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    Southwest Airlines’ commitment to safety reportedly questioned in government audit

    The FAA is also allegedly being criticized for its oversight of the airline

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), along with Southwest Airlines, is coming in for some Department of Transportation (DOT) criticism for how it handled safety, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

    The Journal says it has reviewed a draft of the report scheduled to be released in early February. The draft report allegedly claims that the airline failed to prioritize safety and that the FAA failed to hold it accountable.

    According to the draft, Southwest transported passengers on jets with unconfirmed maintenance records during a two year period. As an example, the report documents an incident in which a Southwest jet smashed the tips of both wings while repeatedly trying to land during gale force winds.

    The Journal claims the report also calls the FAA’s oversight of the airline “lax, ineffective and inconsistent.” The report suggests Southwest was never subject to FAA enforcement actions in relation to safety issues, and it goes so far as to suggest the FAA’s stance toward Southwest served to “justify continued noncompliance with safety regulations.”

    The Inspector General’s investigation reportedly found that the FAA allowed Southwest “to fly aircraft with unresolved safety concerns.” Further, the audit found that a majority of the FAA employees it interviewed about the matter “raised concerns about the culture at Southwest.”

    Engine explosion

    U.S.-based airlines have been remarkably safe during the last 20 years, largely due to better training, better equipment, and enhanced safety policies. 

    Fatal accidents have been rare, but one of the most recent involved Southwest. The accident occurred when an engine exploded and pieces of metal broke a window. The passenger sitting next to the window was killed when the depressurization of the cabin sucked her halfway out of the aircraft.

    The resulting investigation focused on the engine’s metal fatigue, and Southwest announced an acceleration of its program to inspect CFM56-7B engines used on its Boeing 737 aircraft.

    The Journal report says that an 18-month government investigation concluded that the FAA management in the Dallas office, where Southwest is based, allowed the airline to fly planes “with unresolved safety concerns.”

    Government officials have declined to comment, but Southwest, which has reportedly reviewed the draft, took issue with its findings. A spokeswoman told The Journal that the company strongly disagrees with “unsubstantiated references to Southwest’s safety culture.”

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), along with Southwest Airlines, is coming in for some Department of Transportation (DOT) criticism for how it han...
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      Rising fuel supplies are contributing to falling gas prices

      Regular gas is six cents a gallon cheaper over the last week

      Increasing supplies of gasoline are benefiting consumers as gasoline wholesalers lose some pricing power. As a result, the decline in gas prices picked up speed this week.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.48 a gallon, down six cents a gallon from last Friday. Gas is 10 cents cheaper than a month ago but 23 cents a gallon more than a year ago. The average price of premium is $3.09 a gallon, down four cents in the last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.95, three cents cheaper than last week.

      “Increased total domestic stocks of gasoline have helped to ease pump prices,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “Typically, we see lower demand during this time of year. When combined with higher stock levels, pump prices usually decrease in response.”

      In a Twitter post, Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, notes that gas prices are at their lowest point since last March. He predicts the average price could fall to $2.39 a gallon over the next couple of weeks.

      Several states led the average price lower. The statewide average dropped seven cents a gallon in South Carolina over the last week. It’s down six cents in Louisiana and five cents a gallon in Mississippi and Virginia.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.64)

      • California ($3.52)

      • Washington ($3.09)

      • Nevada ($2.96)

      • Oregon ($2.97) 

      • Alaska ($2.97)

      • Arizona ($2.81)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.69)

      • New York ($2.67)

      • Connecticut ($2.62) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($2.13)

      • Texas ($2.18)

      • Mississippi ($2.19)

      • Louisiana ($2.20)

      • South Carolina ($2.20)

      • Oklahoma ($2.21)

      • Arkansas ($2.22)

      • Kansas ($2.22)

      • Alabama ($2.24)

      • Tennessee ($2.26)

      Increasing supplies of gasoline are benefiting consumers as gasoline wholesalers lose some pricing power. As a result, the decline in gas prices picked up...
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      Pier 1 recalls desk chairs

      The chair’s legs can break

      Pier 1 Imports of Fort Worth, Texas, is recalling about 6,300 desk chairs sold in the U.S., and Canada.

      The chair’s legs can break, posing fall and injury hazards.

      The firm has received 29 reports of chair legs breaking, resulting in one minor back injury.

      This recall involves five collections of Pier 1 upholstered swivel desk chairs. The adjustable chairs have a base with five wheels and were sold in various colors.

      Pier 1, China, the model number and the manufacture date code in MMYYYY format are printed on a label located on the underside of the seats. They were manufactured from April 2019, through September 2019.

      The following chair collections and model numbers are included in the recall:

      Collection

       Model Number

       Color

      Brennon

      3218728

      Natural

      3595783

      Turquoise

      4131834

      Brown (Bomber)

      Corinne

      2855272

      Ivory

      3787830

      Natural

      Devon

      3218730

      Natural (Flax)

      Emille

      3600041

      Navy blue

      3606218

      Gray

      4133680

      Navy blue (Velvet ink)

      4133692

      Light green (Velvet eucalyptus)

      4133727

      Off white (Velvet dove)

      Hourglass

      3030877

      Natural (Flax)

      3232879

      Light gray (Mist)

      3232894

      Gray

      3232931

      Turquoise

      3707849

      Gray (Velvet gray)

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Pier 1 stores nationwide and online at www.Pier1.com from May 2019, through November 2019, for between $260 and $450.

      What to do

      Consumers should stop using the recalled desk chairs immediately and contact Pier 1 to receive a free repair kit, including shipping.

      Consumers may contact Pier 1 toll-free at (855) 513-5140 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday – Friday, Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or online at www.pier1.com and click on "Product Notes & Recalls" at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Pier 1 Imports of Fort Worth, Texas, is recalling about 6,300 desk chairs sold in the U.S., and Canada. The chair’s legs can break, posing fall and inju...
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      MoviePass files for bankruptcy and prepares to liquidate

      The company’s financial troubles led to a slow fade to black

      There have been a lot of “disrupter” businesses in the last decade that threatened to shake up the status quo. MoviePass is one that just didn’t work out.

      MoviePass presented itself as a subscription service that allowed consumers to see an unlimited number of movies in theaters for a monthly subscription fee. The company filed for bankruptcy this week and said it would liquidate its assets.

      In the end, MoviePass faced some headwinds that other disrupters like Uber and AirBnb didn’t. It didn’t help that the Hollywood box office went into a nosedive over the last couple of years. There just weren’t that many movies that consumers wanted to see.

      At the same time, Nexflix was spending billions of dollars on content. For the same subscription fee, consumers could stay at home and watch great content, usually on big-screen 4k TV sets.

      Not much of a surprise

      The bankruptcy did not come as much of a surprise. In September, MoviePass lowered the curtain, suspending operations and not saying when, or if, it would resume. In July, the service informed its subscribers that it would be temporarily interrupting service while it worked on improving its app. Prior to that, it had been forced to change its business model numerous times in an effort to overcome financial struggles. 

      At its peak, MoviePass was able to sign up nearly 3 million subscribers who paid $9.95 a month. But as there was less and less to see at movie theaters, subscribers dwindled to a low of 225,000 in April of last year.

      When it filed for bankruptcy this week, the company listed, by name, 12,000 subscribers it said were creditors -- who had paid in advance and were owed refunds. According to CNN, that list took up 174 pages of the filing.

      MoviePass’ problems gained momentum in 2018 when it suffered severe cash flow issues. In early 2019, the parent company was delisted on the NASDAQ stock exchange. 

      There have been a lot of “disrupter” businesses in the last decade that threatened to shake up the status quo. MoviePass is one that just didn’t work out....
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      Consumer confidence rose again in January

      The Conference Board credits a strong jobs market for the optimism

      After dipping in November, consumer confidence has increased for two straight months. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose nearly three points to 131.6 in January after a smaller increase in December.

      The biggest boost to confidence came from consumers’ feelings about their present situations.  Lynn Franco, the senior director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board, says the back-to-back increases in confidence are the result of a robust job market.

      "Optimism about the labor market should continue to support confidence in the short-term and, as a result, consumers will continue driving growth and prevent the economy from slowing in early 2020," she said.

      Consumers who say jobs are "plentiful" increased from 46.5 percent to 49.0 percent in January. At the same time, those who believe jobs are "hard to get" declined from 13.0 percent to 11.6 percent.

      Optimism on the part of consumers has driven the economy over the last year as business investment has declined. Consumers came through for the nation’s retailers during the recent holiday shopping season after businesses feared a drop in sales because of the shorter shopping period.

      But much of the increase came online. A late December report by Mastercard showed that U.S. online sales finished at record-high levels, growing by 18.8 percent over 2018. 

      Optimistic start to 2020

      Consumers' optimism has carried into 2020, as the latest Conference Board report shows an increasing number of consumers believe business conditions are improving. Those saying business conditions are "good" increased from 39.0 percent to 40.8 percent, while those claiming business conditions are "bad" decreased from 11.0 percent to 10.4 percent. 

      There’s no doubt that a low unemployment rate and rising average hourly earnings make consumers feel a little more secure in the short term, but what about the months ahead? The Conference Board survey suggests the good feelings could last a while longer.

      The survey shows the proportion of consumers expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 15.5 percent to 17.2 percent. Those who expect fewer jobs declined from 13.9 percent to 13.4 percent. 

      Regarding their short-term income prospects, the percentage of consumers expecting an improvement declined from 22.7 percent to 22.0 percent, while the proportion expecting a decrease was virtually unchanged at 7.7 percent.

      After dipping in November, consumer confidence has increased for two straight months. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose nearly three po...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2018 S560s and S450s

      The vehicles may have the wrong front brake components

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 75 model year 2018 S560s and S450s.

      The vehicles may be equipped with front brake components (brake discs, calipers, and pads) with different dimensions than specified for the vehicle.

      The incorrect size brake components may lead to the wrong replacement components fitted to the vehicle during brake repairs, possibly affecting braking performance and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front brake system free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 14, 2020.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 75 model year 2018 S560s and S450s. The vehicles may be equipped with front brake components (brake discs, calipe...
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      Amity Packing recalls raw ground beef

      The product may be contaminated with extraneous materials

      Amity Packing Company of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 2,020 pounds of raw ground beef.

      The product may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically clear, thin pliable plastic.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following item, produced on January 6, 2020, is being recalled:

      • 1-lb. VACUUM-PACKED, packages containing “Pre 95% LEAN/5% FAT GROUND BEEF” with lot code “0060,” case code “11402” and USE/FREEZE BY date of “01/31/2020” on the product label.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 6916” printed on the right, front side of the package, was shipped to retail locations in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard or return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Pre Brands at (844) 773-3663.

      Amity Packing Company of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 2,020 pounds of raw ground beef. The product may be contaminated with extraneous mate...
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      United Airlines cancels several flights to China in wake of coronavirus outbreak

      Flights scheduled to three major hubs have been suspended for the beginning of February

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that consumers cancel any nonessential to China due to a deadly outbreak of coronavirus, and it seems that some airlines are taking that notion to heart.

      United Airlines announced on Tuesday that it would be suspending several flights to three major Chinese hubs from February 1 through February 8. CNBC reports that the reduced service will affect about a dozen flights per day, including travel between Hong Kong and United hubs in San Francisco and Newark; Beijing and hubs in Washington D.C., Newark, and Chicago; and Shanghai and hubs in San Francisco, Newark, and Chicago.

      United cited a “significant decline in demand” as the reason for reducing service. “We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and will adjust our schedule as needed,” the company said in a statement.

      Coronavirus outbreak spreads

      The coronavirus outbreak has been traced to the Wuhan area of China, and it has been a devastating force to those who live there. Chinese officials have linked over 100 deaths to the virus and confirmed infections on thousands of others. 

      The virus has begun spreading to nearby countries, and it has even made its way to U.S. shores. The CDC has confirmed five cases of coronavirus in the U.S. so far, affecting consumers in Washington, Illinois, Arizona, and California. On Monday, the agency stated that it was “aggressively responding to this serious public health situation to help protect the health of Americans.”

