the Civia logo on the seat tube.

      The bikes and fenders, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at independent bicycle retailers nationwide and online from April 2008, through March 2013, for about $60 per Civia fender set and between $1,200 and $4,500 for Civia Hyland bicycles.

      Consumers should immediately stop riding bicycles with the recalled fenders and contact an authorized Civia Cycles dealer to receive a $60 credit.

      Consumers may contact Civia Cycles toll-free at (877) 311-7686 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

      Civia Cycles, of Bloomington, Minn., is recalling about 1,000 Hyland bicycles and aluminum fenders. The fender mounting bracket can break or bend, posing ...
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      Sixty really is the new 40

      Researchers say it's time to redefine "old"

      There used to be an old saying, “you're as old as you feel.” It was normally said by old people trying to convince themselves they weren't.

      But increasingly science has begun to back that up. Sometimes, you see examples of it in real life – ordinary people active and alert into their 90s. Athletes on the field long after peers from earlier generations would have retired.

      In Superbowl 49 last February, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had the game of his career at age 37, and no one is suggesting he is close to hanging up his cleats.

      Sergei Scherbov, who led a research team studying how people age, says better health and longer life expectancy has turned ideas about what constitutes “old age” on its head.

      Time lived or time left?

      "Age can be measured as the time already lived or it can be adjusted taking into account the time left to live,” Scherboy said. “If you don't consider people old just because they reached age 65 but instead take into account how long they have left to live, then the faster the increase in life expectancy, the less aging is actually going on."

      Scherboy notes that 200 years ago, a person who reached age 60 was old. Really old. In fact, they had outlived their life expectancy.

      "Someone who is 60 years old today, I would argue is middle aged,” he says. "What we think of as old has changed over time, and it will need to continue changing in the future as people live longer, healthier lives."

      People in their 60s and beyond may have a few advantages the generations that went before them didn't have. Health care services are better than in the past. There is better knowledge about destructive habits, like smoking and poor diet.

      Money helps

      Today's older generation is also wealthier. A 2011 British survey found a third of people in their 60s said they were in the best financial shape of their lives, compared to just 23% of their younger peers. They took more vacations and enjoyed life more.

      Organizations like AARP have promoted the idea of active, healthy people in their 60s, 70s or older, encouraging “seniors” to stay engaged both physically and mentally. In many cases that means working longer, if desired. But that can sometimes present a whole different set of problems.

      Bill Heacock, who runs his own business as a seminar trainer, is 61 and has no intention of quitting. But he tells AARP he's worried that his much younger clients have a hard time seeing past his gray hair. Yet he eats wisely, runs 20 to 25 miles per week and weighs less than he did in college.

      What's old?

      Stony Brook University researcher Warren Sanderson says someone like that should not be considered old.

      "The onset of old age is important because it is often used as an indicator of increased disability and dependence, and decreased labor force participation,” he said.

      A 2009 Pew Research Center study asked Americans to define when someone is “old.” As you might expect, the answers were wide ranging. Only 32% said when someone hits 65 years of age. Seventy-nine percent replied when someone celebrates their 85th birthday.

      There used to be an old saying, “you're as old as you feel.” It was normally said by old people trying to convince themselves they weren...
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      Consumer prices post second consecutive gain

      An increase in energy costs offset a decline in food prices

      Rising energy costs pushed consumer prices higher in March for the second increase in two months.

      Figures from the Labor Department (DOL) show the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inched up 0.2% last month following an identical increase in February. Over the last 12 months, though, the CPI has dipped 0.1%.

      Energy and food

      Energy prices jumped 1.1% on top of February’s 1.1% advance. Gasoline prices shot up 3.9%, fuel oil surged 5.9%, while natural gas declined 2.7% and electricity fell 1.1%.

      Food prices, on the other hand, dipped 0.2%, wiping out an 0.2% increase in February. Five of the 6 major grocery store food group indexes declined, with fruits and vegetables down 1.4%, nonalcoholic beverages off 0.6%, and dairy and related products along with meats, poultry, fish, and eggs down 0.5%. Beef and veal prices, however, rose01.% -- the 14th monthly increase in a row.

      Core inflation

      For March, the “core” rate of inflation -- all items less the volatile food and energy categories -- increased 0.2%. A major factor was a 1.2% advance in prices for for used cars and trucks and a 0.3% increase in the cost of shelter. Airline fares, in contrast, plunged 1.7% after rising in February.

      Over the past 12 months, the core rate of inflation is up 1.8%, compared with the 1.7% increase for the 12 months ending February.

      The complete CPI report for March is available on the DOL website.

      Rising energy costs pushed consumer prices higher in March for the second increase in two months. Figures from the Labor Department (DOL) show the Consume...
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      B & R Meat Processing recalls pork products

      Nitrite levels exceed regulatory limit

      B & R Meat Processing is recalling approximately 569 pounds of pork products.

      The product contains levels of Nitrites that exceed regulatory levels.

      The following products, produced on various dates from July 1, 2014, through October 7, 2014, are being recalled:

      • 1-2 lb cryovac packages of cured ham with production dates of 7/1/14 to 7/25/14
      • 1-15 lb cryovac packages of cured bacon with production dates of 7/1/14 to 10/7/14
      • 1 lb cryovac packages of cured jowls with production dates of 7/1/14 to 7/25/14

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “Est.46910” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to retail outlets in the state of Arkansas.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Scott Ridenoure at B & R Meat Processing at (479) 634-2211.

      B & R Meat Processing is recalling approximately 569 pounds of pork products. The product contains levels of Nitrites that exceed regulatory levels. The...
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      Husky vertical bike hooks recalled

      The mounted bike hooks can detach unexpectedly

      Waterloo Industries of Waterloo, Iowa, is recalling about 120,000 Husky Securelock vertical bike hooks in the U.S. and Canada.

      The mounted bike hooks can detach unexpectedly, allowing the bike to fall posing a risk of injury to bystanders.

      The firm has received 22 reports of the bike hooks falling from the mounted Trackwall, including 12 reports of property damage to bicycles and/or nearby vehicles. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Husky Securelock vertical bike hooks used with a Husky Trackwall garage storage system. The 3 by 3.5-inch black metal plate is mounted to the grooves in the Trackwall and the bike’s tire is attached to a hook protruding from the plate.

      There are no markings on the hook. The Trackwall has “Husky” printed on the lower left corner. The hook holds up to a 35 pound bike.

      The bike hooks, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Home Depot stores nationwide from April 2011, to March 2015, for about $9.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled hooks and return them to the nearest Home Depot store for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Waterloo Industries at (800) 833-8851 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

      Waterloo Industries of Waterloo, Iowa, is recalling about 120,000 Husky Securelock vertical bike hooks in the U.S. and Canada.. The mounted bike hooks can...
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      E-cigarette use tripled among teens -- a "staggering" increase, CDC reports

      "A wake-up call that more and more of our kids are becoming addicted"

      Federal health officials lit a match today that ignited a firestorm on both sides of the vaping divide, reporting that current e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.

      Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "a wake-up call to all of us that more and more of our kids are becoming addicted to e-cigarettes.

      "If e-cigarette companies are serious about helping people quit smoking, they must stop targeting our kids with their products and pull their advertisements from television," Boxer said.

      The American Vaping Association -- an industry group -- in effect labeled the report a smokescreen and interpreted the numbers to indicate that "as youth experimentation with vaping has grown, teen smoking has declined at a rate faster than ever before."

      The annual study found that current e-cigarette use (use on at least 1 day in the past 30 days) among high school students increased from 4.5% in 2013 to 13.4% in 2014, rising from approximately 660,000 to 2 million students. Among middle school students, current e-cigarette use more than tripled from 1.1% in 2013 to 3.9% in 2014 — an increase from approximately 120,000 to 450,000 students.

      E-cigs now top tobacco product

      This is the first time since the survey started collecting data on e-cigarettes in 2011 that current e-cigarette use has surpassed current use of every other tobacco product overall, including conventional cigarettes, the CDC said.

      “We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”

      Hookah smoking roughly doubled for middle and high school students in the study, while cigarette use declined among high school students and remained unchanged for middle school students. Among high school students, current hookah use rose from 5.2% in 2013 (about 770,000 students) to 9.4% in 2014 (about 1.3 million students). 

      The increases in e-cigarette and hookah use offset declines in use of more traditional products such as cigarettes and cigars. There was no decline in overall tobacco use between 2011 and 2014. Overall rates of any tobacco product use were 24.6 % for high school students and 7.7 % for middle school students in 2014.

      Staggering increases

      “In today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace, the surge in youth use of novel products like e-cigarettes forces us to confront the reality that the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “These staggering increases in such a short time underscore why FDA intends to regulate these additional products to protect public health.”

      Cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco are currently subject to FDA’s tobacco control authority. The agency currently is finalizing the rule to bring additional tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, hookahs and some or all cigars under that same authority.

      Sen. Boxer would like to see things move along a bit faster. In March, she sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg along with a petition urging the agency to finalize a rule to regulate e-cigarettes and protect public health.

      Yesterday, she wrote to the executives of five of the largest e-cigarette manufacturers urging them to refrain from advertising e-cigarettes on television, citing the effects of e-cigarette advertising on young people.

      The Vaping Association, meanwhile, claimed the CDC's figures -- showing a huge increase in vaping and a decline in smoking by high school students -- amounted to evidence that vaping was helping students resist the urge to smoke cigarettes.

      "While no vaping or smoking by teens is obviously the ideal, we do not live in a perfect world. There remains no evidence that e-cigarettes are acting as gateway products for youth. In fact, this study and others suggest that the availability of vapor products has acted as a deterrent for many teenagers and potentially kept them away from traditional cigarettes," said Gregory Conley, the group's president.

      Federal health officials lit a match today that ignited a firestorm on both sides of the vaping divide, reporting that current e-cigarette use among middle...
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      Airline service declined in 2014

      Annual rating finds worst showing since 2009

      What defines a good airline? Different consumers will have different opinions but most might agree that taking off and landing on time and not losing your luggage rank pretty high as criteria.

      Beyond that, consumers no longer expect a free lunch or much of anything for free. Expectations have fallen pretty low in the last decade.

      So it was interesting when Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University issued their annual Airline Quality Rating (AQR). According to the rating, only 3 of 12 U.S. airlines improved their performance in the last 12 months. One held steady while the remaining 8 declined.

      Virgin America on top

      Virgin America came out on top for the third straight year, largely on its record of keeping denied boardings to a minimum. In other words, if you booked a Virgin America flight, you had a good chance of not being bumped.

      Virgin America’s involuntary denied boarding performance was just 0.09 per 10,000 passengers in 2014, the best of all the airlines. The industry average was 0.92.