      In addition to avoiding travel to areas hit by the virus, health officials are urging consumers to practice safe hygiene and avoid contact with others who show symptoms of sickness and are at risk of infection. The CDC will be continuing to provide updates on the status of the outbreak on its website.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that consumers cancel any nonessential to China due to a deadly outbreak of coronaviru...
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      Lipari Foods expands recall of Premo and Fresh Grab sandwiches

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Lipari Foods is expanding its earlier recall of Premo and Fresh Grab sandwiches to include all sandwiches with a Best By date of February 6, 2020 and earlier.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following items, which were shipped beginning December 20, 2019, are being recalled:

      BrandProductLipari #SizeBest By DateUPC
      PremoItalian Footlong Sandwich9964318oz.01/08/20-02/02/20612510093535
      PremoTurkey & Cheese on a Pretzel Sub Bun9964287oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510094037
      PremoHam & Cheese on a Hawaiian Bun9964256oz.01/02/20-01/27/20612510093511
      PremoMeat Lovers Sub9708447oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510093832
      PremoBologna & Cheese Wedge Sandwich9202205oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510093306
      PremoTuna Salad Wedge Sandwich9155795oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002049
      PremoTuna Salad Wedge Sandwich2936725oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002049
      PremoChicken & Swiss Cheese Sandwich9155725oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510003213
      PremoChicken & Swiss Cheese Sandwich2080045oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510003213
      PremoPub Burger with Cheese9155655oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510003015
      PremoPub Burger with Cheese2079705oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510003015
      PremoAsiago Italian Sub Sandwich9155586oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001196
      PremoAsiago Italian Sub Sandwich2079196oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001196
      PremoKing Club Footlong Sub Sandwich9155519oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001080
      PremoHam & Provolone Sub Sandwich9155446oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001059
      PremoHam & Provolone Sub Sandwich2078516oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001059
      PremoTurkey & Swiss Cheese Sub Sandwich9155376oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001042
      PremoTurkey & Swiss Cheese Sub Sandwich2078346oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001042
      PremoChicken Salad Wedge Sandwich9155305oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002032
      PremoChicken Salad Wedge Sandwich2077155oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002032
      PremoEgg Salad Wedge Sandwich9155235oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002025
      PremoEgg Salad Wedge Sandwich2076985oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002025
      PremoTurkey & Cheese Wedge Sandwich9155165oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002018
      PremoTurkey & Cheese Wedge Sandwich2076815oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002018
      PremoHam & Cheese Wedge Sandwich9155095oz.01/12/20-2/06/20612510002001
      PremoHam & Chipotle Mayo on Glazed Roll9154956oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510088500
      PremoHam & Chipotle Mayo on Glazed Roll2074566oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510088500
      PremoTurkey & Garlic Mayo on Split-Top Roll9154886oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510088494
      PremoTurkey & Garlic Mayo on Split-Top Roll2074556oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510088494
      Fresh GrabTurkey & Provolone with Garlic Mayo4559566oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510090435
      Fresh GrabHam & Cheddar with Chipotle Mayo4559396oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510090428
      Fresh GrabTuna Salad Wedge Sandwich2820225oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002049
      Fresh GrabHam & Cheese on White Wedge Sandwich2534795oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510093962
      Fresh GrabTurkey No Cheese Wedge Sandwich2534455oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002100
      Fresh GrabChicken Salad Wedge Sandwich2533775oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002032
      Fresh GrabEgg Salad Wedge Sandwich2529015oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002025
      Fresh GrabTurkey & Cheese Wedge Sandwich2527825oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002018
      Fresh GrabHam & Cheese Wedge Sandwich2526465oz.01/12/20-02/06/20612510002001
      Fresh GrabChicken Buddies2525957oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510003602
      Fresh GrabChicken Sandwich2525273.5 oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510007020
      Fresh GrabHam & Cheese Sandwich252493

      3.5 oz.

      01/09/20-02/03/20612510007006
      Fresh GrabChicken & Swiss Cheese Sandwich2522045oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510003213
      Fresh GrabBreakfast Muffin2521536oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510003039
      Fresh GrabSmoked Turkey Sandwich2518986oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510007204
      Fresh GrabAsiago Italian Sub Sandwich25184760z.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001196
      Fresh GrabClub Sub Sandwich2517966oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001165
      Fresh GrabHam & Provolone Sub Sandwich2517456oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001059
      Fresh GrabTurkey & Swiss Cheese Sub Sandwich2516946oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001042
      Fresh GrabHam & Swiss on Pretzel Sub Bun2516266oz.01/09/20-02/03/20612510001028
      PremoTurkey, Bacon, & Cheddar Ciabatta Sandwich2264426oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510007815
      PremoItalian Ciabatta Sandwich2263236oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510007808
      PremoPesto Chicken Ciabatta2262726oz.01/07/20-02/01/20612510007228

      The recalled products were distributed exclusively by Lipari Foods to food service and retail stores throughout Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may call (800) 729-3354, from 8:15 am – 4:30 pm (EST) Monday through Friday.

      Lipari Foods is expanding its earlier recall of Premo and Fresh Grab sandwiches to include all sandwiches with a Best By date of February 6, 2020 and earli...
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      BMW recalls model year 2019-2020 330i and 330i xDrive vehicles

      BMW recalls model year 2019-2020 330i and 330i xDrive vehicles

      BMW of North America is recalling 135 model year 2019-2020 330i and 330i xDrive vehicles.

      The outboard rear seat belt pretensioners may not lock as intended during a crash, increasing risk of injury.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the rear seat belts free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 10, 2020.

      Owners may contact BMW customer at (800) 525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 135 model year 2019-2020 330i and 330i xDrive vehicles. The outboard rear seat belt pretensioners may not lock as inte...
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      CDC issues stronger warning about travel to China in wake of coronavirus outbreak

      The virus has now killed over 100 people and infected thousands more

      A dangerous outbreak of coronavirus that originated in China has forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to take a harder stance on travel to the area. 

      In an updated advisory, the agency said that all nonessential travel to any area of the country should be canceled. Chinese officials say that the virus is currently able to spread from person to person in the region, and that has led to over 100 deaths and 4,500 infections. 

      The CDC notes that person-to-person transmission has not been reported in locations outside of China. As many as 5 cases have been reported in the U.S. in the states of Arizona, California, Illinois, and Washington

      “Based on current information, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time. However, risk is dependent on exposure and some people will have greater risk of infection, for example, healthcare workers caring for 2019-nCoV patients and other close contacts,” the CDC stated.

      “CDC is aggressively responding to this serious public health situation to help protect the health of Americans.”

      The agency says that it will be providing an updated advisory for healthcare officials later this week. More information about the current outbreak can be found on the agency’s website here.

      A dangerous outbreak of coronavirus that originated in China has forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to take a harder stance on tra...
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      McDonald’s adds chicken sandwiches to its breakfast menu

      The company continues to play chicken with its competitors by improving its offerings

      McDonald’s doesn’t care if the chicken came before the egg or not, evidently. The fast food king has announced that it’s adding chicken sandwiches to its breakfast menu at all of its 16,000+ U.S. outlets. 

      The company has been feeling the heat from Chick-Fil-A and Popeyes in regards to chicken, and Wendy’s and Dunkin’ are also both trying to elbow in on its breakfast business. 

      “We’re giving our customers more of what they crave: mouthwatering chicken and breakfast options,” the company’s vice president of menu innovation, Linda VanGosen, said in a statement.

      The latest breakfast additions to McDonald’s menu are Chicken McGriddles and McChicken Biscuit sandwiches. Since its foray into the breakfast market courtesy of the Egg McMuffin back in 1971, McDonald’s has done its best to fend off competitors like Taco Bell with its breakfast burritos by trying to stay ahead of the field with innovations like McGriddles and the introduction of All Day Breakfast.

      Time is of the essence

      In announcing the new breakfast items, McDonald’s also crowed about its improved drive-thru wait times -- a 20-second improvement in 2019. While 20 seconds may not seem like a lot, VanGossen said that the chain showed its fastest drive-thru time in two years in 2019. 

      McDonald’s is lagging way behind its peers and is doing all it can to make every minute count. Dunkin’ owns the speed category and is a good minute-plus faster than McDonald’s. 

      “Customers spent an average of 255 seconds from speaker to order window in 2019, about 20 seconds longer than in 2018,” noted QSR’s Rachel Pittman. “And with menus becoming more complex and lanes possibly getting more crowded with not only drive-thru customers but also those picking up mobile orders, it's going to be difficult for brands to shave off seconds moving forward.”

      McDonald’s doesn’t care if the chicken came before the egg or not, evidently. The fast food king has announced that it’s adding chicken sandwiches to its b...
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      Data breaches were more common in 2019, report finds

      While fewer files were exposed, experts say the trend is ‘a serious issue’

      The 2019 year-end report on identity crime is out, and the results aren’t very encouraging from a consumer standpoint.

      A quick thumbnail of the findings shows that the number of U.S. data breaches tracked in 2019 (1,473) increased 17 percent from the total number of breaches reported in 2018 (1,257). While fewer personal records were exposed overall year-over-year, it’s important to note that 2018 would have had nearly half of the number of exposures as 2019 if the 2018 Marriott data breach never happened. That breach exposed approximately 383,000,000 records on its own.

      The report comes from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a non-profit organization established to support victims of identity crime.

      Here’s how 2019 shakes out compared to 2018:

      Sector2019 Total Breaches2019 Sensitive Records Exposed2018 Total Breaches2018 Sensitive Records Exposed
      Business64418,824,975575438,952,056
      Medical/ Healthcare 52539,378,15736910,632,600
      Government/ Military833,606,11410018,447,92
      Banking/ Credit/ Financial108100,621,7001251,778,658 
      Education1132,252,439781,414,624

      “The increase in the number of data breaches during 2019, while not surprising, is a serious issue,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “The 2019 reporting year sees a return to the pattern of the ever-increasing number of breaches and volume of records exposed… (meaning) that more consumers are becoming victims.”

      The impact on consumers

      In ConsumerAffairs breakdown of the report, there were a number of caution signs that consumers need to understand and steps they can take to protect their data. The authors make note of several areas that consumers should focus on:

      Convenience in banking and purchasing continues to enable data breaches and unsecure data. “Consumers/ businesses want ease of access to their data and frictionless transactions. Greater security measures often mean creating barriers to accessing data – which means more hoops to jump through and delays in completing a transaction. Shortcuts to strong security create a vulnerability that is easy to exploit, such as default security tools that do not force an automatic configuration update upon installation or easy-to-use/duplicated usernames and passwords,” the report states.

      Consumers have to do their part. “Frictionless engagement (an example being a cashierless store that allows consumers to select merchandise from a shelf and walk out of the store without stopping at a checkout stand), doesn’t equal consumer-first security,” the report warned. 

      “Every time a consumer requests convenience over a more secure engagement, it creates an environment where hackers and bad actors have fewer obstacles to getting to their payday. Consumers that continue to value convenience over security place their data in the cross-hairs. Consumers need to evaluate whether the additional convenience of faster access outweighs the increased security that additional measures provide. Does that extra couple of seconds mean more to you than the knowledge that your data is less accessible to ne’er-do-wells looking to profit from your PII (Personally identifiable information)?”

      Consumers aren’t using the protection tools available. “Lastly, consumers have tools available to them but don’t dismiss the warning signs,” the report admonished. “Got a notification letter that your data was exposed? Don’t toss it aside and ignore it. See a news story about a breach in the news regarding a company with which you do business? Go get more information to see what you may need to do to minimize your risks.”

      Consumer resources to improve identity protection

      Identity protection tools are one of those things that you don’t know you need until you really need them. And if your personal information gets compromised, spending as little as $7 a month for an extra layer of protection is well worth the expense.

      To that end, ConsumerAffairs has produced a guide on identity theft protection to help consumers navigate the various services and find one that best suits their needs. While it’s not identity theft protection service, per se, the ITRC has also created an app that can help keep consumers in the loop as to breaches that are occurring and tips on improving identity protection. It’s available here.

      The 2019 year-end report on identity crime is out, and the results aren’t very encouraging from a consumer standpoint.A quick thumbnail of the findings...
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      Children are most likely to feel the negative health effects of climate change

      Researchers say exposure to climate change in utero can lead to health complications

      The ways in which climate change affect consumers’ health -- particularly the youngest population -- have been documented at length. But new findings continue to shed more light on this area of study.

      Now, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center have found that children are the most likely demographic to experience health complications that arise from climate change. In fact, many could be exposed to those effects before they’re born. 

      “It is impossible to predict the scope and impact of climate change in future generations,” wrote researcher Dr. Susan E. Pacheco. “However, the convergence of multiple adverse health outcomes, coming from different pathways of exposure in the prenatal and postnatal life, will likely have a compounding effect that will accelerate or worsen the morbidity and mortality of many health conditions.” 

      Children at risk

      As temperatures continue to rise around the world and natural disasters become more frequent, Dr. Pacheco explained how the children are at the greatest risk of feeling the effects of living under such conditions. 

      She points to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which maintains that a steady increase in global temperatures will lead to three major risk factors for consumers to contend with: 

      • An increase of heat waves and fires, which will lead to greater numbers of disease and increased mortality rates as both food- and waterborne illnesses are likely to increase; 

      • An increase in pollutants that halt food production, which will affect consumers’ overall nutrition; and

      • An increase in diseases spread by ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas.

      While Dr. Pacheco is concerned about how these conditions will affect children when they’re young, her research also revealed that it could actually affect them before they’re born. Maternal stress, either from outside factors or due to weather-related disasters, was linked with birth complications that included low birth weight and premature birth. 

      Pacheco says it isn’t uncommon for children’s caretakers to struggle mentally and physically in their roles following natural disasters, which can leave young ones lacking basic care and amenities. 

      Taking action

      Children’s long-term health will continue to be at risk from a health standpoint, as they will not only grow up under these conditions but will experience them getting worse over time. 

      “We will continue to see an increase in heat-associated conditions in children, such as asthma, Lyme disease, as well as an increase in congenital heart defects,” said Dr. Pacheco. 

      Dr. Pacheco has a very simple call to action for consumers moving forward: avoid complacency. She explained that climate change won’t just disappear without serious intervention, and the youngest population is likely to suffer the most. 

      “We cannot act as if we are immune to these threats,” she said. “We can jump to action or stand in complacent indifference.”

      The ways in which climate change affect consumers’ health -- particularly the youngest population -- have been documented at length. But new findings conti...
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      PCNA recalls power banks

      The lithium-ion battery can overheat and ignite

      PCNA of New Kensington, Pa., is recalling about 5,000 Spare 10,000 mAh Power Banks in the U.S., and Canada.

      The lithium-ion battery can overheat and ignite, posing fire and burn hazards.

      The firm has received one report of fire. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the Spare Power Bank used to charge electronic devices.

      They have a 10,000 mAh Grade A lithium ion battery, LED indicator lights, and a flashlight. The power banks are white and are decorated with various logos.

      PO number 1813582 is printed on the back of the power bank. The power banks measure about 5 1/2 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide.

      The power banks, manufactured in China, were given to consumers as free promotional products at meetings or events nationwide from July 2019, through September 2019.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately unplug and stop using the recalled power banks and dispose of then by following local laws for disposal of lithium-ion batteries.

      Consumers may contact PCNA at (800) 860-1555, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at CustomerService@leedsworld.com, or online at www.pcna.com and click on the “Recalls” link at the bottom of the page for more information

      PCNA of New Kensington, Pa., is recalling about 5,000 Spare 10,000 mAh Power Banks in the U.S., and Canada. The lithium-ion battery can overheat and ign...
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      E-scooters present security and privacy risks for owners, study finds

      Researchers say the products are prime targets for hackers

      E-scooters are becoming more popular among consumers, especially those who live in urban areas and value their high mobility. But a recent study shows that these devices have their drawbacks when it comes to security. 

      Researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio say that hackers can easily target e-scooters to mine for personal information or actively interfere with how the product works in real time.

      "We've identified and outlined a variety of weak points or attack surfaces in the current ride-sharing, or micromobility, ecosystem that could potentially be exploited by malicious adversaries right from inferring the riders' private data to causing economic losses to service providers and remotely controlling the vehicles' behavior and operation," said assistant professor Murtuza Jadliwala.

      Data leaks

      According to the researchers, there are many angles from which hackers can attack e-scooters. Perhaps one of the most invasive ways is to go after a rider’s smartphone by delving into the Bluetooth connection that often links these devices with the internal e-scooter systems. This can compromise a trove of information, including preferred routes, home and work locations, and other sensitive data.

      Companies who maintain and rent out e-scooters can also give hackers a way to access consumers’ personal information. The research team says that the billing information each business collects as part of a rental transaction can be up for grabs if it isn’t properly encrypted. The risk of a data leak or denial-of-service attack can also become high if proper protections aren’t in place.

      "Cities are experiencing explosive population growth. Micromobility promises to transport people in a more sustainable, faster and economical fashion," said Jadliwala. "To ensure that this industry stays viable, companies should think not only about rider and pedestrian safety but also how to protect consumers and themselves from significant cybersecurity and privacy threats enabled by this new technology."

      The team’s full study is being presented at AutoSec 2020.

      E-scooters are becoming more popular among consumers, especially those who live in urban areas and value their high mobility. But a recent study shows that...
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      Google suspends sales of all commercial Chrome extensions

      The company cites a ‘significant increase’ in extension-related fraud

      Google has taken the unusual step of temporarily suspending all commercial browser extensions sold in the Chrome Web Store.

      The company says it has been alerted to a “significant increase” in scams and frauds being launched by some of these extensions. Chrome users are sometimes urged to download and install certain extensions to enhance the browser’s performance or to make it do special things. There’s almost always some kind of fee involved.

      Now, Google says some of these extensions “aim to exploit users” and all are being suspended until everything can be sorted out. It turns out the problem may have been building over time.

      Unwanted popups

      Nearly a year ago, ZDNet reported that a popular commercial Chrome extension had started serving users with popup ads. At the time, the extension was being used by more than 4 million consumers.

      This particular extension was called Automatic 4K/HD for YouTube and was used to enhance and control the quality of YouTube videos.

      “The popup ads abuse Chrome's ability to show desktop notifications, permission that the extension contains from users during installation, but which it is not allowed to abuse to bombard them with unrelated content, such as ads,” ZDNet reported in February.

      A few months later, Google reviewed and updated its policies regarding third-party extensions for its browser. Most of those updates had to do with better protecting user privacy. In October 2018, Google said it was taking steps to “ensure that all Chrome extensions are trustworthy by default.” 

      Recent discovery

      According to Forbes, this most recent action was driven by a discovery earlier this month that some commercial Chrome extensions were carrying out fraud and that the activity had recently increased.

      Chrome users who have not downloaded or installed extensions that require payment are likely not affected. Users who have paid for extensions will not receive any extension updates until Google lifts its ban.

      In November, the Security Research Team at Checkmarx reported finding a vulnerability in both the Google and Samsung camera app that allowed hackers to commandeer the app and take photos and/or record videos via a malicious application that had zero permission to go that far. 

      Google responded quickly, telling ConsumerAffairs the issue was addressed on impacted Google devices via a Play Store update to the Google Camera Application. A patch was made available to all partners.

      Google has taken the unusual step of temporarily suspending all commercial browser extensions sold in the Chrome Web Store.The company says it has been...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls CLA250 and CLA45 class vehicles

      The front passenger airbag may not deploy properly

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 129 model year 2015-2018 CLA250 & CLA250 4MATIC, and model year 2017-2018 CLA45 AMG vehicles.

      The Occupant Classification System (OCS) may have been improperly calibrated, which may prevent the proper deployment of the front passenger airbag.

      If the airbag does not deploy as designed, the front seat passenger has an increased risk of an injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger seat cushion free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 11, 2020.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 129 model year 2015-2018 CLA250 & CLA250 4MATIC, and model year 2017-2018 CLA45 AMG vehicles.The Occupant Classi...
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      Fresh Location recalls protein snack tray and protein trail mix

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Fresh Location of Lenoir City, Tenn.. is recalling protein snack tray and protein trail mix.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no reports of illnesses to date.

      The following products, sold by convenience stores, micro markets, hospitals, hotels and vending machines in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana and Mississippi, are being recalled:

      • Protein Snack Tray 6.44 oz total weight packaged in a 4-compartment plastic tray with UPC: 8-5511000804-6 and with Fresh by lot dates of: 12/21/19, 12/22/19, 12/24/19, 12/27/19, 12/28/19, 12/29/19, 12/31/19, 01/03/20, 01/04/20
      • Protein Trail Mix 3.52 oz total weight packaged in a 10.5 ounce plastic cup with UPC: 8-5511000813-8 and with Fresh by lot dates of: 12/23/19, 12/24/19, 12/26/19, 12/29/19, 12/30/19, 12/31/19, 01/02/20, 01/05/20, 01/06/20

      What to do

      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 (865) 717-6800, Monday – Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 p (ET).

      Fresh Location of Lenoir City, Tenn.. is recalling protein snack tray and protein trail mix.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogene...
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      CDC confirms second case of potentially deadly coronavirus in U.S.

      The agency says as many as 63 other cases are being investigated

      Shortly after citing the first U.S. case of an outbreak of coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a second consumer in Chicago has been diagnosed with the condition.

      The consumer in question had recently visited the Wuhan area of China where the outbreak is believed to have originated. After experiencing symptoms for a few days, the traveler called their health care provider and was admitted to the hospital. Infection control measurements are currently in place, but health officials say the infected individual is in stable condition and doing well. 

      “The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) are investigating locations where this patient went after returning to Illinois and are identifying any close contacts who were possibly exposed,” the CDC said. “The patient has limited close contacts, all of whom are currently well and who will be monitored for symptoms.” 

      The CDC noted that, luckily, the patient had not left their home much after returning from their trip, which should reduce the risk of infection to other people. CNBC reports that the CDC is monitoring as many as 63 other potential cases of the virus.

      Limiting travel and taking precautions

      The current outbreak of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has already been responsible for several deaths abroad and hundreds of sicknesses. Symptoms of the virus are similar to pneumonia, with respiratory problems such as coughing and trouble breathing being reported.

      Consumers are being advised to limit their travel to the Wuhan area of China to avoid infection.

      If any traveler has recently traveled to China and is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, health officials say they should seek medical care immediately and avoid contact with others. More information about the outbreak can be found on the CDC’s website here.

      Shortly after citing the first U.S. case of an outbreak of coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a second consumer in Chic...
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      Americans are wasting nearly a third of all food in their homes

      Researchers say this translates to hundreds of billions of dollars per year

      Many consumers are making conscious efforts to reduce their food waste, which oftentimes requires a careful reading and understanding of food labels

      However, researchers from Penn State have found that despite these sustainability efforts, food waste is still running rampant across the United States, with consumers throwing away nearly one-third of all food in their homes. 

      “Our findings are consistent with previous studies, which have shown that that 30 percent and 40 percent of the total food supply in the United States goes uneaten -- and that means that resources used to produce the uneaten food, including land, energy, water, and labor, are wasted as well,” said researcher Edward Jaenicke. 

      “But this study is the first to identify and analyze the level of food waste for individual households, which has been nearly impossible to estimate because comprehensive, current data on uneaten food at the household level do not exist.” 

      The food waste epidemic

      The researchers analyzed 4,000 responses to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Household Food Acquisition Survey. 

      Because respondents to the survey are required to provide information like height, weight, gender, and age, the researchers could use these factors to most accurately assess food waste. Participants reported on the food they were getting and throwing away, and the researchers were able to calculate the waste by determining how much food the participants’ bodies physically required. 

      While food waste was occurring in nearly 32 percent of all participants’ homes, the researchers learned that some participants were more likely to waste than others. 