      Virgin's consumer complaint rate is also lower than the industry average, perhaps because its mishandled bag rate was the lowest in the industry. Its lost or mishandled luggage rate was 0.95 per 1,000 passengers. The industry average was 3.62.

      Virgin America's one decline was its on-time performance, a drop from the previous year.

      Hawaiian Airlines

      If getting there on time was your primary objective, you might have been better off flying Hawaiian Airlines. Its 2014 on-time performance was the best of the airlines that were rated. That helped make Hawaiian Airlines number 2 in the ratings.

      Delta Airlines was the highest-rated legacy airline, moving up one notch from fourth to third place. Oddly, Delta moved up despite a decline in on-time performance, an increase in mishandled luggage and a rise in customer complaints. A drop in denied boardings was its only gain.

      Of course, performance is all a matter of what you're comparing it to.

      “The Airline Quality Rating industry score for 2014 shows an industry that declined in overall performance quality over the previous year,” the authors write. As an industry, performance in 2014 was worse than the previous four years. The AQR score for 2014 was a return to levels seen in 2009.”

      Step backward

      In other words the airline industry, after managing to improve since the recession, appears to have take a step backward. Wichita State's Dean Headley says consumers should take that as a red flag. For airlines, he says it means working harder to compete for customer loyalty.

      “Bigger isn’t always better, and the downturn in performance suggests that customer perceptions of poor outcomes are warranted,” said Headley.

      Study co-researcher Brent Bowen, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Ariz., campus, believes much of the problem can be traced to airline mergers and consolidations. He notes the airlines promised consolidation would improve service but that hasn't been the case. The one possible exception – Delta.

      “Delta is an excellent example of a merger that declined in performance and systematically has clawed its way back to a new high level of quality performance,” Bowen said. “This shows that if an airline commits to improving their AQR rating, they can do it.”

      Meanwhile, Bowen says the airline industry is doing quite well in terms of profits. It's evident, he says, they aren't investing in customer service and restoring employee concessions given up during the economic decline.

      What defines a good airline? Different consumers will have different opinions but most might agree that taking off and landing on time and not losing your ...
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      A rebound in new home construction

      Initial jobless claims moved higher

      New home construction bounced back in last month from the horrendous side of more than 15% it suffered during February.

      According to a joint release from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, privately-owned housing starts rose 2.0% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 926,000. Nonetheless, the rate is 2.5% below the March 2014 rate of 950,000.

      Single-family home construction was a major factor, with an increase of 4.4% -- to a rate of 618,000. The March rate for units in buildings with 5 units or more was 287,000 down 22,000 from the previous month.

      Building permits

      Construction of new homes authorized by building permits in March fell 5.7%,to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,039,000, but is 2.9% above the March 2014 level.

      Permits for single-family home construction jumped 2.1%, while apartment building permits were down 72,000 -- to a rate of 378,000.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Initial jobless claims

      Separately, the government reports first-time applications for state unemployment benefits shot higher last week, confounding economists from Briefing.com who were forecasting a decline.

      According to the Labor Department (DOL), initial jobless claims jumped 12,000 in the week ending April 11 to a seasonally adjusted 294,000 from the previous week's revised level of 282,000.

      The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly tally, and considered a better gauge of the labor market was dropped by 250 to 282,750. That's a level unseen since December 2000.

      The full report may be found on the DOL website.

      New home construction bounced back in last month from the horrendous side of more than 15% it suffered during February. According to a joint release from ...
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      FDA warns that Bo-Ying Compound contains lead

      The herbal product is imported from Hong Kong

      A new alert issued by the FDA warns of lead in Bo-Ying Compound, an herbal product promoted as useful in treating a wide variety of conditions in infants and children including influenza, fever, sneezing, and nasal discharge.

      The powdered product is marketed in retail outlets and online and is labeled in Chinese and English.

      The compound is manufactured in Hong Kong by Eu Yan Sang and by other companies. An alert from the Washington State Department of Health says that consumers should avoid all Bo-Ying Compound products.

      If you have used this compound or given it to a child you are advised to contact your doctor to evaluate if a blood test is warranted.

      Children and babies are very susceptible to lead poisoning, which can cause reduced IQ, behavioral difficulties, and other health problems.

      So far there haven't been multiple reports of lead poisoning but Maryland’s health department found elevated levels of lead in the product. The FDA has received one adverse event of lead poisoning in an 18-month-old child who was given this product.

      A new alert issued by the FDA warns of lead in Bo-Ying Compound, an herbal product promoted as useful in treating a wide variety of conditions in...
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      Spring buying season boosts builder confidence

      It's the first gain in 4 months

      It appears that all it takes is a little good weather to boost the spirits of home builders.

      According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes rose 4 points in April to a level of 56.

      “As the spring buying season gets underway, home builders are confident that current low interest rates and continued job growth will draw consumers to the market,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo.

      The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next 6 months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.”

      Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      Broad-based advance

      All 3 HMI components registered gains this month. The component charting sales expectations in the next 6 months jumped 5 points to 64, the index measuring buyer traffic increased 4 points to 41, and the component gauging current sales conditions was up 3 points to 61.

      “The HMI component index measuring future sales expectations rose 5 points in April to its highest level of the year,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “This uptick shows builders are feeling optimistic that the housing market will continue to strengthen throughout 2015.”

      Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South rose 1 point to 56 and the Northwest held steady at 42. The Midwest fell by 2 points to 54 and the West dropped 3 points to 58.   

      It appears that all it takes is a little good weather to boost the spirits of home builders. According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells ...
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      Volkswagen recalls Routans

      The vehicles have an electrical defect

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 20,676 model year 2009 Routan vehicles manufactured June 25, 2008, to June 10, 2009, and 2010 Routan vehicles manufactured October 1, 2009, to August 11, 2010.

      The vehicles have a defect that can affect the safe operation of the airbag system.

      If the ignition key inadvertently moves into the OFF or ACCESSORY position, the engine will turn off, which will then depower various key safety systems including -- but not limited to -- air bags, power steering, and power braking. Loss of functionality of these systems may increase the risk of crash and/or increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      Until this recall is performed, customers should remove all items from their key rings, leaving only the ignition key. The key fob (if applicable), should also be removed from the key ring. Road conditions or some other jarring event may cause the ignition switch to move out of the run position, turning off the engine.

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the ignition switch and key fobs, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in April 2015 for 2009 Routan vehicles, and in August 2015 for 2010 Routan vehicles. Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-822-8987. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 28H1.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 20,676 model year 2009 Routan vehicles manufactured June 25, 2008, to June 10, 2009, and 2010 Routan vehicles manu...
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      Cycle Gear recalls semi truck and motorcycle toys

      The toys contain excessive levels of lead

      Cycle Gear of Benicia, Calif., is recalling about 155 sets of Wheelies semi-truck with 6 motorcycles and push-along motorcycle with rider.

      The toys contain excessive levels of lead, which is a violation of the federal standard for lead content.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves plastic Wheelies semi-truck with 6 motorcycles toy and Wheelies push-along motorcycle toys. The semi-truck has a dual-level trailer that carries six motorcycles and comes in red and purple with multi-colored motorcycles. The truck with the trailer attached measures 18 inches long by 7 inches tall.

      The truck has the item number Item # TAG66767 and SKU# 752249 printed on the packaging. The Wheelies push-along motorcycle is red with a rider in black with silver accents. The product has item # TBG04323 and SKU# 752251 printed on the package.

      The toys, manufactured in China, were sold at Cycle Gear stores and online at www.cyclegear.com from November 2014, through December 2014, for about $10 for Push Along Motorcycle and $20 for Semi-Truck with six motorcycles.

      Consumers should immediately take away from children and stop using the recalled toys and contact Cycle Gear Inc. for a full refund. Cycle Gear Inc. is contacting consumers directly.

      Consumers may contact Cycle Gear at (800) 292-5343 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

      Cycle Gear of Benicia, Calif., is recalling about 155 sets of Wheelies semi-truck with 6 motorcycles and push-along motorcycle with rider. The toys contai...
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      Toyota recalls Scion tC vehicles

      The vehicles have a suspension issue

      Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is recalling approximately 114 model year 2015 Scion tC Release Series 9 vehicles.

      The rear suspension arm bolts and nuts could have been tightened improperly at two of the Toyota facilities at which accessory coil springs are installed prior to delivery to dealers. In this condition, the bolts could become loose during vehicle operation. Under some circumstances the control arm could eventually detach, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Toyota says it is unaware of any accidents or injuries caused by this condition.

      Vehicle owners will receive a notification by first class mail, and Toyota dealers will replace the bolts, nuts, rear suspension arms and rear suspension member sub-assemblies.

      Consumers may call Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331.

      Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is recalling approximately 114 model year 2015 Scion tC Release Series 9 vehicles. The rear suspension arm bolts and nuts could...
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      Buy4easy recalls full face helmets with visors

      The helmets failed the penetration test

      Buy4easy is recalling 786 TMS JX-A5005 full face helmets with visors, size XL, manufactured June 1, 2013, to July 15, 2013.

      The recalled motorcycle helmets failed the penetration test, and the helmet label does not meet Department of Transportation regulations.

      The wearer of this helmet may not be properly protected in the event of vehicle crash.

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buy4easy customer service at 1-626-388-9898.

      Buy4easy is recalling 786 TMS JX-A5005 full face helmets with visors, size XL, manufactured June 1, 2013, to July 15, 2013. The recalled motorcycle helme...
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      Chrysler recalls Dodge Vipers

      The driver or passenger door may open unexpectedly

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,451 model year 2013-2014 Dodge Vipers manufactured October 1, 2012, to February 6, 2014.

      Moisture may get into the door switch, resulting in the driver or passenger door opening unexpectedly while the vehicle is in motion, increasing the risk of a crash and injury.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the door handle assemblies and top covers, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin May 18, 2015.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R14.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,451 model year 2013-2014 Dodge Vipers manufactured October 1, 2012, to February 6, 2014. Moisture may get into the d...
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      Corinthian Colleges fined $30 million for misrepresenting job placement rates

      Heald Colleges ordered to stop enrolling new students

      The Department of Education has levied a $30 million fine against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. after an investigation “confirmed cases” that the company misrepresented the schools' job placement rates to current and prospective students of Corinthian-owned Heald Colleges.

      The DoE agreement also forbids Heald from enrolling any more students, and requires the school to help current students either complete their education or continue it elsewhere.

      According to the DoE, Corinthian's deceptive practices include paying temporary employment agencies to hire graduates for on-campus jobs lasting as little as two days, so that Heald could then count those students as having found work in their field after graduation.

      Nothing new

      Such allegations against the company are nothing new. The DoE's fine is merely the latest in a series of legal actions taken against the embattled chain of for-profit colleges.