      For example, proximity to the grocery store was a factor in food waste, as those who had a further commute back and forth to the store were less likely to waste food. Conversely, households following specific, oftentimes healthy, diets were throwing away more food, most likely because the shelf life of fruits and vegetables isn’t very long. 

      “More than two-thirds of households in our study have food-waste estimates of between 20 percent and 50 percent,” Jaenicke said. “However, even the least wasteful households waste 8.7 percent of the food it acquires.” 

      Plan before you shop

      According to Jaenicke, planning before going to the grocery store is essential, as those who went grocery shopping with a list were also less likely to waste food. 

      “This suggests that planning and food management are factors that influence the amount of wasted food,” said Jaenicke. 

      The researchers hope that these findings can inspire further work in this area, as knowing what leads consumers to waste food can hopefully help put plans in place to reduce such waste. 

      “While the precise measurement of food waste is important, it may be equally important to investigate further how household-specific factors influence how much food is wasted,” said Jaenicke. “We hope our methodology provides a new lens through which to analyze individual household food waste.” 

      Many consumers are making conscious efforts to reduce their food waste, which oftentimes requires a careful reading and understanding of food labels. H...
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      Amazon files motion to stop Microsoft/Pentagon contract

      The company says the agreement shouldn’t go into effect until after its legal challenge is dealt with

      Being passed over for a big contract can be frustrating for any company, but Amazon isn’t going to take a recent government decision lying down. 

      Reuters reports that the online retailing giant filed a motion earlier this week to stop a contract between Microsoft and Pentagon from taking effect until after its legal challenge to the deal has been dealt with. 

      Amazon alleged back in November that the Pentagon awarded Microsoft a massive cloud contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Project -- known as JEDI -- based on political considerations. The company said it lost out on $10 billion in potential revenue by being passed over. 

      “It’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence,” Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said in a statement back in November. “Numerous aspects of the JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias -- and it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified.”

      Protesting the contract

      The JEDI contract is meant to provide the military with better access to the technology and information it needs when working in remote locations around the world. In challenging the government’s decision to work with Microsoft, Amazon said that it wouldn’t be proper for the contract to proceed while its legal challenge is still being considered.

      “It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending, and it’s important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impacted the JEDI award decision be reviewed,” Amazon Web Services said in a statement. 

      Officials at the Pentagon have rejected the notion that its choice to work with Microsoft was made with political considerations. 

      Being passed over for a big contract can be frustrating for any company, but Amazon isn’t going to take a recent government decision lying down. Reuter...
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      Tinder rolls out new panic button safety feature

      Users will also have access to AI-driven photo verification and other services

      Personal safety is starting to get the attention it deserves from connection-driven companies.

      First, there was Uber’s integration of an in-app 911 text feature to increase passenger safety amid reports of sexual assaults. Now, dating app Tinder joins in by adding three new features to its app: 

      • A safety service that connects users to personal emergency services; 

      • Photo Verification, which will compare a posed photo taken in real-time to profile photos, which can help verify a match's authenticity and increase trust in member profiles; and 

      • An in-app Safety Center.

      “Every day, millions of our members trust us to introduce them to new people, and we’re dedicated to building innovative safety features powered by best-in-class technology that meet the needs of today’s daters,” said Elie Seidman, CEO of Tinder, announcing the new features. “I’m proud to share these updates, which represent an important step in driving our safety work forward at an unmatched scale.”

      The protections

      Tinder uses the Noonlight platform for its app, which allows users to trigger an alarm by clicking a button; users can connect other smart devices to automatically trigger alarms for them. Until now, most of Noonlight’s partners have been universities like Washington University in St. Louis and Southern Methodist University.

      In Tinder’s situation, the app’s members will also be able to share details about upcoming dates -- including who, where, and when they are meeting. It’s sort of a “bodyguard [and] quick backup for daters” when a user is meeting someone for the first time, claims Brittany LeComte, Co-founder and CCO of Noonlight. “It’s a first-of-its-kind added security measure to help protect Tinder members even when they’ve taken their interactions off the app into real life.”

      If at any time a Tinder user feels they’re in a dangerous situation, a quick press of the Noonlight app will quietly contact Noonlight dispatchers who, in turn, will send a text to confirm the situation. If that text goes unanswered, Noonlight will send a code and call them. If the user doesn’t answer the phone at all, Noonlight will dispatch emergency services.

      The Photo Verification feature allows users to make sure that who they’re meeting is who they say they are. The feature utilizes artificial intelligence to give Tinder users access to a series of real-time posed selfies, which are compared to existing profile photos of the person they’re meeting.

      The feature is still in the incubation phase, according to Tinder’s Safety Center. The team says it will treat it like an on-going update of Tinder’s overall safety features.

      Personal safety is starting to get the attention it deserves from connection-driven companies.First, there was Uber’s integration of an in-app 911 text...
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      Gasoline prices are still falling as fuel supplies grow

      Most states are seeing modest declines in the price at the pump

      Gasoline prices drifted slightly lower during the week as winter-time demand remains weak and fuel supplies are growing.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.53 a gallon, three cents lower than last Friday. The price is 28 cents a gallon higher than at this time a year ago. The average price of premium gas is $3.13 a gallon, down three cents in the last seven days. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.98 a gallon, two cents less than last week.

      Crude oil prices have fallen since the start of the year, making it less costly for refineries to produce gasoline. At the same time, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports total U.S. gasoline supplies grew by 1.7 million barrels last week, bringing the total up to 260 million barrels.

      Estimated gasoline demand grew slightly over the last week but remains lower than demand in January 2019. 

      “Increased stocks and low demand have helped the national average to stabilize this week,” AAA said in its latest market update. “As these trends continue, American motorists will likely continue to see lower pump prices.”

      Some states saw prices come down faster than others. The statewide average in Michigan is down another nine cents a gallon after falling 10 cents a gallon the week before. Elsewhere, most states saw modest declines in the price at the pump.

      This week, only three states -- Hawaii, California, and Washington -- have average gas prices above $3 a gallon.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.66)

      • California ($3.52)

      • Washington ($3.11)

      • Nevada ($2.98)

      • Oregon ($2.98) 

      • Alaska ($2.96)

      • Arizona ($2.82)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.75)

      • New York ($2.70)

      • Utah ($2.61) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($2.16)

      • Texas ($2.22)

      • Oklahoma ($2.24)

      • Mississippi ($2.24)

      • Arkansas ($2.25)

      • Kansas ($2.26)

      • Louisiana ($2.26)

      • South Carolina ($2.27)

      • Alabama ($2.30)

      • Tennessee ($2.31)

      Gasoline prices drifted slightly lower during the week as winter-time demand remains weak and fuel supplies are growing.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows...
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      Toyota recalls RAV4s, RAV4 EVs, Celicas and Supras

      The front driver-side airbag inflator may rupture

      Toyota is recalling about 139,000 model year 1998–2000 RAV4s, model year 1998–1999 RAV4 EVs, model year 1998–1999 Celicas and model year 1997–1998 Supras with a potentially affected Takata-produced single-stage non-azide front driver airbag inflator.

      The airbag may not deploy properly resulting in abnormal deployment of the airbag or the chance of an inflator rupture, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      A remedy is currently under development.

      Toyota will notify owners by first class mail by late-March.

      Owners may contact Toyota at (800) 331-4331.

      Toyota is recalling about 139,000 model year 1998–2000 RAV4s, model year 1998–1999 RAV4 EVs, model year 1998–1999 Celicas and model year 1997–1998 Supras w...
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      Deadly coronavirus outbreak traced to animals sold at wholesale market

      Regulators are asking travelers to exercise caution

      A recent outbreak of a strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has made its way to the U.S. after a consumer came back from a trip to Wuhan, China. The virus has already been responsible for several deaths in Asia and has sickened hundreds of people.

      While regulators rush to address the issue, a team of researchers has been working to determine the origins of the outbreak. They were able to trace it back to a wholesale market that sold several types of wildlife animals. In particular, they believe that this virus was first transmitted to humans through contact with snakes.

      "Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV," the authors wrote. "New information obtained from our evolutionary analysis is highly significant for effective control of the outbreak caused by the 2019-nCoV-induced pneumonia."

      Caution while traveling

      Symptoms associated with the virus can vary from person to person, but ailments including fever, cough, and difficulty breathing are common. 

      While it’s not clear how easily the virus passes between people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging consumers who have visited China since December to exercise caution. It also recommends that travelers avoid future non-essential travel to Wuhan.

      “Chinese officials have closed transport within and out of Wuhan, including buses, subways, trains, and the airport,” the agency stated.

      Travelers who intend to visit China are being urged to avoid any contact with sick individuals, animals (alive or dead), and products that come from animals, such as uncooked meat. It is also important for travelers to wash their hands frequently or use hand sanitizer if water isn’t available. 

      The CDC says that those who have visited China within the last two weeks and are experiencing symptoms of sickness should do the following:

      • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms;

      • Avoid contact with others;

      • Not travel while sick; 

      • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing; and 

      • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

      A recent outbreak of a strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has made its way to the U.S. after a consumer came back from a trip to Wuhan, China. The virus has...
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      Motorola to roll out a remake of the Moto Razr in February

      But this throwback carries a price tag that’s higher than for the iPhone 11

      Motorola has announced a February 6 release date for its reboot of the Motorola Razr, a phone that dominated the cell phone universe before Apple released the iPhone in 2007.

      The new phone will be available for preorders on January 26, but it isn’t clear if there will be a stampede to get in line. The new phone will sell for $1,500 -- well above the cost of an iPhone 11. Then again, cost might not be such a big headwind.

      CNN reports that the company initially planned to release the Razr in early January, but it pushed back the release date because it feared it would not have enough product on hand to meet demand.

      The phone can be purchased directly from Motorola and will be available exclusively to Verizon customers, at least in the beginning. The carrier is offering a payment plan of $62.49 a month -- again, well above the monthly payments for an iPhone.

      Motorola teased the release in late November, playing on nostalgia for the original Razr. But plenty of industry insiders immediately questioned whether consumers would be that nostalgic, especially at that price point.

      Foldable screen

      A unique feature of the second-generation Razr is a foldable screen, a concept other manufacturers have struggled with. Samsung stubbed its toe when it introduced the Galaxy Fold, a device that retailed for $2,000. The phone took flak for alleged defective hinges and fragile screens.

      This is the second time Motorola has tried to revive the Razr. The last time was 2011 when it introduced the Droid Razr, which failed to generate the anticipated sales.

      Motorola has earned a reputation for building a solid phone for an affordable price in recent years. Its Moto Play devices have been very popular among gamers who value the big screens and longer battery life.

      Motorola’s most popular phones are the ones with the smallest price tags. The MotoG7 is available for around $300. It features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 octa-core processor and an ultrawide 5.7" Max Vision HD+ display. The device is designed for optimal performance for games, movies, and photos, and it also features a 12 MP camera.

      Motorola has announced a February 6 release date for its reboot of the Motorola Razr, a phone that dominated the cell phone universe before Apple released...
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      Toyota recalls 695,000 Toyota and Lexus vehicles

      The low-pressure fuel pump inside the fuel tank may fail

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 695,541 of the following vehicles: Model year 2018-2019 Toyota:

      • 4Runners,
      • Highlanders,
      • Camrys,
      • Land Cruisers,
      • Sequoias,
      • Siennas,
      • Tacomas,
      • Tundras,
      • Lexus RC 300s,
      • RC 350s,
      • GS 350s,
      • GX 460s,
      • IS 300s,
      • LC 500s,
      • LS 500s,
      • LX 570s, RX 350s
      • Model Year 2019 Toyota:
      • Avalons & Corollas, and
      • Lexus:
      • NX 300s, ES 350s and GS 200Ts.

      The low-pressure fuel pump inside the fuel tank may fail.

      If the fuel pump fails, the engine can stall while driving, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development.

      The recall is expected to begin March 13, 2020.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at (888) 270-9371 or Lexus customer service at (800) 255-3987.