      Last September, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Corinthian for predatory lending, the charges included allegations that the company would pay temp agencies to hire Corinthian grads to inflate the schools' placement rates, and also that the company promised good “career” options to graduates of Corinthian-owned Everest, WyoTech or Heald schools, yet Corinthian counted as a “career” any job lasting only one day, so long as there was the possibility of a second day of work.

      In February, Corinthian students who'd taken out “Genesis” private loans got a collective $480 million in debt relief, resulting in debt reductions of up to 40 percent.

      The schools' reputation among some groups is so unsavory that earlier this month, the attorneys general of nine states urged the federal government to forgive the federal debt burdens incurred by students holding the overpriced and worthless degrees.

      And this week, when the Department of Education announced the $30 million fine against Corinthian, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that “This should be a wake-up call for consumers across the country about the abuses that can exist within the for-profit college sector. We will continue to hold the career college industry accountable and demand reform for the good of students and taxpayers. And we will need Congress to join us in that effort.”

      "Violent students' and taxpayers' trust"

      The DoE's investigation found that Corinthian had badly mislead potential and current students of Heald Colleges, to the point where the students might not have enrolled in that school at all, had they known the truth.

      U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said in a statement, “Instead of providing clear and accurate information to help students choose which college to attend, Corinthian violated students' and taxpayers' trust. Their substantial misrepresentations evidence a blatant disregard not just for professional standards, but for students' futures.”

      Among other things, the Department's investigation found that Heald paid companies to hire graduates for temporary positions lasting as little as two days, performing such basic tasks as moving computers and organizing cables, then counted those graduates as “placed in field.” Heald also counted obvious out-of-field jobs as in-field placements, including one graduate of an accounting program whose food-service job at Taco Bell was counted as “in-field” work.

      In addition, the DoE said, “Heald College failed to disclose that it counted as 'placed' those graduates whose employment began prior to graduation, and in some cases even prior to the graduate's attendance at Heald.”

      Like that Accounting graduate working at Taco Bell: she graduated from Heald in 2011 but had started at Taco Bell five years earlier, in June 2006.

      A Corinthian spokesperson said in a statement that the Department of Education's conclusions were “highly questionable” and “unfounded,” and that “These unfounded, punitive actions do nothing to advance quality education … but would certainly shatter the dreams and aspirations of Heald students and the careers of its employees.” The spokesperson also said that Corinthian plans to appeal.

      The Department of Education has levied a $30 million fine against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. after an investigation “confirmed cases” that ...
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      NY groups test toys, find toxins

      Retailers say they meet federal safety standards

      It's hard to imagine that stores could still have toys and products on the shelves that can be toxic to kids.There has been so much awareness about products containing chemicals that are harmful to children.

      But according to a report by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education fund. and Clean and Healthy New York, some big-name brand stores are still selling toxic products. Stores like Target, TJ Maxx, Dollar General, 99 Cent City and Children's Place stores in Onondaga County are all selling children's toys with dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in them.

      They had people from Clean and Healthy NY actually go into these stores and use a device to test merchandise. It's a hand-held tool that can measure levels of heavy metals.

      What they found may be surprising. Arsenic seems to be a component in everything that is good. Like wine for instance lately people have been talking about the level of arsenic in that. Well, they found arsenic  in children’s jewelry and hair clips. Xylophones seem to be the big ticket item for chemicals -- they were found to contain lead, cobalt and mercury. They even found toxins in zippers in kids' clothing.

      The fear is that these products with the chemical compounds can cause brain damage and other problems as small children put them in their mouth. If they have had contact with the toys that contain the toxic chemicals and then put their fingers in their mouth they are transmitting the toxins that way also.

      There are federal standards but the problem is they are voluntary. There has been a great deal of effort put forth to pass something but as of yet nothing has gone through. Some New York counties are acting on their own to pass laws. Washington State did pass laws in 2008 that require manufacturers of toys and other children's products to disclose the toxic chemicals they use.

      Renee Havener is a former hospice nurse for children and she spoke when the report was released. She would like the state Legislature to pass a law that would force manufacturers to list the toxic chemicals in toys they sell in New York. Albany County recently passed its own law in absence of any state legislation.

      According to Syracuse.com Target responded to the allegations with a statement: "Target is committed to providing high quality and safe products to our guests. The products in question meet all federal product safety requirements."

      It's hard to imagine that stores could still have toys and products on the shelves that can be toxic to kids.There has been so much awareness...
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      Health apps -- healthful or a health threat?

      Researcher says the apps may contribute to an unhealthy obsession with health

      Health and wellness have never been easier to manage than in the current age of technology. Information is now easily accessible, and there are a wealth of services that consumers can take advantage of to reach their fitness goals.

      In particular, "health apps” have become increasingly popular. The question is, just how beneficial are these apps?

      Many argue that health apps inspire people to adapt healthier lifestyles and stay committed to their health goals. They are extremely simple to access through smartphones and other devices that people use every day.

      Iltifat Husain, editor of iMedicalApps.com, and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, argues that the apps have great potential “to reduce morbidity and mortality.” He admits that there is not much research to support health app use, but that “doctors should not wait for scientific studies to prove benefits because these have already been shown.”

      For example, Sylvia Warman, an office worker from London, believes that her health app has improved her life dramatically. She points out how much easier these apps make it to track her progress and adjust her lifestyle. She claims that her app has made her more conscious of her everyday choices. She is more active as a result, and has even improved her diet.

      Too many choices

      Despite these positive testimonials, there are some drawbacks to using these health apps. Because of the number of apps that have been produced, it is difficult to separate useful ones from those that are ineffective.

      Des Spence, a general practitioner, argues that most health apps are “mostly harmless and likely useless,” but he cautions that there is another more serious danger associated with them -- they can play on the fears of “an unhealthily health obsessed generation.”

      Spence points out that certain medical technologies, such as MRI’s and blood tests, are already overused. He believes that all of this extra technology leads to over-diagnosis which can “ignite extreme anxiety” and cause serious medical harm.

      Whatever your opinion may be on the growth of these technologies, they will inevitably continue to progress. Luckily, the level to which they are utilized is still entirely up to the consumer.

      Health and wellness have never been easier to manage than in the current age of technology. Information is now easily accessible, and there are a wealth of...
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      Neiman Marcus' "faux fur" still riles Humane Society

      The group faults the FTC for not making the retailer trim its claims

      What is it with Neiman Marcus? The upscale retailer seems to have an obsession with fake faux fur. No, that's not a typo -- the fur that's supposed to be fake isn't. Allegedly.

      In 2013, Neiman Marcus settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it misrepresented some of its fur products. A few years before that, it paid $25,000 on a similar rap.

      And now, the Humane Society of the United States is charging that Neiman is at it again, or still. It's petitioning the FTC to once again take action against the company. 

      "Following similar petitions in 2007, 2008 and 2011, which named dozens of nationally and internationally known retailers, The Humane Society of the United States hoped the FTC would realize the enormity of the problem and start being proactive in protecting consumers," the Humane Society said in a prepared statement. "However, as evidence collected from 2011 to 2014 shows, the situation is just as bad as it was in 2011."

      Cruel treatment

      "Many Americans are opposed to buying or wearing animal fur because they object to rabbits, foxes, coyotes and other animals suffering and dying for frivolous trimmings on jackets and shoes," spokeswoman Samantha Miller added. "American consumers deserve to have the facts, and should be able to make socially-conscious decisions while shopping."

      The Humane Society says it's not just Neiman Marcus that needs to modify its behavior. It faults the FTC for allegedly not taking action until prodded to do so and says other retailers are playing the same game -- selling real fur instead of the more expensive faux fur that many consumers prefer.  

      "The FTC is tasked by Congress with protecting American consumers from deception and administering and enforcing the Fur Products Labeling Act.  But even the most notorious offenders like Neiman Marcus continue with a business-as-usual approach, with the FTC taking minimal action after evidence being presented by our investigators year after year," Miller said. "Another notorious offender, DrJays.com, is the subject of a similar petition filed in July 2014.  Now, almost a year later, the FTC has taken no public action."

      In fact, Miller says, at least of the items mentioned in the petition was still being promoted on the Neiman Marcus website as recently as yesterday -- the "Fizzy Faux-Fur Bootie." As of this writing, the item is shown as sold out but is still displayed on the site.

      What is it with Neiman Marcus? The upscale retailer seems to have an obsession with fake faux fur. No, that's not a typo -- the fur that's supposed...
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      Air Methods hit with stiff FAA fine

      The company is accused of operating helicopters in violation of federal regs

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing a $1.54 million civil penalty against Air Methods Corp. of Englewood, Colo., for allegedly operating Eurocopter EC-130 helicopters on dozens of flights when they were not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.

      According to the agency, Air Methods operated two helicopters on 70 passenger-carrying flights for compensation or hire, over water and beyond power-off gliding distance from shore, when they lacked required helicopter flotation devices and flotation gear for each occupant.

      The company operated another helicopter on 13 such flights when it lacked required flotation gear for each occupant, the FAA contends. All 83 flights by the emergency medical transport company occurred around Pensacola, Fla.

      “Operators must follow every regulation and take every precaution to ensure the safety of all those on board,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Flying without required safety equipment is indefensible.”

      Air Methods has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA’s civil penalty letter to respond.

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing a $1.54 million civil penalty against Air Methods Corp. of Englewood, Colo., for allegedly operating...
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      Mortgage applications post first decline in four weeks

      Contract interest rates were mostly higher

      After posting gains in each of the previous 3 weeks, applications for mortgages have turned downward.

      According the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications declined 2.3% in the week ending April 10.

      While the Refinance Index fell 2% from the previous week, the refinance share of mortgage activity inched up to 58% of total applications from 57% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dipped to 5.4% of total applications.

      The FHA share of total applications was 13.5%, the VA share was 11.1% and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged from the previous week at 0.8%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) edged up 1 basis point -- to 3.87% from 3.86%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) rose from 3.81% to 3.84%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA slipped 2 basis points to 3.67%, with points increasing to 0.23 from 0.18 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs moved to 3.16% from 3.15%, with points unchanged at 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped 6 basis points to 2.82%, with points falling to 0.40 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      After posting gains in each of the previous 3 weeks, applications for mortgages have turned downward. According the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) W...
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      Buy4easy recalls motorcycle half-helmets

      The helmets may dampen impacts insufficiently

      Buy4easy is recalling 2,505 TMS HY-809 motorcycle half-helmets, size Large, manufactured March 20, 2012, to October 31, 2012.

      The helmets may dampen impacts insufficiently and may be missing, or have incomplete, manufacturing dates and instructions to the purchaser.

      The user may not be adequately protected in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of personal injury.

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buy4easy customer service at 1-626-388-9898.

      Buy4easy is recalling 2,505 TMS HY-809 motorcycle half-helmets, size Large, manufactured March 20, 2012, to October 31, 2012. The helmets may dampen impa...
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      Mobility is key to surviving the next Google update

      Web sites scramble to polish their mobile sites as the April 21 drop-dead date approaches

      How often does this happen to you -- you type a search query into your smartphone, click on the first link and find yourself at a site that looks like a schematic of an anthill? You know -- tiny letters, paragraphs that run off the page, photos the size of a deer tick. 

      It happens to everyone. A lot. And the reason is that way too many sites that rank highly on Google have for whatever reason not bothered to make their sites "mobile-friendly" -- a phrase that simply refers to having a separate format that automatically displays to users who are using a phone or small tablet.

      It's hardly a secret that mobile devices are steadily replacing desktop and laptop computers, after all. You may not be aware of it but your browser communicates with every site you visit, passing along information about your operating system, browser and device, among many other things, so it's not as though the world's webmasters don't have access to the information.

      Currently, it's reported that 29% -- nearly one-third -- of Google's search queries come from smartphones and tablets and the number is growing fast.

      Why would a site not want to accommodate those visitors by presenting a layout that's easy to read and understand? Good question. While it's obviously a no-brainer for retail sites, the simple truth is that consumers aren't just using their phones and tablets when they're out and about, perhaps looking to duck in somewhere and buy something. They're using them at home, at work and at school as well. It's no longer unusual to watch television with one eye while nosing around on an iPhone with the other, so every kind of site needs to make itself mobile-friendly.

      If you've muttered to yourself that someone should do something about this little annoyance, rest assured. Someone is and that someone is Google, a name that gets attention from web publishers everywhere.

      Web aflutter

      The web is all aflutter today because come April 21, Google will be making a major modification to its search algorithm. This is something that happens every now and then and is greeted with the awe and trepidation usually reserved for the unveiling of a new Apple product.

      Earlier Google algorithm changes have resulted in many previously successful sites being shoved off the edge of the earth. Companies large and small have literally gone out of business in some extreme cases when they were banished from the first few pages of search results. 

      Major changes over the past few years have been aimed at eradicating sites that trafficked in stolen content or played games with keywords, hoping to lure visitors who were looking for topic Y only to find a site that instead specialized in topic X. Or even XXX.

      The change now pending could be even more far-reaching. It is intended to recognize -- and reward -- sites that are optimized for mobile users. In other words, if your site looks good on an iPhone or other mobile device, it will be more likely to rank highly in Google's index. If not, well ... you can always get a job driving for Uber.

      Google takes heat for some of its ventures but no one can say it doesn't try to stay ahead of trends on the web. While those who lose out in the algorithm upgrades are understandably critical, there's general agreement among experts that Google does its best to deliver honest, useful results and that its algorithm adjustments are made with the consumer's best interests in mind.

      So the results come April 21 should be mostly good for consumers, even though they're likely to take a big bite out of the traffic totals for many sites that have failed to look out for mobile users.

      Smaller sites

      For smaller sites that use WordPress and other popular content management tools, it's not that hard to get into the mobile era, experts assure us. To test this theory, I went to one of the small community sites I manage and ran Google's mobile test and found my site did about as well as I did the summer I took intensive Russian. Flunked, in other words.

      Ah, but salvation sometimes is easy for little guys. I loaded a small plug-in (free, open source) called WPtouch Mobile, activated it and ran the test again, with much better results. If you have a small site, you should do the same. If your site is built in what webmasters call "flat HTML," you may have to do a little more work but it's not all that difficult. Easy-to-use programs are available from comanies like CoffeeCup. That's the good news. 

      233 big bad sites

      The bad news is that for a large site, becoming mobile-friendly is no simple task. You could just as easily invent a new and improved version of the aardvark as totally rework a site that sprawls over thousands and thousands of pages and has all kinds of complex interactive elements.

      Big sites that have retooled for mobile users have spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, trying to prepare for April 21, a date that is now circled in very thick red ink on web developers' calendars.

      Not all big sites are going to make the deadline, however. Some are working feverishly but others appear to be asleep at the switch, a ConsumerAffairs survey found.  

      We looked at the top 1500 sites, as determined by Quantcast, and found that fully 233 did not pass. Among the flunk-outs were 8 sites in the top 100, including MSN.com.

      Perhaps because they are not as plugged into audience statistics and generally don't sell advertising, .org sites seemed to be over-represented in the no-pass list, including PBS.org and ConsumerReports.org. 

      But other no-shows were a bit more puzzling. They included RollingStone.com, which has recently flunked a couple of other tests we could mention. (At the last minute, RollingStone completed an upgrade and now passes Google's test). 

      And then there are the .gov sites. Flunk-outs include irs.gov, weather.gov, nih.gov and senate.gov. It's perhaps not a surprise that many of them didn't make the grade. Given the speed at which government moves, it may very well be that efforts to upgrade mobile readability are just about to get started after a few more studies and may even begin to show results in a few more fiscal years, which would probably be considered -- as the old saying has it -- good enough for government work. 

      What about the states? Same story: va.gov and wa.gov lead the no-shows with many trailing behind.

      So what?

      What does this mean to Joe and Jill Consumer? Maybe not much in the abstract but in terms of the Google searches we all rely on for day-to-day tasks, it may very well mean that some familiar sites no longer pop up where we expect them. The next logical conclusion is that some sites we may not know about will get their chance to rise to the top and may turn out to be not only more user-friendly but much more useful all around.

      After all, a site that pays attention to its technology to make sure it delivers the most useful possible product to its visitors probably pays attention to the other parts of its business as well.  

      Those who criticize Google for gobbling up so much of the known universe may want to pause and be thankful that, unlike other companies that grab a big share of the market, it at least keeps stirring the barrel, keeping things frothy and fresh rather than stable and stale.

      Despite the discomfort it causes webmasters, it should make life easier for consumers. 

      IRS.gov How often does this happen to you -- you type a search query into your smartphone, click on the first link and find yourself at a site that ...
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      Questions you should ask and not answer on job interviews

      CareerBuilder survey uncovers surprising number of illegal queries

      When it comes to applying for a job, far too many applicants walk into the interview expecting the employer to ask all the questions. But to make sure the job is the right fit, the applicant also needs to have a list of questions ready to ask.

      Some job-seekers refrain from quizzing a potential employer for fear of appearing presumptuous. But asking good questions will only raise an applicant’s stature in the eyes of the interviewer. The key, of course, is asking good, smart questions.

      Here are some questions human resources experts believe will help you gain insight to a potential employer and impress interviewers:

      Can you provide more details about this position’s responsibilities?

      You should have already read a job description, often produced from boilerplate. This question may uncover specific things about the job that aren’t in the job description or clear up something you aren’t sure of. It might uncover a specific need that isn’t currently being met.

      In fact, uncovering that unscratched itch should be the aim of all your questions.

      If I were to get the job, how could I most quickly become a contributor to your organization?

      In other words, give me a blueprint for advancement. This question will uncover some of the interviewer’s biggest perceived needs.

      It also shows that your focus is not on your own needs but on the needs of the organization. “Ask not what your company can do for you…”

      What do you see as the most challenging tasks that go with this position?

      This is a question that any savvy interviewer will appreciate. It takes time, effort and money to hire an employee. If it turns out not to be a good fit, everyone loses.

      For the applicant, there might be something about this job he or she didn’t anticipate. Better to learn where the pitfalls are before a job is offered and accepted.

      What are your expectations for this position and how would I be evaluated?

      This might be the most important question an applicant can ask. It will help define the scope of the job up front and let the applicant know what he or she must do to meet and exceed expectations.

      What shouldn’t be asked or answered

      There are also plenty of questions an applicant should not ask during an interview, most having to do with financial issues and vacation time. And it goes without saying that you shouldn’t ask about things you should already know, like what the organization does, how long it’s been around, etc. That’s what Google is for.

      In a typical interview applicants will answer more questions than they ask and anyone who has applied for a job has probably encountered them. But there are a whole host of questions an interviewer is not allowed to ask.

      Incredibly, a recent CareerBuilder.comsurvey found that 20% of hiring managers have asked questions during a job interview that they later learned were illegal. For example, if you have some gray hair and an employer asks, “When do you plan to retire?” what they really want to know is how old you are. That’s out of bounds.

      The survey uncovered these other questions that one-third of hiring managers didn’t realize were illegal:

      • What is your religious affiliation?
      • Are you pregnant? 
      • What is your political affiliation?
      • What is your race, color or ethnicity?
      • How old are you?
      • Are you disabled? 
      • Are you married?
      • Do you have children or plan to?
      • Are you in debt? 
      • Do you drink or smoke?

      “It’s important for both interviewer and interviewee to understand what employers do and don’t have a legal right to ask in a job interview – for both parties’ protection,” says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “Though their intentions may be harmless, hiring managers could unknowingly be putting themselves at risk for legal action, as a job candidate could argue that certain questions were used to discriminate against him or her.”

      When it comes to applying for a job, far too many applicants walk into the interview expecting the employer to ask all the questions. But to make sure the ...
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      What’s up with declining hybrid sales?

      Is it low gas prices or are consumers waiting for new technology?

      Has America lost its appetite for saving fuel? Hybrid sales have declined in recent months, at a time when high gasoline prices have fallen, so it is easy to draw a connection. But industry analysts say there may or may not be a link.

      Honda recently announced that it is moving its Honda Accord Hybrid production from Ohio to Japan. Not long afterward Chevrolet said it would cut its Chevy Volt production back because of rising inventories.

      According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), Volt sales went from just over 7,600 in 2011 to 23,464 the following year. But since then, sales have fallen – to 18,805 last year to just 1,874 so far this year.

      Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Autotrader.com, says the moves by both Chevy and Honda indicate weakness in hybrid sales.

      “Autotrader’s analysis of IHS/Polk registration data shows the hybrid/electric vehicle share of vehicle registrations peaked in May 2014, and that share has dropped every month since then,” Krebs said.

      Low gasoline prices?

      If you think relatively low gasoline prices are solely to blame for sluggish hybrid sales, Krebs says you’re wrong. She says the market began trending downward when gas prices were still increasing, and continued to decline with gas prices above or near the $3.50 gallon mark.

      “In fact, the share declined for 4 consecutive months from May to September 2014 when gas prices were near historically high levels,” she said. “Further, that was against the backdrop of strong total vehicle sales and a flurry of new hybrid and EV introductions.”

      GM is already firmly committed to EVs with its announcement earlier this year of the Chevy Bolt, an advanced concept of the plug-in electric car. GM said its Orion, Mich., assembly plant would gear up to make the car, which has a higher mileage range and lower price tag than its predecessor, the Volt.