      Toyota's numbers for this recall are 20TB02 & 20TA02 for Toyota vehicles, and 20LB01 & 20LA01 for Lexus vehicles.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 695,541 of the following vehicles: Model year 2018-2019 Toyota: 4Runners, Highlanders, Camr...
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      Latest Microsoft leak left 250 million customer records exposed

      The company says it has fixed the problem

      If Microsoft didn’t have enough on its plate with malware and the overall mess that came out of Windows 10, then it probably does now. A new report indicates that 250 million of its customers’ records have been exposed online. Why? Because Microsoft left the gateway to those records password-unprotected.

      Those quarter-million records span nearly 14 years and contain logs of conversations that Microsoft tech support agents had with consumers, according to Comparitech, a pro-consumer website focused on researching and comparing tech services. Comparitech says it “stumbled” upon the databases and that they could have been accessed by anyone with a web browser.

      “The nature of the data appears to be that much of the personally identifiable information was redacted,” commented Paul Bischoff, a tech writer, privacy advocate, and VPN expert at Comparitech.

      “However, the researchers say that many contained plain text data including customer email addresses, IP addresses, geographical locations, descriptions of the customer service and support claims and cases, Microsoft support agent emails, case numbers and resolutions, and internal notes that had been marked as confidential.”

      Microsoft quickly responds

      To the untrained eye, this may seem like another ordinary oops from Microsoft, “but when you consider that Microsoft support scams are pretty rampant, it doesn't take a genius to work out how valuable such information would be to the fraudsters carrying out such attacks,” Bischoff said.

      Comparitech says it contacted Microsoft when it happened upon the issue. Within 24 hours, the company fixed the situation and analyzed the data to make sure all was ok. It also said it contacted any consumer whose data may have been purloined. 

      “We’re thankful to (Comparitech) for working closely with us so that we were able to quickly fix this misconfiguration, analyze data, and notify customers as appropriate,” Eric Doerr, General Manager at Microsoft, told ConsumerAffairs.

      Microsoft couched the incident as one of those “misconfigurations [that] are unfortunately a common error across the industry.” While that may be true, the company is reminding its customers that they should periodically review their computer settings to make sure they’re putting all available protections to good use.

      To its credit, the company has been very proactive in that regard. The latest protection comes with the latest version of Microsoft Edge and Bing which, supposedly, gives users more control over their personal data and more transparency into what information is being collected by websites or advertisers.

      If Microsoft didn’t have enough on its plate with malware and the overall mess that came out of Windows 10, then it probably does now. A new report indicat...
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      Reuters: Apple agreed to FBI request to drop plan for extensive encryption

      Sources say the tech giant has a closer relationship with law enforcement than in the past

      Apple has tangled with the FBI on some occasions over refusing to unlock suspects’ iPhones. But an investigation by Reuters claims the company shelved plans to let customers fully encrypt the backups of their devices when the FBI objected.

      Reuters cites six sources for its story. The news agency says Apple declined to comment, and the FBI did not respond to news media requests for comment.

      The Reuters report suggests Apple is now much more willing to aid law enforcement in gaining evidence against suspects, especially in cases involving violence and terrorism. While Apple has been a staunch defender of user privacy, law enforcement has called on the company to help bring criminals to justice.

      Last week, Attorney General William Barr called on Apple to remove encryption from two iPhones used by a Saudi Air Force officer who shot and killed three Americans at a Pensacola, Florida naval base last month.

      In congressional hearings, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have criticized the tech giant for preserving encryption on the accounts of people suspected in human trafficking and carrying out crimes against children.

      2015 terrorist incident

      Apple’s conflict with law enforcement burst into the open following the December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernadino, Calif. One of the shooters had an iPhone, and the FBI asked Apple to unlock it so law enforcement could see if the attack was part of a wider operation. Apple refused.

      The government took Apple to court to force the company to unlock the phone but later withdrew the complaint after it found an expert who was able to unlock the phone.

      Since then, Apple and law enforcement have apparently had a less adversarial relationship. The Reuters report says Apple informed the FBI two years ago that it planned to launch end-to-end encryption when storing iPhone data on iCloud.

      That meant Apple would no longer have the ability to unlock users’ encrypted data, so it would not be able to assist law enforcement in gaining access to suspects’ phones, even if it wanted to.

      Reuters reports that the FBI objected to the plan, warning Apple that the move would prevent law enforcement from protecting the public from criminals who used iPhones to communicate. According to sources, Apple dropped the encryption plan the following year.

      Apple has tangled with the FBI on some occasions over refusing to unlock suspects’ iPhones. But an investigation by Reuters claims the company shelved plan...
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      Why it may be harder to purchase a home in 2020

      Mortgage rates are still low but so is the inventory of available homes

      Consumers hoping to purchase a home in 2020 may find the task more difficult than they thought. Despite predictions that more homes would come onto the market, Zillow reports that the inventory of available homes hit a seven-year low in December.

      Actually, it might be longer than that since Zillow didn’t start collecting inventory data until 2013. For all practical purposes, inventory could be at an all-time low.

      As we reported 11 months ago, there was growing optimism that inventory levels were rising. Zillow says there was a widespread belief that more homes for sale would reverse the falling inventory trend, but the increase just didn’t last. Zillow attributes inventory gains to a temporary stock market dip and a spike in mortgage rates, two trends that are keeping buyers out of the market.

      But now mortgage rates have fallen to near-record lows, and consumer confidence posted gains throughout 2019. Realtors report a big increase in home traffic this month from buyers not willing to wait until spring. That might turn out to be a sound strategy since there may be fewer homes on the market by April.

      Inventory levels already falling

      Zillow reports inventory is down year-over-year in 31 of the 35 largest U.S. housing markets, with Seattle, San Diego, and Sacramento seeing the largest drawdowns. The exceptions to shrinking inventory are San Antonio, Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago -- the only markets where inventory actually increased over the last 12 months.

      "The end of 2019 looks a whole lot different than we might have expected at the beginning of the year," said Skylar Olsen, director of economic research at Zillow. 

      Not only are there fewer homes for sale, Olsen says that decline will likely cause prices to rise faster than they did last year, making affordability an issue for more buyers.

      The value of the median home grew 3.7 percent in 2019 to $244,054, a slight slowdown from the previous 12 months. Home values were up 6.5 percent in Phoenix, leading the nations. Columbus, Ohio and Charlotte, N.C. were close behind.

      Home values fell in only two markets, but they happened to be the nation’s most expensive markets -- San Jose and San Francisco.

      Continuing to rent is also an increasingly expensive option. Zillow reports the typical rent is $1,600, up 2.6 percent in 2019 but flat from November. Phoenix and Charlotte, two markets where home prices increased the most, also saw the biggest increases in rent last year.

      Consumers hoping to purchase a home in 2020 may find the task more difficult than they thought. Despite predictions that more homes would come onto the mar...
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      Lipari Foods recalls various wedge deli sandwiches

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Lipari Foods of Warren, Mich., is recalling various Premo and Fresh Grab wedge sandwiches.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, which began shipping on December 31, 2019, are being recalled:

      BrandProductLipari #SizeBBDLot #UPC
      Premo

      Ham & Cheese On Wheat

      915-5095 oz.1.23.203120-19126125100-02001
      PremoEgg Salad On Wheat915-5235 oz.1.23.203120-19126125100-02025
      PremoChicken Salad On Wheat915-5305 oz.1.20.203120-19126125100-02032
      PremoTuna Salad On Wheat915-5795 oz.1.23.203120-19126125100-02049
      Fresh GrabHam/American On Wheat252-6465 oz.1.23.203120-19126125100-02001
      Fresh GrabEgg Salad On Wheat252-9015 oz.1.20.20, 1.23.203120-19126125100-02025
      Fresh GrabChicken Salad On Wheat253-3775 oz.1.23.203120-19126125100-02032
      Fresh GrabTuna Salad On Wheat282-0225 oz.1.23.203120-19126125100-02049
      Fresh GrabTurkey No Cheese On Wheat253-4455 oz.1.23.203120-19126125100-02100
      Fresh GrabHam/American On White253-4795 oz.1.23.203120-1912612510-093962

      The products were distributed exclusively by Lipari Foods to food service and retail stores throughout Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may call Lipari customer service at (800) 729-3354, from 8:15 am – 4:30 pm (EST) Monday through Friday.

      Lipari Foods of Warren, Mich., is recalling various Premo and Fresh Grab wedge sandwiches.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes....
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks

      The vehicles may have an incorrect Tire Pressure Monitoring System

      Chrysler is recalling 34 model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks.

      An incorrect Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) sensor could have been installed during production causing the sensor to not display the low tire pressure warning indicator.

      Without a warning indicator, the driver may be unaware if low tire pressure occurs, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the TPMS sensor free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 31, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is VE1.

      Chrysler is recalling 34 model year 2019 Ram 1500 trucks.An incorrect Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) sensor could have been installed during pr...
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2005-2006 Dodge Vipers

      Airbags and/or seat belt pretensioners may deploy inadvertently

      Chrysler is recalling 3,329 model year 2005-2006 Dodge Vipers.

      The Occupant Restraint Control (ORC) module may inadvertently deploy the airbags and/or seat belt pretensioners.

      The unexpected deployment of the airbags and/or seat belt pretensioners increase the risk of injury and a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the ORC module free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 31, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is VE4.

      Chrysler is recalling 3,329 model year 2005-2006 Dodge Vipers.The Occupant Restraint Control (ORC) module may inadvertently deploy the airbags and/or s...
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      Hackers collect and publish thousands of smart device login credentials

      The breach underscores the importance of securing your smart home devices

      How secure is your smart home? It’s a question you might be asking after a hacker has published a list of Telnet logins for a half-million servers, as well as home routers and smart devices, sometimes referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).

      Telnet is an application protocol used on an internet network to provide text-oriented communication abilities using a virtual terminal connection.

      According to tech site ZDNet, the hacker published the list on a hacker forum and included each device’s IP address, along with the username and password, potentially giving readers easy access to the compromised device.

      That information can be used to take remote control of the compromised devices. Computers can be used to send out millions of spam emails. Smart devices, such as thermostats and garage door openers, can be used to carry out denial of service attacks on websites, making them inaccessible for short periods of time.

      Denial of service attack

      In 2016, hackers took control of millions of smart devices around the world to carry out such attacks against major websites, such as Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter.

      Dyn, the sites' common DNS provider, conducted an investigation that showed that many of the compromised smart devices had been infected with a malware called Mirai, which is a botnet. This attack was directed at Dyn, but the threat to individual consumers is just as possible and, in many ways, more invasive. 

      A year later, security software firm Trend Micro reported a steady increase in the number of attacks on smart appliances, interfering with individuals’ use of their lights, home security systems, thermostats, and even TVs and baby monitors.

      The hacker who published the latest list said the login credentials were easy to come by because they had either not been changed from the factory default or had been changed to easy-to-guess passwords like “1-2-3-4.”

      How to protect yourself

      There are steps consumers should take to protect their smart devices and any device that connects to the internet. Norton Security reports the threat is much more personal than simply allowing your device to be taken over and used by a hacker.

      It notes that smart devices in the home are data collectors and the personal information collected and stored with these devices, such as your name, age, health data, location and more, can aid criminals in stealing your identity.

      You can protect yourself by installing reputable and highly rated internet security software on your computers, tablets, and smartphones. Use strong and unique passwords for device accounts, Wi-Fi networks, and connected devices. 

      Also, do some research when you are shopping for a smart device. These devices collect a lot of personal data. While collecting data isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you should know about what types of data these devices collect, how it’s stored and protected, if it is shared with third parties, and the policies or protections they offer in the event of a data breach.

      How secure is your smart home? It’s a question you might be asking after a hacker has published a list of Telnet logins for a half-million servers, as well...
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      Model year 2018-2019 Chrysler Pacificas recalled

      The rearview camera may not function as intended

      Chrysler is recalling 20,441 model year 2018-2019 Pacificas equipped with an 8.4 inch radio display, 360 degree surround view camera system, and seat back video screens.

      A software error can cause the rearview camera image to remain displayed on the radio after the vehicle has been shifted out of reverse.

      The lingering rearview image can distract the driver, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will update the radio software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 31, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is VE2.

      Chrysler is recalling 20,441 model year 2018-2019 Pacificas equipped with an 8.4 inch radio display, 360 degree surround view camera system, and seat back...
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      Volkswagen recalls model year 2019 Jetta GLIs, Golf Alltracks, and Golf GTIs

      There may be excessive stress on the wheel, wheel bolts, or wheel bearings

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling eight model year 2019 Jetta GLIs, Golf Alltracks, and Golf GTIs.

      The front wheel bearings may have been improperly machined, potentially causing excessive stress on the wheel, wheel bolts, or wheel bearings.

      Excessive stress can cause steering, traction or other stability issues or breakage relating to the front wheels, and increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Owners of the recalled vehicles are advised not to drive them until the repairs have been made.

      Volkswagen has notified owners, and dealers will replace the wheel bearing assemblies, wheels and wheel bolts free of charge.

      The recall began December 11, 2019.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 40P1.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling eight model year 2019 Jetta GLIs, Golf Alltracks, and Golf GTIs.The front wheel bearings may have been imprope...
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      2019: The Year of the Robocall

      Despite a couple of good months, 2019 turned out much worse than people thought when it came to robocalls

      According to the YouMail Robocall Index, there were 58.5 billion robocalls in 2019, marking a 22 percent increase over 2018 and a troublesome 92 percent hi..

      NBCUniversal joins the streaming wars with the launch of Peacock

      The base tier of the new streaming service will be free for all consumers

      NBCUniversal is joining the streaming sweepstakes, announcing the launch of a new video service called Peacock. 

      The service, which will debut later this year, is made up of three tiers: a limited content package that will be free, a premium tier that will contain ads, and an ad-free platform.

      Peacock will offer more than 600 movies and 400 series, as well as live and on-demand content across news, sports, late-night, and reality. 

      Parent company Comcast is one of the nation’s largest cable TV providers, so the new service appears carefully designed not to cannibalize that revenue. Peacock Free will be available to everyone at no charge so there’s less pressure for cord-cutting.

      Over 7,500 hours of programming

      Peacock’s free tier will offer more than 7,500 hours of NBCUniversal programming. Subscribers will get next-day access to current seasons of new broadcast series, complete classic series, popular movies, curated daily news, and sports programming that includes Olympics coverage.

      Peacock Premium is another ad-supported tier but costs $4.99 a month. It will include about twice the amount of content offered on the free tier. It will be provided at no charge to 24 million Comcast and Cox subscribers.

      The third tier is just like Peacock Premium but without ads. That will be provided to subscribers for $9.99 a month. The service will be available to Comcast and Cox subscribers in April and will roll out for all other consumers in July.

      “This is a very exciting time for our company, as we chart the future of entertainment,” said Steve Burke, chairman of NBCUniversal. “We have one of the most enviable collections of media brands and the strongest ad sales track record in the business. Capitalizing on these key strengths, we are taking a unique approach to streaming that brings value to customers, advertisers and shareholders.”

      Following Disney

      Peacock follows the wildly successful launch of Disney+ in late 2019. Sandwiched in between AppleTV+ at $4.99 a month and Netflix’s basic service at $8.99 a month, Disney+’s initial price is $7 per month. Because Disney now owns Hulu and already had ESPN in its portfolio, consumers who add in services from either of those two channels will get an extra $5 off, creating a $13 a month bundle for Disney+, Hulu (with ads), and ESPN Plus.

      Disney says it has signed-up more than 10 million subscribers to its new video service since launching in early November. Peacock has now made the streaming field even more crowded.

      While more options are good for consumers, it may be an even bigger challenge to figure where to spend a monthly subscription budget. For its 13th annual Digital Media Trends survey released in March 2019, Deloitte surveyed more than 2,000 digital consumers across the U.S. and found that nearly half said the rapidly growing market for streaming services is causing them to experience “subscription fatigue.”

      Deloitte’s survey showed strong growth in streaming video subscription services, with 69 percent of households now subscribing to one or more.

      NBCUniversal is joining the streaming sweepstakes, announcing the launch of a new video service called Peacock. The service, which will debut later thi...
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      Motorists got a break at the gas pump this week

      The average gas price made its biggest one-week decline in more than a month

      Gasoline supplies remain plentiful and motorists are filling up less, so the price at the pump is finally trending downward.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.56 a gallon, four cents less than last Friday. The price is back in line with where it was a month ago. The average price of premium is $3.16 a gallon, two cents less than last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $3 a gallon, a penny less than a week ago.

      A variety of factors kept gas prices slightly elevated into the end of 2019 and the beginning of this year. Oil prices were volatile and demand during the holidays was heavier than normal. Now, things seem to be returning to normal.

      The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday that total supplies of gasoline rose by 6.7 million barrels last week. Consumers tend to drive less in the winter months, and that trend appears to be reasserting itself.

      “Growing stocks — amid lower demand — have helped ease pump prices, lowering the national average,” AAA said in its latest market update.

      In a tweet, GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan notes that total U.S. gasoline stockpiles “have never been this high so early in the year, already 3 million barrels ahead of last year and far ahead of the 10-year average of ~239 million barrels for the 2nd week of Jan.”

      As a result, some states enjoyed a sizable drop in fuel prices over the last week. The average price of regular is 10 cents a gallon less in Kentucky and Michigan.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.66)

      • California ($3.53)

      • Washington ($3.12) 

      • Nevada ($2.99)

      • Oregon ($2.99) 

      • Alaska ($2.98)

      • Arizona ($2.83)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.80)

      • New York ($2.71)

      • Utah ($2.64) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($2.19)

      • Oklahoma ($2.25)

      • Texas ($2.26)

      • Mississippi ($2.27)

      • Kansas ($2.28)

      • Arkansas ($2.28)

      • Louisiana ($2.29)

      • South Carolina ($2.32)

      • Alabama ($2.33)

      • Tennessee ($2.34)

      Gasoline supplies remain plentiful and motorists are filling up less, so the price at the pump is finally trending downward.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey s...
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      Toyota recalls model year 2019 Prius vehicles

      The speedometer, odometer and fuel gauge may go blank

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 3,751 model year 2019 Prius vehicles.

      An electrical short circuit in the combination meter could occur, causing the speedometer, odometer and fuel gauge to go blank.

      A blank main display will not show important information like vehicle speed or fuel level. Driving with an inoperative display can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the flash memory chip (ROM) production date, and if necessary, replace it along with the combination meter circuit board free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 3, 2020.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at (888) 270-9371. Toyota's numbers for this recall are 19TA21 and 19TB21.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 3,751 model year 2019 Prius vehicles.An electrical short circuit in the combination meter could o...
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      Baby Trend recalls Tango Mini Strollers

      The stroller’s hinge joints can release and collapse under pressure

      Baby Trend of Fontana, Calif., is recalling about 2,000 Tango Mini Strollers.

      Both of the stroller’s hinge joints can release and collapse under pressure, posing a fall hazard to children in the stroller.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves four models of black Tango Mini Strollers, each with its own model number and identifiable by a uniquely colored bonnet top sold in Quartz Pink (Model Number ST31D09A), Sedona Gray (Model Number ST31D10A), Jet Black (Model Number ST31D11A) and Purest Blue (Model Number ST31D03A).

      Model numbers are printed in black on a white sticker located on one of the stroller’s legs.

      The strollers, manufactured in China, were sold at Amazon.com, Target stores and online at www.target.com from October 2019, through November 2019, for between $100 and $120.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled strollers and contact Baby Trend for a replacement or full refund.

      Consumers may contact Baby Trend at (800) 328-7363 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by e-mail at info@babytrend.com or online at www.babytrend.com and click on “Safety Notices” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Baby Trend of Fontana, Calif., is recalling about 2,000 Tango Mini Strollers.Both of the stroller’s hinge joints can release and collapse under pressur...
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      Limena recalls Salvadorean String Cheese (Quesillo Cheese)

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Limena of Palm Springs, Fla., is recalling its 1 lb. (16-oz.) blocks of Salvadorean String Cheese (Quesillo Cheese).

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product, which comes in clear plastic vacuum package with a blue and white label marked with lot #1041020 on the top and no expiration date, was sold by retail stores and through mail orders.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard the it.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (561) 541-5206, Monday – Friday, 8 am – 6 pm (EST).

      Limena of Palm Springs, Fla., is recalling its 1 lb. (16-oz.) blocks of Salvadorean String Cheese (Quesillo Cheese).The product may be contaminated wit...
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      Credit card use is up 7 percent in the last five years

      But cash is unlikely to disappear from the economy

      The number of U.S. consumers using credit cards has increased 7 percent over the last five years, according to a new report from Packaged Facts.

      The report’s authors say credit card use usually goes up during good economic times. Steady economic growth and an increasingly healthy job market in recent years have helped to provide a widening pool of credit-worthy credit card customers, and good times have encouraged them to spend.

      Another factor driving increased credit card us is e-commerce, which is taking an increasingly bigger market share of retail and which is made much easier with payment cards.

      The report found that consumers increasingly favor general-purpose credit cards over so-called private-label credit cards. This suggests that, after several years of growth, private label cards may now be less popular with consumers.

      A private label credit card is a store-branded card that is meant to be used at a specific store. These cards are managed by a bank or commercial finance company for retailers like department and specialty stores and for some airlines.

      The trend of going cashless

      The growth in credit card use may also suggest the continuation of the trend of consumers paying for virtually everything using plastic. A 2018 Pew Research Center study found that 29 percent of U.S. adults said they make no purchases using physical currency during a typical week, up from 24 percent in 2015.

      “Most notably, adults with an annual household income of $75,000 or more are more than twice as likely as those earning less than $30,000 a year to say they do not make any purchases using cash in a typical week (41% vs. 18%),” Pew said in a release.

      “Conversely, lower-income Americans are about four times as likely as higher-income Americans to say they make all or almost all of their purchases using cash (29% vs. 7%),” the Center said.

      More consumers can qualify

      The higher income group is also more likely to have a bank account and to be able to qualify for a credit card. Packaged Facts’ report showing credit card use is rising could also mean that consumers who previously couldn’t qualify now can.

      But a 2019 report from Origin, Hill Holliday’s independent research arm, suggests most consumers aren’t ready to give up cash completely. The survey found that 76 percent of consumers still carry some cash, even if they mostly use other methods to pay for things. Fifty-five percent said they “hated” the idea of completely abandoning cash.

      Most merchants -- particularly small businesses -- also prefer that their customers pay with cash because payment cards always carry some type of fee.

      The number of U.S. consumers using credit cards has increased 7 percent over the last five years, according to a new report from Packaged Facts.The rep...
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      Foreclosure filings hit a 15-year low in 2019

      The current housing market bears little resemblance to the early 2000s

      You may have seen headlines declaring that another housing crisis is right around the corner. What those stories probably won’t tell you is that foreclosures, which triggered the last crisis, are at an all-time low.

      Real estate data provider ATTOM Data Solutions reports that foreclosure activity in 2019 fell 21 percent from the year before and was down 83 percent from the peak in 2010. It was at its lowest level last year since the company began tracking the data in 2005.

      "The continued decline in distressed properties is one of many signs pointing to a much-improved housing market compared to the bad old days of the Great Recess

      But that doesn’t mean the market is perfectly balanced, because it isn’t. Because of a shortage of housing, prices have risen faster than incomes, and affordability has become an issue in many markets. Teta notes that foreclosure starts increased in about a third of the nation's metro housing markets in 2019. Nationally, the number also ticked up a bit in December.

      "While that's not a major worry, it's something that should be watched closely in 2020," he said.

      Not very similar to the 2008 crisis

      When some real estate articles warn of another housing crisis, they usually base that fear on rapidly rising home prices, pointing out that was the pattern during the housing bubble. But that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

      During the bubble days, builders were putting up new homes as fast as they could. Mortgage brokers would loan money to anyone whether they could afford the house or not. The broker didn’t care because they would sell the mortgage within days to a big bank that would securitize it and sell it on Wall Street. Everyone kicked the can down the street.