      Just part of a strategy

      At the same time, Chevy is about to introduce the next generation Volt. In light of that, KBB analyst Akshay Anand called Chevy’s curtailing current model year Volt production a smart move since it will mean less inventory and fewer incentives on the older model.

      “Hybrid and alternative fuel vehicle sales have been declining for some time now, with gas prices well below the summer prices of 2014,” Anand said. “Sales of the Volt are down nearly 50% for the first quarter this year, as consumers are already anticipating the new 2016 Volt, which has more aggressive styling, more premium interior, and seating for five.”

      Eric Ibara, Anand’s colleague at KBB, says consumers shouldn’t see the softness in Volt sales as a reflection on the product. He says when Chevrolet announced the 2016 Volt would have upgrades that include expanded range, it makes sense for buyers to wait.

      Other analysts are also not ready to say America is losing its appetite for saving fuel. In January the Detroit Free Press looked at declining hybrid sales and drew a distinction: hybrids that still use gasoline are falling out of favor. At the same time, sales of plug-in EVs rose 17%.

      Has America lost its appetite for saving fuel? Hybrid sales have declined in recent months, at a time when high gasoline prices have fallen, so it is easy ...
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      The clock is ticking for the tax-filing deadline

      We have some last-minute filing tips to help relieve the pressure

      With the tax-filing deadline hours away, there are some things you need to do -- fast. But in your haste, you don't want to do things that can cause you trouble.

      To that end, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers the following tips:

      File electronically

      Doing so, whether through e-file or IRS Free File, vastly reduces tax return errors, as the tax software does the calculations, flags common errors and prompts taxpayers for missing information. And best of all, there is a free option for everyone. Whether filing electronically or on paper, be sure to make a copy of the return.

      Check out tax benefits

      Take a moment to see if you qualify for these and other often-overlooked credits and deductions:

      • Benefits for low-and moderate-income workers and families, especially the Earned Income Tax Credit. The special EITC Assistant can help you see if your eligible.
      • Savers credit, claimed on Form 8880, for low-and moderate-income workers who contributed to a retirement plan, such as an IRA or 401(k).
      • American Opportunity Tax Credit, claimed on Form 8863, and other education tax benefits for parents and college students. Because limits and special rules apply to each of these benefits, the agency’s Interactive Tax Assistant, available on IRS.gov, can be a very useful tool.

      Health care tax reporting

      While most taxpayers will simply need to check a box on their tax return to indicate they had health coverage for all of 2014, there are also new lines on Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ related to the health care law. Visit IRS.gov for details on how the Affordable Care Act affects the 2014 return. This includes:

      • Reporting health insurance coverage.
      • Claiming an exemption from the coverage requirement.
      • Making an individual shared responsibility payment.
      • Claiming the premium tax credit.
      • Reconciling advance payments of the premium tax credit.

      The Interactive Tax Assistant tool can also help.

      Make the right IRA contribution

      Eligible taxpayers have until April 15 to contribute to either a Roth or traditional individual retirement arrangement (IRA) for 2014. A six percent excise tax applies if a taxpayer contributes more than the law allows. Publication 590-A describes the limits in detail and includes examples.

      Gifts to Charity

      A new law gives taxpayers the option of claiming on their 2014 return cash contributions made by April 15 to charities aiding the families of two slain New York police officers. Details are on IRS.gov.

      If claiming a charitable contribution deduction, use the IRS Select Check tool to see if a charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. For donations of $250 or more, taxpayers must obtain a written acknowledgment from the charity before filing a return.

      IRS Publication 526 has further details on making gifts to charity, including records to keep. In addition, special reporting requirements generally apply to vehicle donations, and taxpayers wishing to claim these donations must attach any required documents to their return.

      Refunds

      Most taxpayers claiming refunds now choose to receive them by direct deposit. A taxpayer can choose to deposit a refund in a single account at a bank or other financial institution or allocate it among as many as two or three accounts. See Form 8888 for details.

      To avoid a refund delay or misrouting to a wrong account, make sure the financial institution routing and account numbers entered on the return are accurate. After filing, whether or not direct deposit was chosen, track the status of a refund with the Where's My Refund? tool on IRS.gov or IRS2Go.

      Special instructions for paper filers

      Math errors and other mistakes are common on paper returns, especially those prepared or filed in haste at the last minute. These tips may help those choosing this option:

      • Fill in all requested Taxpayer Identification Numbers, usually Social Security Numbers, such as those for any dependents claimed. Check only one filing status and the appropriate exemption boxes.
      • When using the tax tables, be sure to use the correct row and column for the filing status claimed and taxable income amount shown.
      • Sign and date the return. If filing a joint return, both spouses must sign.
      • Attach all required forms and schedules, such as Schedule A for people who itemize their deductions. In addition, attach to the front of the return all Forms W-2 and other forms reflecting withholding.
      • Mail the return to the right address. Check Where to File on IRS.gov or the last page of the tax instructions. If mailing on Wednesday, April 15, be sure to do so early enough to meet the scheduled pick-up time and ensure a postmark before the midnight deadline.

      Need more time to file?

      Avoid a late-filing penalty by requesting a tax-filing extension. There are several ways to do so, including through the Free File link on IRS.gov, or by designating a payment as an extension payment and making it via one of the IRS e-payment methods, including the newest, IRS Direct Pay. Alternatively, taxpayers can file Form 4868. While an extension grants additional time to file, tax payments are still due April 15.

      Owe tax?

      If so, use IRS Direct Pay or any of several other e-payment options. They are secure and easy and you receive immediate confirmation of your payment. Or, send a check or money order payable to the “United States Treasury,” along with a Form 1040-V payment voucher. Taxpayers who can’t pay by April 15 often qualify to set up a monthly payment agreement with the IRS using the Online Payment Agreement option on IRS.gov.

      With the tax-filing deadline hours away, there are some things you need to do -- fast. But in your haste, you don't want to do things that can cause you tr...
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      Be careful -- you could kill your cat

      Cats seem independent but they need help staying healthy

      Cats can be your best friend, and they can own that title that dogs have held for so long. But if you want them to remain your best friend and live a ..

      Producer prices on the rise

      It's the first advance since last October

      After posting declines in four consecutive months, the Producer Price Index (PPI) moved higher in March.

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the PPI was up a seasonally adjusted 0.2% last month after falling 0.5% in February and 0.8% in January. Over the last 12 months, the PPI is down 0.8%.

      Goods and services

      Prices for goods were up 0.3% following 8 consecutive decreases, led by a 1.5% surge in energy costs, due primarily to gasoline, which jumped 7.2%. Food prices, meanwhile, fell 0.8%, thanks to a plunge of 5.1% in pork prices. The “core rate” -- less foods and energy – was up 0.2% in March.

      The cost of services inched up 0.1% in March following a decline of 0.5% in February. Services less trade, transportation, and warehousing, rose 0.3%, while transportation and warehousing services and trade services both declined 0.2% in March.

      Details are available on the Labor department website

      After posting declines in four consecutive months, the Producer Price Index (PPI) moved higher in March. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ...
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      Retail sales post first advance in 4 months

      A rebound in motor vehicle demand gets a lot of the credit

      Retail sales shot higher in March after tumbling an upwardly revised 0.5% month earlier, for the first gain in 4 months.

      Figures released by the Census Bureau show sales totaled $441.4 billion -- an increase of 0.9% from February up 1.3% from a year earlier.

      Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers were up 2.7% last month following February's 2.1% decline. Other sectors show strong advances were building material and garden equipment and supplies (+2.1%), miscellaneous store retailers (+1.7%) and furniture & home furnishing stores (+1.4%)

      Sales declines were posted by gas stations and grocery stores (-0.6%), and electronics and appliance stores (-0.5).

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Retail sales shot higher in March after tumbling an upwardly revised 0.5% month earlier, for the first gain in 4 months. Figures released by the Census Bu...
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      Completed foreclosures down sharply

      Mortgage delinquencies posted a sharp decline as well

      The nation's foreclosure inventory posted a year-over-year decline of 27.3% in February, with completed foreclosures down 15.7%.

      According data from property information, analytics and data-enabled services provider CoreLogic, there were 39,000 completed foreclosures nationwide in February compared with 46,000 a year earlier, representing a decrease of 67% from the peak of completed foreclosures in September 2010.

      Completed foreclosures are an indication of the total number of homes actually lost to foreclosure. Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 5.6 million completed foreclosures across the country. Since home-ownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 7.7 million homes lost to foreclosure.

      “The number of homes in foreclosure proceedings fell by 27% from a year ago and stands at about one-third of what it was at the trough of the housing cycle,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic.

      Mortgage delinquencies

      CoreLogic also reports the number of mortgages in serious delinquency fell 19.3% from February 2014 to February 2015, with 1.5 million mortgages -- or 4% -- in serious delinquency (defined as 90 days or more past due, including those loans in foreclosure or Real Estate Owned).

      This is the lowest delinquency rate since June 2008. On a month-over-month basis, the number of seriously delinquent mortgages dipped 1.1%.

      “While the drop in the share of mortgages in foreclosure to 1.4% is a welcome sign of continued recovery in the housing market,” Nothaft added, “the share remains more than double the 0.6% average foreclosure rate that we saw during 2000-2004.”

      As of this past February, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 553,000 homes compared with 761,000 homes in February 2014. The foreclosure inventory as of February 2015 represented 1.4% of all homes with a mortgage, versus 1.9% in February 2014.

      “The foreclosure inventory dropped year-over-year in all but 2 states,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “The foreclosure rates in judicial foreclosure states are beginning to pick up and remain higher than in non-judicial states. What’s encouraging is that fewer Americans are seriously delinquent in paying their mortgages which in turn is reducing the foreclosure inventory across the country as a whole.”

      Report highlights

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures were down 11.6% from the 44,000 reported in January 2015. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007 completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
      • The 5 states with the highest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in February 2015 were: Florida (110,000), Michigan (50,000), Texas (34,000), California (30,000) and Georgia (28,000). These 5 accounted for almost half of all completed foreclosures nationally.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in February 2015: South Dakota (15), the District of Columbia (83), North Dakota (334), West Virginia (506) and Wyoming (526).
      • On a month-over-month basis, the foreclosure inventory was down by 1.4% from January 2015. The February 2015 foreclosure rate of 1.4% is back to March 2008 levels.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes: New Jersey (5.3%), New York (4.0%), Florida (3.4%), Hawaii (2.8%) and the District of Columbia (2.6%).
      • The 5 states with the lowest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes were: Alaska (0.3%), Nebraska (0.4%), North Dakota (0.5%), Montana (0.5%) and Minnesota (0.5%).
      The nation's foreclosure inventory posted a year-over-year decline of 27.3% in February, with completed foreclosures down 15.7%. According data from proper...
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      Leader Slaughterhouse recalls veal carcasses

      The product did not undergo federal inspection

      Leader Slaughterhouse of Imler, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,800 pounds of veal carcasses.