      The whole house of cards began to tumble when the new homeowners, who couldn’t afford the homes they purchased, defaulted on their loans and triggered a wave of home foreclosures, causing property values to plunge.

      Tougher loan standards

      Today, mortgage underwriters are much stricter than during the bubble days. They don’t write a mortgage unless they are convinced the buyer will be able to afford it.

      The reason for the recent rise in home prices is very different from the factors that drove home prices higher in the early 2000s. Since the housing crash, builders have produced new homes at about half the rate they did before the crash, leading to a housing shortage.

      More buyers competing for fewer available homes has caused prices to go up. If builders were to start producing more entry-level homes, there’s no doubt that prices would moderate.

      If foreclosures are the canary in the housing market’s coal mine, that bird continues to sing a happy tune. Not only are overall foreclosure filings 83 percent lower than their 2010 peak, but bank repossessions are also down 86 percent.

      You may have seen headlines declaring that another housing crisis is right around the corner. What those stories probably won’t tell you is that foreclosur...
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      Toyota recalls C-HRs, Corollas and Corolla Hybrids

      The seat belt webbing sensor locking mechanism may not lock as intended

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 9,468 model year 2019-2020 C-HRs, and model year 2020 Corollas & Corolla Hybrids with rear seat belt assemblies with a dual-mode locking mechanism.

      The seat belt webbing sensor locking mechanism may not lock as intended.

      In the event of a crash involving multiple impacts, the seat belt may not properly restrain the occupant, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear seat belt assembly production dates, and replace the assemblies, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 3, 2020.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at (888) 270-9371. Toyota's numbers for this recall are 19TB22 and 19TA22.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 9,468 model year 2019-2020 C-HRs, and model year 2020 Corollas & Corolla Hybrids with rear seat belt...
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      BMW recalls M5s, M8 Gran Coupes, M8 Coupes and M8 Convertibles

      The transmission wiring harness can become damaged

      BMW of North America is recalling 3,012 model year 2019-2020 M5s and model year 2020 M8 Gran Coupes, M8 Coupes and M8 Convertibles.

      The transmission wiring harness can become damaged, resulting in an electrical short circuit.

      An electrical short circuit can cause the transmission to shift into neutral resulting in a loss of propulsion, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace any damaged transmission harnesses. All harnesses will be rerouted and secured. These repairs will be performed free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 3, 2020.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 3,012 model year 2019-2020 M5s and model year 2020 M8 Gran Coupes, M8 Coupes and M8 Convertibles.The transmission wir...
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      Delta soars while American falls in another ranking of the best and worst airlines

      The loser of the bunch isn’t crying foul, though. It owns up to its mistakes and says it won’t put passengers through it again

      When ConsumerAffairs recently flew to Las Vegas for CES 2020, we were hopeful that the promises the airlines had been making were going to be in full view. Not so much…

      The customer service on American Airlines (AA) was rather pedestrian, and the onboard snacks were less-than-snack’ish (but, thank you, AA, for the otherwise pricey sandwiches for free after we journeyed to what seemed like the last departure gate on earth). Yep, it’s winter, which caused delays and extended arrival times as much as six hours. But, it appears our experience isn’t a one-time thing.

      From worst...

      In the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) Best and Worst Airlines of 2019, Scott McCartney, WSJ’s Middle Seat columnist, puts American at the bottom of the rankings, which makes the airline a basement dweller going on three times in the last five years. 

      But in all fairness, American probably has the right to cry foul since it went through not only the 737 MAX issue but a push-come-to-shove contract dispute with its mechanics. That six-month long dispute only made matters worse when the domino effect of an average of 50 planes out of service, cancellations and delays, and stranded travelers started tumbling.

      “We would not take our passengers and team members through it again,” David Seymour, senior vice president of operations at American, said. Fingers crossed, David.

      ...to first

      What airline did McCartney think deserved first place? He gives it to Delta, as he has now for three years running.

      McCartney noted that despite the weather and congestion, Delta raised its on-time arrival rate to 83.4 percent, up from 82.9 percent in 2018. That put Delta ahead of oft-awarded Alaska Airlines in the on-time category and 10 points ahead of last place finisher Frontier, a carrier that ConsumerAffairs reviewers consider more average than bad. It’s encouraging to read that Delta doesn’t use weather as an excuse where its peers might. 

      “While the weather itself is out of our control, how we react to that weather, plan for that weather and work through that weather is certainly within our control,” Dave Holtz, Delta’s senior vice president over the airline’s operations center, told the WSJ.

      Delta showed improvement in other areas, too, like cancellation rate. According to McCartney’s stats, Delta canceled just 0.7 percent of its flights in 2019 versus the industry average of 1.85 percent, down from 0.9 percent the previous year. On the flipside, Southwest, American and United all had cancellation rates higher than the average.

      The Atlanta-based airline appears to be committed to staying ahead of the pack. Its CEO reaffirmed that commitment only last week at CES 2020.

      Where’s Hawaiian?

      When ConsumerAffairs saw McCartney’s picks, the first thing that came to mind was where the heck was Hawaiian Airlines given all the high marks other rankers have given it in regards to flight delays, safety, and overall satisfaction.

      “If included, Hawaiian would be No. 1,” McCartney said, “But Hawaiian has a big chunk of its business in short hops between islands where the weather is, well, paradise. Such limited exposure to the mainland distorts comparisons. Hawaiian argues it should be included because it faces maintenance issues, baggage handling, crew scheduling and other aspects just like any other airline.”

      When ConsumerAffairs recently flew to Las Vegas for CES 2020, we were hopeful that the promises the airlines had been making were going to be in full view....
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      IRS reminds first-time filers that Free File might be their best and easiest option

      It’s also the quickest way to get a return if you’re due for one

      Do you remember the first time you had to file a tax return? For most first-timers, it was a daunting array of too many boxes and what-exactly-are-they-asking-for numbers to track down.

      Maybe -- just maybe -- the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has turned a sympathetic ear to the demographic it’s going to have to deal with for the next 50+ years. As an entry point, the agency has upped its promotion of IRS Free File, a tax return specifically designed for first-time filers and part-time workers. 

      The IRS says Free File might be the perfect thing for people looking to save money on federal tax preparation or trusting Uncle Sal to work his magic. It also means free electronic filing and free direct deposit, which the agency says is the fastest way to get a refund.

      "Doing your taxes may seem a bit overwhelming, but it's not. Free File does the hard work for you. The software finds the right forms, finds any tax benefits and does all the math," said Ken Corbin, commissioner of the IRS' Wage and Investment division. "Here's a key tip: have all your income records like your Form W-2 ready before you start."

      Step-by-step

      Free File is best-suited to users under age of 30 with modest incomes and a limited list of deductions. For 2020, the Free File adjusted gross income limit is $69,000. Here's how it works:

      1. On a computer or mobile device (yes, the IRS has made things mobile- and tablet-friendly) go to IRS.gov/freefile to see all Free File options.

      2. You can use the Lookup Tool to help choose a Free File offer to file your taxes for free online. All that takes is a couple of minutes to answer a handful of simple questions about income, age, any applicable military pay, and state residence to find out which offers are available for you.

      3. You may notice offers from tax prep services like H&R Block or TurboTax -- partners that, according to the IRS, set their own eligibility standards generally based on income, age and state residency. As an added plus, two products are in Spanish. 

      As a side note, it may be helpful to do some extra homework about the tax prep services the IRS is partnered with. A good place to start might be ConsumerAffairs “Best Tax Software and Services” guide. If you search for “free file” on each company’s listing, you might find other consumer reviews or input from ConsumerAffairs’ Tax Software team.

      1. Next, you’ll pick a provider and follow the links to their site to begin filling out your tax return.

      And, like that, you’re done!

      Getting ready

      Yes, there’s some work involved in getting File Free-ready, but it’s generally simple stuff. Here’s what you should have ready:

      • Before anything else, check with your parents to make sure they are not claiming you as a dependent. If they are, then you can’t claim yourself as a dependent, too. 

      • Social Security number.

      • Wage and income information (i.e. Form W-2 or Form 1099.) The IRS reminds filers that parts of college scholarships or grants may be taxable income.

      • Documentation for all tax credits and deductions. That stuff is shifting sand territory at the IRS, so while some of what worked last year might be good-to-go in 2020, it would be a smart move to call the IRS and confirm what is and isn’t.

      • For any and all electronic tax returns, filers are required to use their prior-year adjusted gross income as part of their electronic signature. “If you are a first-time filer over the age of 16, simply enter 0 (zero) as your prior-year income for signature purposes. If you filed before, your prior-year tax return will show your adjusted gross income,” advises the agency.

      • And, by all means, get your bank account and routing number. The fastest way to get a refund is through direct deposit to a financial account.

      And, remember…

      The IRS isn’t the vulture it used to be portrayed as. It’s actually very accommodating and ready to help where it can. Consumers can get a list of phone numbers and times the IRS takes calls here

      Keep in mind that the IRS has gone through a long, protracted cutback, and there’s fewer agents to help than there were in the past. Given that, there can be a wait depending on when you file, so if you’re reading this in late March, you might want to grab a snack.

      Do you remember the first time you had to file a tax return? For most first-timers, it was a daunting array of too many boxes and what-exactly-are-they-ask...
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      McDonald’s to add MSG to its new chicken sandwich

      Analysts suggest it means McDonald’s is serious about competing in the chicken sandwich wars

      McDonald’s has signaled that it’s serious about competing in the chicken sandwich wars. It’s added monosodium glutamate (MSG) to chicken sandwiches at more than 230 of its outlets in Texas and Tennessee, where it is test marketing the new product. 

      MSG was once widely used in Chinese restaurants to enhance flavor, but it fell out of favor after a since-discredited study linked it to wide-ranging health issues. If you think McDonald’s is taking a risk by adding it to its chicken sandwich, consider this: both Popeye’s and Chick-Fil-A add the ingredient to theirs.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given MSG a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation. The FDA has discounted the popular misconception that MSG can cause headaches and other feelings of discomfort after blind studies failed to find evidence of that reaction.

      A McDonald’s spokesperson told CBS News that customers who have tried the chicken sandwich have had no complaints. 

      "So far, our customers in Houston and Knoxville have had a positive response to the test of our Crispy Chicken Sandwich and Deluxe Crispy Chicken sandwich,” the spokesperson said. “Feedback and insights from the test will inform our decisions moving forward."

      Cindy Goody, McDonald's chief nutritionist, said customers can always find information about ingredients and nutritional value to help them make “informed food choices when they order from the McDonald's menu." 

      Keeping up with Popeye’s

      McDonald’s has been under pressure from franchisees to counter the popularity of the crispy chicken sandwiches offered at rival Popeye’s and Chick-Fil-A. Over the summer and fall, Popeye’s new sandwich was wildly popular and caused a social media sensation.

      The competition to sell fried chicken sandwiches may suggest a reversal in a recent trend toward more healthy food choices. Kentucky Fried Chicken reportedly changed its name to KFC, in part, to de-couple from the word “fried.” 

      Chick-Fil-A, Popeye’s, and now McDonald’s seem to be embracing it. According to FastFoodNutrition.org, Popeye’s chicken sandwich contains 699 calories, with 55 percent of them from fat.

      McDonald’s has signaled that it’s serious about competing in the chicken sandwich wars. It’s added monosodium glutamate (MSG) to chicken sandwiches at more...
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      Model year 2006-2010 Ford, Mercury and Lincoln vehicles recalled

      The valves within the ABS Hydraulic Control Units may not close properly

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 600,166 model year 2006-2010 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr & MKZ vehicles.

      The valves within the ABS Hydraulic Control Units (HCU) may react with brake fluids containing specific corrosion preventative additives. This reaction may cause the valves to not close properly.

      If the valves do not properly close, additional brake pedal travel may be required to stop the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will flush the brake system with DOT 4 fluid and install a new brake fluid reservoir cap.

      In addition, the HCU will be tested to detect a possible stuck valve condition, replacing the HCU as necessary.

      All services will be performed free of charge.

      Owners were notified of the safety risk with an interim letter on January 13, 2020.