      The product did not undergo federal inspection, and does not bear the USDA mark of inspection.

      There are no reports of illness due to consumption of this product.

      The following product, produced on April 10, 2015, is being recalled:

      • 6 individual 300 pound veal carcasses, cut into quarters.

      The product was picked up at the establishment’s Pennsylvania location and taken by customers to Pennsylvania and New York.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact David Hill at 814-239-0182.

      Leader Slaughterhouse of Imler, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,800 pounds of veal carcasses. The product did not undergo federal inspection, and does n...
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      Researchers: Eat the right food and lose weight

      There's a new focus on the role glycemic load plays in weight gain

      When consumers embrace a particular weight loss program, they may achieve results. But in other instances, try as they might, the pounds can be very slow to come off, if they come off at all.

      In the latter case, it might not be a matter of how much a dieter is eating, but what the dieter is eating.

      Changing those old eating habits – adding certain foods to the diet and avoiding others – can make it easier to win the battle of the bulge. At least that’s the conclusion of researchers at Tufts University.

      At Tufts, the Friedman School Nutrition Science & Policy analyzed 3 previous studies that were based on more than 16 years of follow-up among 120,000 adults. That led researchers there to focus on the glycemic content, or load (GL) of particular foods.

      The GL is determined by multiplying a food’s glycemic index, a measure of a food’s ability to create blood glucose, by the carbohydrate content. Foods with a high GL were more likely to make it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.

      Refined grains, starches and sugars

      Food with a big GL include refined grains, starches and sugars. Researchers say these high GL foods can boost blood glucose and lead to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Until now, they say, the link to weight gain had not been firmly established.

      “There is mounting scientific evidence that diets including less low-quality carbohydrates, such as white breads, potatoes, and sweets, and higher in protein-rich foods may be more efficient for weight loss,” said Jessica Smith, one of the authors. “We wanted to know how that might apply to preventing weight gain in the first place.”

      If you are trying, without result, to lose weight you may be interested in the food Smith and her colleagues say you should eat and what you should avoid – or at least keep consumption to a minimum.

      Less red meat, more yogurt

      The study concluded that increasing the amount of red meat and processed meat are the food items most strongly associated with weight gain.

      Conversely, increasing consumption of yogurt, seafood, skinless chicken and nuts are most strongly associated with weight loss. In fact, the more people ate these foods, the more weight they lost.

      Interestingly, the researchers found that eating dairy products in general didn’t seem to have much effect one way or the other.

      “The fat content of dairy products did not seem to be important for weight gain,” Smith said. “In fact, when people consumed more low-fat dairy products, they actually increased their consumption of carbs, which may promote weight gain. This suggests that people compensate, over years, for the lower calories in low-fat dairy by increasing their carb intake.”

      What else is on your plate?

      The combination of foods you consume also appears to be important. For example, avoiding foods with a high GL seemed to make fish, nuts and other food associated with weight loss even more effective.

      Weight-neutral foods like eggs and cheese appear to contribute to weight gain when combined with high GL food but are associated with weight loss when eaten with low GL food.

      The chief take-away from the study seems to be this: not all calories are created equal.

      “Our study adds to growing new research that counting calories is not the most effective strategy for long-term weight management and prevention,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author. “Some foods help prevent weight gain, others make it worse. Most interestingly, the combination of foods seems to make a big difference.”

      The Tufts researchers advise those trying to shed a few pounds to not only emphasize specific protein-rich foods like fish, nuts, and yogurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches, and sugars in order to maximize the benefits of these healthful protein-rich foods.

      To further help consumers identify foods to eat and avoid, the Harvard Medical School recently published this list of 100 foods and their GL.

      When consumers embrace a particular weight loss program, they may achieve results. But in other instances, try as they might, the pounds can be very slow t...
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      Ransomware hackers extort money from more police departments

      If you don't have backup copies of your files and games, make those backups today

      Are ransomware attacks happening more frequently, or are more victims stepping forward and filing reports with the police? Actually, these days the police are just as likely to be the victims themselves.

      Just last week, police in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, admitted that they'd had to pay an untraceable $500 Bitcoin ransom to the hackers who'd encrypted the Tewksbury PD's computer files. The chief of police admitted that the attack “basically rendered us in-operational, with respect to the software we use to run the Police Department.” Tewksbury PD did not keep backup copies of its crucial files.

      Over the weekend came news of another law-enforcement organization who'd made a similar mistake: four small towns and a county in Maine all used a single computer network to share files and records with no backup.

      WCSH-TV reported that Sheriff Todd Brackett of Lincoln County admitted somebody on the network had accidentally downloaded a “Megacode” virus (which a questioner on a BleepingComputer discussion forum described as being “Like Cryptolocker, but not as well done”).

      $30 ransom

      The virus encrypted the computer files of four town police departments and a county sheriff, until the department paid a $300 ransom for the decryption key. Brackett said that the FBI could trace the money as far as a bank account in Switzerland, but could not trace it beyond that.

      Megacode, Cryptolocker and other forms of ransomware work by literally holding files for ransom, specifically by encrypting them and demanding payment in exchange for the encryption key. Some of the less sophisticated forms of ransomware can be removed or decrypted with the right tools, but more often, the ransomware can't be removed or broken without the decryption key from the ransomer.

      Ransomware is simply another form of malware and thus is spread just like any other kind. In Durham, New Hampshire, last June, the police department's computer network fell victim to ransomware after an employee clicked on what they described as a legitimate-looking email. Fortunately, the Durham PD did have backup copies of its computer files, so instead of paying the ransom, they wiped their computers clean and then restored everything with their backup files.

      Everyone vulnerable

      Anyone with any type of network connection is vulnerable to ransomware if they're not careful. Just last month, security researchers discovered a then-new version called TeslaCrypt which targeted people on multiplayer game platforms such as Minecraft, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and other popular titles.

      TeslaCrypt not only encrypted the victims' game files, but could also spread to Word documents, Excel files, PowerPoint presentations and similar files. The hackers behind the malware demanded $1,000 from their victims.

      If you don't already have backup copies of all your important files – not just on your home computer, but also your tablet, smartphone and anything else holding files you don't want to lose – you should make copies right away, and keep them on a dedicated thumb drive or flash drive, or burn copies onto a disc.

      In addition to these physical media storage options, you also have the option of hiring a backup service — though that brings the usual risks that comes with entrusting your data to someone other than yourself.

      Are ransomware attacks happening more frequently, or are more victims stepping forward and filing reports with the police? Actually, these days the police ...
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      Can you and your dog share the norovirus?

      Researchers find evidence the virus can be passed between humans and canines

      Norovirus it's the one thing that can sink a cruise ship vacation. Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause inflammation of the stomach and large ..

      White Lodging hotel management finally admits to months-old customer data breach

      Food and beverage payment systems at select Marriott, Sheraton, Renaissance and Courtyard locations compromised

      Last February, financial industry insiders first reported evidence that hackers might have breached security and stolen customer payment card information from various hotels run by the White Lodging Services Corporation (which operates franchises under various brand names including Marriott, Sheraton, Renaissance and Courtyard).

      Specifically, the hackers managed to plant malware on the point-of-sale systems used in the bars and restaurants attached to certain White Lodging-owned hotels, and stole the payment card information of anybody who ate in a hotel restaurant or drank in a hotel bar.

      Security expert Brian Krebs first reported the suspected White Lodging breach in February. However, not until late last week did White Lodging confirm the breach and specify exactly which customers are at risk.

      10 hotels

      In a press release dated April 8, White Lodging admitted that from July 3, 2014 through February 6 of this year, hackers had compromised the point of sale systems for the food and beverage outlets connected to hotels in 10 different locations:

      • Indianapolis Marriott Downtown, Indianapolis, IN
      • Chicago Marriott Midway Airport, Chicago, IL
      • Auburn Hills Marriott Pontiac at Centerpoint, Pontiac, MI
      • Austin Marriott South Airport, Austin, TX
      • Boulder Marriott, Boulder, CO
      • Denver Marriott South at Park Meadows, Denver, CO
      • Louisville Marriott Downtown, Louisville, KY
      • Renaissance Boulder Flatiron, Broomfield, CO
      • Courtyard Austin Downtown, Austin, TX
      • Sheraton Hotel Erie Bayfront, Erie, PA

      However, guests who stayed at those hotels without using their cards to pay for food or beverage services are not at risk.

      The stolen data is believed to include customers' names, credit or debit card numbers, security codes and card expiration dates.

      As usual in such circumstances, the company is offering a year of free credit protection services, this time through Experian:

      For more information about how to enroll for this service please send an email to WhiteLodging@protectmyid.com. You will then receive enrollment instructions. Alternatively, you can enroll by calling 1-866-926-9803. If you call this number you will be presented with a recorded message and various options. Press 1 to access the enrollment information. If you are a non-U.S. resident the available services will vary. If you decide to enroll in the service, you will be required to provide your Social Security number for identification purposes.

      Watch for scams

      White Lodging's press release also warned customers to watch out for scam artists who might send them scammy emails or text messages falsely claiming to be from White Lodging. This also happens anytime there's a widely publicized hacking: as soon as the media reports that Company X has been hacked, scam artists immediately start using Company X's name in their bait-emails.

      If you receive any email or other communication allegedly from White Lodging and warning you that you personally were compromised in the attack, that message is guaranteed to be a fake. White Lodging is not informing individuals, because they can't. The company's online FAQ page about the hacking includes this question-and-answer combo:

      Q: Why wasn’t I notified directly about this incident?

      A: Because this incident affected the point of sale systems at select food and beverage outlets we do not have not have contact information associated with the affected credit/debit cards. Therefore, we could not notify you directly by email, postal mail or telephone.

      Last February, financial industry insiders first reported evidence that hackers might have breached security and stolen customer payment card information f...
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      Mortgage lender gigged for deceptive advertising

      RMK Financial is being ordered to pay $250,000

      RMK Financial Corporation whose deceptive mortgage advertising practices included ads that led consumers to believe that the company was affiliated with the government, will pay a heavy price

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is ordering the firm to end its illegal and deceptive practices and pay a civil penalty of $250,000.

      “Deceptive advertising has no place in the mortgage marketplace,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “and the Consumer Bureau will continue to take action against companies that mislead consumers with false claims of government affiliation. This action, he continued “ sends a clear message that misleading consumers is illegal, unacceptable, and will not be tolerated.”

      False impressions

      The California-based mortgage lender, which also does business under the name Majestic Home Loans, mailed print advertisements to more than 100,000 consumers in several states, using the names and logos of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

      The CFPB says the ads were sent in a way that falsely implied that they were sent by those agencies, or that the company or the advertised mortgage products were endorsed or sponsored by them.

      The ads were sent to tens of thousands of U.S. military servicemembers and veterans, and other holders of VA-guaranteed mortgages.

      The company’s typical ad for VA mortgages featured the VA seal and logo at the top of the page and described its loan products as part of a “distinctive program offered by the U.S. government.” The ad instructed consumers to call the “VA Interest Rate Reduction Department” at a phone number that in fact belonged to RMK.

      Some mailers were labeled “FHA Benefits” and included an image of the Statue of Liberty on the outside, along with warnings citing the U.S. Code and threatening fines and imprisonment for tampering with the letter.

      The ads also contained misrepresentations about the loans’ interest rates and estimated monthly payments, including whether the interest rate was fixed or variable. Consumers who called the company were sometimes given misleading information over the phone; in some cases RMK employees told callers or implied that RMK was endorsed by the VA or FHA.

      Major violations

      The CFPB’s investigation found that RMK’s practices violated the Truth in Lending Act, the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule, and other federal consumer laws. The 2011 Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule prohibits misleading claims in mortgage advertising, including implying a government affiliation.

      Under the terms of the consent order, RMK will be prohibited from falsely implying a government affiliation in future advertisements. It will also pay a civil penalty of $250,000.

      RMK Financial Corporation whose deceptive mortgage advertising practices included ads that led consumers to believe that the company was affiliated with th...
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      TSA Pre enrollment hits the 1 million mark

      The expedited screening program lets low-risk travelers zip through security

      Still taking off your shoes and opening your laptop when you go through airport security?

      More than a million people don't have to do that any more, thanks to their enrollment in the TSA Pre application program. The program, which opened its first application center at Indianapolis International Airport, now has more than 330 application centers nationwide -- including locations at 31 airports.

      “The continued growth and passenger participation in TSA Pre affirms our commitment to the evolution of our intelligence-driven, risk-based approach to aviation security,” said TSA Acting Administrator Melvin Carraway. “With more than 330 application centers nationwide, it is easier than ever to apply for expedited screening.”

      Eliminating the hassle

      The expedited screening program that began in October 2011, lets low-risk travelers to enjoy a more efficient screening experience at 133 U.S. airports. TSA Pre travelers may leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on in select screening lanes.

      Approved travelers receive a “Known Traveler Number” and may utilize TSA Pre lanes at select security checkpoints when flying on 11 participating carriers: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.

      Travelers may also enroll in one of three trusted traveler programs offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP): Global Entry, NEXUS or SENTRI. Members of these programs are eligible to participate in TSA Pre and do not need to apply separately; once successfully enrolled in a CBP trusted traveler program, participants must utilize their “PASSID” as their Known Traveler Number.

      As always, TSA continues to incorporate random and unpredictable security measures both seen and unseen throughout the airport. All travelers will be screened, and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening.

      Still taking off your shoes and opening your laptop when you go through airport security? More than a million people don't have to do that any more, thank...
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      Fiat 500 EV vehicles recalled

      The electric propulsion system could shut down

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 5,660 model year 2013-2015 Fiat 500 EV vehicles manufactured March 27, 2012, to November 1, 2014.

      If the vehicle goes in to limp home mode, incompatible software between Electric Vehicle Control Unit (EVCU) and Battery Pack Control Module (BPCM) may cause the electric propulsion system to shut down completely.

      An electric propulsion system shutdown will cause a stall-like condition, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will update the vehicle software to ensure compatability between components, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin May 15, 2015.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R15.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 5,660 model year 2013-2015 Fiat 500 EV vehicles manufactured March 27, 2012, to November 1, 2014. If the vehicle goes ...
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      Kanan Enterprises recalls macadamia nuts

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Kanan Enterprises is recallig Peterson's macadamia nuts.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported in connection with this recall.

      Peterson’s Macadamias in 16-oz stand-up pouches, were distributed only through the Peterson Nut Store in Cleveland, Ohio, and King Nut Factory outlet in Solon, Ohio.

      The following product, sold between 11/26/14 and 3/27/15, is being recalled:

      ProductSizeSKUCode Date
      Peterson’s Macadamias16 oz0 7487010365 94330 1
      Peterson’s Macadamias16 oz0 7487010365 94364 2
      Peterson’s Macadamias16 oz0 7487010365 95013 1

      Consumers who have the recalled product should not consume it, but destroy it or return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may call 1-800-860-5464, 8:15 am – 5:00pm EST, Monday – Friday.

      Kanan Enterprises is recallig Peterson's macadamia nuts. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been reported in connection ...
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      Estate planning taking a backseat to retirement planning

      Baby Boomers not focusing on what happens after they die

      We are constantly told the importance of retirement planning. Save for the future, we are told, because you don’t want to outlive your money. It’s true. And it’s also true that Americans as a whole are not doing a very good job of saving money for retirement.

      But at the end of retirement comes death. And while there is little data to back it up, it appears we are doing an even worse job of planning for that eventuality – what’s known in financial services circles as estate planning.

      Michelle Perry Higgins, principal at wealth management firm Maloon, Power, Pitre & Higgins, of San Ramon, California, says her clients rarely ask about estate planning, though she wishes they did.

      Low priority

      “Estate planning is a low priority to many compared to their retirement plan,” Higgins told ConsumerAffairs. “I am the first one to bring up the conversation during our meetings.”

      In those meetings, Higgins says she asks clients to make sure they have the correct beneficiaries on their accounts. If they have an estate plan, she asks if it needs to be updated.

      Concerned that clients might be overlooking some of the important aspects of estate planning, Higgins created the Everything Binder in 2013, a binder with tabs, all related to important documentary topics for an individual or family.

      “As you can imagine, I am great at nagging my clients to complete their estate plan and document everything for their heirs,” Higgins said. “I have seen firsthand the disaster that ensues for their heirs if they have nothing in place.”

      Beyond a will

      An estate plan starts with a will but goes beyond that document. While a will designates an executor of the estate, the estate plan offers guidance to that individual, in keeping with the wishes of the deceased. In recent years there has been growing emphasis on providing instructions on end-of-life medical care and funeral plans.

      An estate plan is especially important if the disposition of assets is not cut and dried; for example, if disposition of business assets is an issue. Higgins says an estate plan addresses the questions that arise in a less-than-simple estate.

      “Do I want to leave my half of the estate to my spouse or have restrictions on it by creating a trust for my spouse's benefit? Who will be my beneficiaries and on what terms will they receive their inheritance? These are just a couple of the typical questions that need to be addressed,” she said.

      Trusts

      If you have a special needs child, or a child who does not manage money well, maybe you should set up a trust for their benefit. If you have a minor child, a provision should be made for their guardianship if both parents are deceased.

      What happens is you die without an estate plan in place?

      “You either have an estate plan or your state has a default plan, known as  intestacy, for you,” Higgins said.

      For example, you may have four children but only want three to inherit your estate.  If you don't have an estate plan, then the state rules would apply. And if you don't have an estate plan, your estate will likely be probated.    

      We are constantly told the importance of retirement planning. Save for the future, we are told, because you don’t want to outlive your money. It...
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      Court muzzles "phantom" debt collector

      Collectors allegedly used illegal tactics to collect payday loan debts

      The Federal Trade Commission and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office have obtained a court order temporarily halting a fake debt collection scam located in Aurora, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago.

      The defendants are charged with illegally using threats and intimidation tactics to coerce consumers to pay payday loan debts they either did not owe, or did not owe to the defendants.

      The FTC’s case against K.I.P., LLC, Charles Dickey, and Chantelle Dickey is the agency’s seventh ‘phantom’ debt collector matter.

       “This company scared and tricked people into paying debts they didn’t owe,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We will keep going after phantom debt scams like this one and shutting them down.”

      “The defendants have threatened and intimidated their way into stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people all across the country,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “Between our two offices, we have hundreds of complaints. It is clear they must be stopped.”

      According to the complaint, since at least 2010, the defendants used a host of business names to target consumers who obtained or applied for payday or other short-term loans, pressuring them into paying debts that they either did not owe or that the defendants had no authority to collect. 

      Often armed with sensitive financial information, the defendants would call consumers and demand immediate payment for payday loans that were supposedly delinquent.  To pressure consumers to pay, the defendants threatened that they would:

      • Garnish consumers’ wages;
      • Suspend or revoke their drivers’ licenses;
      • Have them arrested or imprisoned; or
      • File a lawsuit against them.

      In response to the defendants’ repeated calls and alleged threats, many consumers paid the debts, even though they may not have owed them, because they believed the defendants would follow through on their threats or they simply wanted to end the harassing phone calls.

      ...
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      Airlines hit by numerous lengthy tarmac delays in February

      Old Man Winter gets the blame

      If you were trying to fly somewhere -- anywhere -- during February, you may have had a tough time of it.

      Airlines reported 16 tarmac delays of more than 3 hours on domestic flights and 8 tarmac delays of more than 4 hours on international flights during the month.

      According to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, 9 of the reported tarmac delays involved flights departing from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on February 27 during a snow storm. DOT is investigating all of the reported delays.

      Airlines operating international flights may not allow tarmac delays at U.S. airports to last longer than 4 hours without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane. There is a separate 3-hour limit on tarmac delays involving domestic flights.

      Exceptions to the time limits for both domestic and international flights are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. DOT rules require all U.S. and foreign airlines operating at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats to report lengthy tarmac delays at U.S. airports.

      On-time arrival rates

      In addition, the nation’s largest airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 72.8% in February, compared with 70.7% the year before and 76.8% the previous month.

      The report also includes data on cancellations, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays, along with statistics on mishandled baggage, as well as customer service, disability, and discrimination complaints.

      In addition, the consumer report includes reports of incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of animals traveling by air.

      The full report is available on the DOT website.

      If you were trying to fly somewhere -- anywhere -- during February, you may have had a tough time of it. Airlines reported 16 tarmac delays of more than 3...
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      Texas Pecan Company recalls macadamia nuts and nut products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Texas Pecan Company of Dallas, Texas, is recalling a variety of macadamia nuts and nut products.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem

      The recalled products were distributed in company retail stores nationwide and through mail orders.

      The products come in an 8-oz. and 16-oz clear plastic bags and in gift tins identified as The Executive, Junior Executive, Sweet-N-Salty and Mini Sweet-n-Salty, and were sold in November and December 2014. The pack date of 14320 through 14365, is located on the bottom left hand corner of the label.

      The following products are being recalled:

      UPCPRODUCT NAMEPACK SIZEPACK DATE
      031MACADAMIA, RAW WHOLE16 OUNCE14320 THRU 14365
      032MACADAMIA, RAW WHOLE8 OUNCE14320 THRU 14365
      033MACADAMIA, WHOLE *(R/S)16 OUNCE14320 THRU 14365
      034MACADAMIA, WHOLE *(R/S)8 OUNCE14320 THRU 14365
      321-54THE EXECUTIVE GIFT TIN1 SECTION OF 5 POUND TIN14320 THRU 14365
      320-34JUNIOR EXECUTIVE TIN1 SECTION OF 3 POUND TIN14320 THRU 14365
      337-56SWEET-N-SALTY TIN1 SECTION OF 5 POUND TIN14320 THRU 14365
      14320 THRU 14365MINI SWEET-N-SALTY TIN1 SECTION OF 2 POUND TIN14320 THRU 14365
      *NOTE: R/S means ROASTED AND SALTED

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 972-241-7878, Monday thru Friday from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm CT.

      Texas Pecan Company of Dallas, Texas, is recalling a variety of macadamia nuts and nut products. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella. No ill...
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      BMW recalls vehicles with fuel pump issue

      The fuel pump could fail

      BMW of North America is recalling 18,054 model year 2014 228i Coupe, M235i Coupe, 320i, 320xi, 328i, 328xi, 335i, 335xi, ActiveHybrid 3, 328xi Sports Wagon, 428i Coupe, 428xi Coupe, 435i Coupe, 435xi Coupe, 428i Convertible, 428xi Convertible, 435i Convertible, 328xi Gran Turismo, 335xi Gran Turismo, and 2015 428i Gran Coupe, 428xi Gran Coupe, and 435i Gran Coupe vehicles.

      Improper nickel plating of components within the fuel pump may result in the fuel pump failing.

      If the fuel pump fails, the vehicle may stall without warning, increasing the risk of a crash.

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel pump, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 30, 2015.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 18,054 model year 2014 228i Coupe, M235i Coupe, 320i, 320xi, 328i, 328xi, 335i, 335xi, ActiveHybrid 3, 328xi Sports Wagon...
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      Central Market Teriyaki Salmon Jerky recalled

      The product may contain wheat and soy, allergens not listed on the label

      World Wide Gourmet Foods of Woodinville, Wash., is recalling 2916 packages of Central Market Teriyaki Salmon Jerky.

      The product may contain wheat and soy, allergens not listed on the label.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      Product has an affected best by date of 08/25/2015, and was distributed to H.E.B retail stores in Texas between 2/27/15 and 4/3/2015.

      Product is identified by a purple Central Market Teriyaki Salmon Jerky front label with a back label indicating Central Market Smoked Salmon Jerky with a UPC of 0 41220 34270 9.

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-800-422-0852 from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm PST, Monday through Friday.

      World Wide Gourmet Foods of Woodinville, Wash., is recalling 2916 packages of Central Market Teriyaki Salmon Jerky. The product may contain wheat and soy,...
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      Nissan Rogues recalled

      The fuel pump could fail

      Nissan North America is recalling 76,242 model year 2014 NissanRogues manufactured June 11, 2013, to June 7, 2014.

      Improper nickel plating of components within the fuel pump may result in the fuel pump failing.

      This could cause the vehicle to stall without warning, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel pump, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in April 2015.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 76,242 model year 2014 Nissan Rogues manufactured June 11, 2013, to June 7, 2014. Improper nickel plating of component...
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      Ford recalls trucks with ambulance or fire engine prep packages

      The engine management system could shut down the engine

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 6,322 model year 2011-2015 Ford F-350, F-450, and F-550 trucks manufactured February 22, 2010, to January 30, 2015, and equipped with ambulance or fire engine preparation packages.

      The vehicles may detect an incorrect Exhaust Gas Temperature Sensor (EGT) fault indicating that the vehicle is too hot, causing the engine management system to shut down the engine and prevent its immediate restart.

      Engine shut down and a subsequent cool down period may delay medical treatment or assistance to those needing it, increasing their risk of injury.

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will update the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on May 11, 2015.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 15S09.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 6,322 model year 2011-2015 Ford F-350, F-450, and F-550 trucks manufactured February 22, 2010, to January 30, 2015, and equ...
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      Study questions safety of some nutritional supplements

      Untested amphetamine-like substance still in some products

      In 2013, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) detected an amphetamine-like substance called BMPEA present in some Acacia rigidula dietary supplements it tested, some health researchers took notice. BMPEA had not been tested for either efficacy or safety in humans.

      The expectation was the FDA would order manufacturers to stop using it, but researchers, writing in the journalDrug and Testing Analysis, say they tested the supplements labelled as containing Acacia rigidula a year later and were surprised at what they found.

      “The presence of BMPEA was confirmed by accurate mass, retention time and mass spectra match against a reference standard,” the authors write.

      Still there

      In other orders, the amphetamine-like substance – untested for its safety – was still there.

      The researchers are scolding the FDA, calling its failure to remove supplements containing BMPEA from the market “inexcusable.” A spokeswoman for the FDA told the Los Angeles Times the agency has not identified a specific safety concern but “will consider taking regulatory action, as appropriate, to protect consumers.”

      The researchers say they are concerned because they found the stimulant in sufficient strength that if consumers followed the recommended maximum daily servings they would consume 93.7 milagrams of BMPEA each day.

      Lacks evidence of safety

      “Consumers of Acacia rigidula supplements may be exposed to pharmacological dosages of an amphetamine isomer that lacks evidence of safety in humans,” the report says. “The FDA should immediately warn consumers about BMPEA and take aggressive enforcement action to eliminate BMPEA in dietary supplements.”

      Dexaprine is among the supplement companies offering a product containing Acacia rigidula.

      “Acacia rigidula – a relatively new supplement has been making waves in the world of bodybuilding as a weight loss supplement,” the company says on its website. “It’s known as the Blackbrush Acacia or Chaparro Prieto. This perennial tree grows in areas such as Texas to Central Mexico.”

      Ephedra substitute

      The product is promoted as an appetite suppressant to help users burn body fat. It is also credited with increasing metabolism. The company calls it a viable replacement for ephedra, which the FDA banned as a supplement ingredient in 2004 amid safety concerns.

      After the FDA reported its initial finding in 2013, USA Today reported that it found 9 commercially-available dietary supplements on the market containing Acacia rigidula.

      While dietary supplements are not technically drugs, they do fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, enforced by FDA.

      In its most recent enforcement action in this area, FDA in January obtained a court order to stop California-based Health One Pharmaceuticals from selling its products because of issues relating to product safety.

      Photo © Melpomene - FotoliaIn 2013, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) detected an amphetamine-like substance called BMPEA prese...
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      Feds should relieve Corinthian students' debts, state AGs argue

      AGs say students were victims of the for-profit school's "predatory practices"

      Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and eight other state AGs today urged the federal government to immediately relieve the federal debt burden of thousands of students who attended Corinthian and Everest Colleges, the for-profit schools that closed most of their campuses last year.

      In a letter to the U.S. Department of Education, Madigan said the agency has legal authority to discharge the federal loans of students who have been harmed by for-profit schools like Corinthian.

      “We must protect the victims of the predatory practices of for-profit schools such as Corinthian, which was more concerned with their profits than they were about the quality of education they provided,” Madigan said.

      The letter, which was also joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington, notes that the Higher Education Act, Department regulations and federal student loan documents all make it clear that students can assert legal claims against schools as a defense to repayment of their loans.

      A number of state and federal lawsuits allege that Corinthian misrepresented to students:

      • the urgency of enrollment to secure a spot in a program;
      • the school’s historical success placing students in jobs in the students’ field of study;
      • the earnings of graduates;
      • the availability of advertised programs;
      • the employment assistance the school provides graduates;
      • the school’s role in its private loan program;
      • the nature, character and quality of educational programs;
      • the school’s purported affiliation with the United States Military;
      • the transferability of credits;
      • the availability of externships; and
      • the nature and availability of financial aid.

      “These cases against Corinthian have unmasked a school that relentlessly pursued potential students — including veterans, single parents, and first-time higher education seekers — promising jobs and high earnings, and preying on their hopes in an effort to secure federal funds,” the letter states.

      The attorneys general note that the legal enforcement actions against Corinthian will not be enough to provide relief to Corinthian’s victims. The school has indicated it plans to file for bankruptcy, and therefore will likely try to limit relief available to students burdened with thousands of dollars in debt and many without a degree to show for their outstanding loan balance.

      Clarify the grounds

      In addition to calling for the cancellation of Corinthian loans, the letter urges the department to clarify the grounds needed for students to obtain a discharge of their loans and to specify a process by which students can raise these issues with their loan servicers in order to obtain relief.

      The letter also suggests that DOE develop a process by which the findings in a state attorney general’s investigation could be utilized as a defense to repayment for all affected students.

      An estimated 40 million Americans have an outstanding student loan, up from 29 million in 2008. Borrowers carry an average balance of $29,000 in student loan debt. Nationwide, student loan debt now stands at $1.2 trillion, representing an increase of more than 150 percent since 2005.

      The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee reported that, during the 2009-2010 school year, for-profit colleges took in $32 billion in taxpayer-backed student aid and spent nearly 25 percent of their revenue on marketing and recruiting, exceeding what was spent on student instruction.

      ...
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      Initial jobless claims head higher

      The 4-week moving average, though, hit the lowest level in nearly 15 years

      First-time applications for state unemployment benefits jumped by 14,000 in the week ending April 4 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000. The previous week's claims level, reported initially at 268,000 was revised to 267,000.

      The Labor Department (DOL) says there were no special factors affecting this week's initial claims.

      The 4-week moving meanwhile, fell by 3,000 from last week's downwardly-revised average of 285,250 -- to 282,250, the lowest level since June 3, 2000, when it was 281,500.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      First-time applications for state unemployment benefits jumped by 14,000 in the week ending April 4 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000. The previous week's c...
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      Sabra recalls Classic Hummus

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Sabra Dipping Co. is recalling approximately 30,000 cases of its Classic Hummus.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are been no reports to date indicating that these products have caused any illness.

      The recall is limited to five SKUs of Classic Hummus sold nationwide.

      The following products were distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts and supermarkets in the U.S.:

      UPC/SKUItemUse by DatesAffected Areas
      040822011143 / 300067Sabra Classic Hummus 10 oz3 059 Best Before/Meilleur Avant 2015 May 11
      3 060 Best Before/Meilleur Avant 2015 May 15
      US
      040822014687 / 300074Sabra Classic Hummus 30 oz3 059 Best Before/Meilleur Avant 2015 May 11US
      040822342049 / 301216Sabra Classic Hummus without Garnish 32oz