      A second notice will be sent once parts are available, expected to be late in the first quarter of 2020.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 19S54.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 600,166 model year 2006-2010 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr & MKZ vehicles.The valves within the ABS Hyd...
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      FiveStar Gourmet Foods recalls fresh produce snacks

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      FiveStar Gourmet Foods is recalling MiniMeal2Go-ProteinPacks and MiniMeal2Go- AvocadoToast.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no reports of illness to date.

      The items, which come in a 6/8.25-oz and 6/6.75-oz clear plastic package marked with specific lots and expiration dates from December 26, 2019, through January 6, 2020, are being recalled. A full list can viewed on the FDA's site here.

      The recalled products were sold in Meijer supermarkets only in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard them.

      Customers with questions may contact FiveStar Gourmet Foods at (877) 546-8763, Monday – Friday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm (PST).

      FiveStar Gourmet Foods is recalling MiniMeal2Go-ProteinPacks and MiniMeal2Go- AvocadoToast.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes...
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      Meijer recalls diced hard boiled eggs

      The product be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Meijer is recalling frozen hard-boiled egg products used on two salad bars at two stores in Michigan.

      The product be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses are reported to date

      The recalled product, DICED EGGS FROZEN, 5-LB UPC – 79379900993, was sold between October 25 and December 23, 2019, at:

      • The Knapps Corner Meijer at 1997 East Beltline Road in Grand Rapids, Mich., and
      • The Rockford Meijer at 2799 10 Mile Road NE in Rockford, Mich.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard or return it to the nearest Meijer store for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Meijer at (800) 543-3704, 24/7.

      Meijer is recalling frozen hard-boiled egg products used on two salad bars at two stores in Michigan.The product be contaminated with Listeria monocyto...
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      The cost of living rose slightly in December

      The Labor Department reports that 2019’s inflation rate was 2.3 percent

      The Labor Department reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI), the chief way it measures inflation, rose 0.2 percent in December, a slowdown from the 0.3 percent rise the month before.

      Taking the previous 11 months into consideration, the official inflation rate for all of 2019 was 2.3 percent, in line with the Federal Reserve’s target. Even so, it was the largest 12-month increase in prices since 2018.

      But whether or not you felt financially stressed last month all depends on what you purchased. The cost of gasoline, housing, and health care all went up last month, accounting for most of the increase in the overall CPI.

      The food index, which measures costs for food consumed at home and in restaurants, also went up by 0.2 percent. When food and energy are removed from the equation, prices rose just 0.1 percent.

      The monthly report shows that consumers also paid more last month for clothing, car insurance, new vehicles, and recreation. They paid less for used cars and trucks, household furnishings and operations, and airline fares.

      Energy led the increase

      Energy costs made the biggest move last month, primarily due to rising gasoline prices. The energy index was up 1.4 percent in December, its third straight increase. 

      Energy was driven higher by a 2.8 percent jump in the gasoline component, as prices at the pump drifted higher at a time they were predicted to fall. By the end of the year, the average price of gasoline was about 36 cents a gallon higher than the year before.

      Food costs were pushed higher by increases in prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. It was the only grocery store group to go up in price, rising 1.3 percent. Within that group, beef and eggs posted the largest increases.

      Analysts say the overall inflation number, which remains tame, is likely to persuade the Fed that it’s on the right course and there should be no adjustment in interest rates, at least in the near term.

      The Labor Department reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI), the chief way it measures inflation, rose 0.2 percent in December, a slowdown from the 0.3 per...
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      Nearly 700,000 Toyota and Lexus vehicles recalled

      The fuel pump may stop operating

      Toyota is recalling about 696, 0000 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2018-2019 Lexus LS 500s, LC 500s, RC 350s, RC 300s, GS 350s, IS 300s, ES 350s, LX 570s, GX 460s, & RX 350s
      • Model year 2019 Lexus NX 300s, RX 350Ls, & GS 300s
      • Model year 2018-2019 Toyota 4Runners, Camrys, Highlanders, Land Cruisers, Sequoias, Siennas, Tacomas, & Tundras, and
      • Model year 2019 Toyota Avalons and Corollas.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with a fuel pump that may stop operating.

      If this were to occur, warning lights and messages may be displayed on the instrument panel, and the engine may run rough.

      This can result in a vehicle stall, and the vehicle may be unable to be restarted. If a vehicle stall occurs while driving at higher speeds, this could increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      A remedy is currently under development.

      Owners will be notified by first class mail by mid-March and work will be done free of charge.

      Owners may contact Toyota at (800) 331-4331 or Lexus at (800) 255-3987.

      Toyota is recalling about 696, 0000 of the following vehicles: Model year 2018-2019 Lexus LS 500s, LC 500s, RC 350s, RC 300s, GS 350s, IS 300s, ES 35...
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      Honda recalls model year 2019-2020 CR-Vs

      The rear subframe could separate, disabling the vehicle

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 358 model year 2019-2020 CR-Vs.

      The rear subframe bolts were improperly manufactured and may loosen, allowing the rear subframe to separate.

      A separated rear subframe reduces vehicle handling and can suddenly disable the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear subframe bolts and retorque them or replace them, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 17, 2020.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is R6M.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 358 model year 2019-2020 CR-Vs.The rear subframe bolts were improperly manufactured and may loosen, allowing the...
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      If you’re looking for a job, your prospects still look good

      The job market is still pretty strong to start 2020

      The initial reaction to December’s employment report from the Labor Department was disappointment. Analysts were expecting a bigger number.

      Total non-farm payrolls increased by 165,000 last month, but that was about 20,000 fewer than the consensus estimate. The economy added 266,000 jobs in November, well ahead of the consensus estimate of 187,000. That may have raised expectations for December.

      Frank Steemers, associate economist at The Conference Board, says there’s little reason for disappointment because the jobs market ended 2019 and enters 2020 on a solid footing.

      “In 2019, the unemployment rate reached its lowest point since the late 1960s and job growth was strong with an average of 176,000 jobs added per month – just over 20 percent slower than the average of 223,000 in 2018,” Steemers said. “The labor market performance in 2019 should therefore be considered a significant achievement after an economic expansion of over ten years.”

      Good news for job seekers

      That’s good news for people looking for jobs. Even if job growth tapers off in the new year, the labor market is likely to remain tight, with employers eager to hire and retain qualified employees. Demographics have something to do with it.

      “The working-age population is barely growing and labor force participation rates are only slowly increasing,” Steemers said. “Employers hiring blue-collar and manual services workers will have a harder time recruiting and retaining current employees.”

      Steemers says these workers can also expect to see stronger wage growth in the months ahead. In fact, he says overall wage growth is slowing only because wages are growing much more slowly for highly educated workers.

      Factories are having such a difficult time filling jobs that they are offering unheard-of incentives. The Wall Street Journal reports that manufacturers are paying relocation costs and signing bonuses to persuade workers to move to take their jobs. Even then, The Journal reports that a half-million factory jobs remain unfilled.

      Unemployment rate at 3.5 percent

      In December, the unemployment rate held at 3.5 percent, and the number of unemployed consumers was unchanged at 5.8 million. A year earlier, the jobless rate was 3.9 percent, and the number of unemployed consumers was 6.3 million.

      In December, 41,000 people got jobs in retail, the strongest month of the year. But healthcare remained one of the strongest employment sectors, adding 28,000 in December and 399,000 for the year.

      Professional and business services, which had been the biggest employer in 2018, continued to slow its pace of hiring. It added only 10,000 jobs in December and 397,000 for the year, down from 561,000 in 2018.

      The initial reaction to December’s employment report from the Labor Department was disappointment. Analysts were expecting a bigger number.Total non-fa...
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      FAA seeks to fine Southwest for improper weight and balance data

      Bad data could lead to balance and stability issues while in the air

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines over what it says were incorrect calculations when it came to weight and balance sata. 

      The agency alleges that Southwest used this incorrect data while operating flights between May 1, 2018 and August 9, 2018. The time period covered a total of 21,505 flights by 44 aircraft. 

      Regulators note that weight-related data is often used by airlines to determine how many passengers and how much fuel can be safely carried. It also determines where cargo should be stored on airplanes. Having incorrect information could cause instability during flight, which increases risks for passengers.

      The FAA says that Southwest has 30 days to respond to its enforcement letter. For more information on the airline, and to read consumer reviews, visit ConsumerAffairs’ site here.

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines over what it says were incorrect calculations when i...
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      Volkswagen recalls model year 2013-2015 Jetta Hybrids

      The vehicle could suffer a decrease in transmission pressure

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 2,167 model year 2013-2015 Jetta Hybrids with a DQ200 7-Speed DSG Automatic Transmission.

      Hairline cracks can develop within the transmission electronic gearbox (mechatronic unit), causing an internal transmission oil leak and a decrease in oil pressure.

      A decrease in transmission oil pressure can cause the clutch to fail to engage, resulting in a sudden loss of drive power, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will update the transmission software free of charge. The software remedy is currently under development.

      The recall is expected to begin February 4, 2020.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 34J6.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 2,167 model year 2013-2015 Jetta Hybrids with a DQ200 7-Speed DSG Automatic Transmission.Hairline cracks can d...
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      Thesaurus Global Marketing recalls tricycles

      Paint on the canopy’s frame contains excessive levels of lead

      Thesaurus Global Marketing of Doral, Fla., is recalling about 370 Little Bambino 4-in-1 canopy children’s tricycles.

      Paint on the canopy’s frame and tricycle components contain levels of lead that exceed the federal lead content ban.

      Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health issues.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves Little Bambino 4-in-1 canopy children’s tricycles that can be used as a push stroller or a push, training and classic tricycle.

      They were sold in blue, pink or red and have a back handle, an elongated back rest, a basket, a canopy and a bell on the front handle. The Little Bambino logo is on the front of the tricycle.

      Model BW204 and UPC code 653981740030, 653981740092, 653981740108, 656857123326, 656857123333 or 656857123340 can be found on the product packaging.

      The tricycles, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Amazon.com from October 2018, through June 2019, for between $97 and $130.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled tricycles, take them away from children and contact Thesaurus Global Marketing for a full refund, including the cost of shipping. Amazon is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Little Bambino toll-free at (866) 633-8202 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at info@shoplittlebambino.com or online at or online at www.shoplittlebambino.com for more information.

      Thesaurus Global Marketing of Doral, Fla., is recalling about 370 Little Bambino 4-in-1 canopy children’s tricycles.Paint on the canopy’s frame and tri...
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      Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams recalls non-frozen dessert

      The product may contain milk, an allergen not declared on the label

      Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is recalling three batches of Cold Brew with Coconut Cream Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert pints.

      The product may contain milk, an allergen not declared on the label.

      The firm has received one complaint of an allergic reaction.

      The recalled product, with batch codes, 19-016, 19-086 and 19-154, was sold in grocery stores nationwide, Jeni’s scoop shops, and online at jenis.com.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it and send a photo showing the batch code to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams for an exchange or full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company (614) 488-3224 from 9am to 5pm (ET) Monday through Friday, or by email at contact@jenis.com.

      Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is recalling three batches of Cold Brew with Coconut Cream Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert pints.The product may contain milk, an a...
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      Boeing employees believed early on that the 737 MAX was primed for disaster

      Internal documents show that some thought the plane must have been ‘designed by clowns’

      Since two fatal crashes involving its 737 MAX jets occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, things have been going downhill for Boeing. The company has had its planes grounded, and the timeline for getting them back in the air continues to stretch out. 

      But as regulators continue to delve into the details of the planes and their shortcomings, a new set of internal documents sent to Congress by Boeing on Thursday show that many company employees had little faith in the 737 MAX’s ability to fly safely in the first place.

      Many of the messages within the documents were sent between Boeing employees, and they show that there were lingering doubts about whether the planes deserved to be certified for commercial use. 

      “Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee said to another in a 2018 exchange. “No,” the other employee replied.

      Designed by clowns

      Other messages contained in the documents are much more troubling. In many instances, sentiments shared between employees were much more harsh than a simple rhetorical question. 

      One employee described the 737 MAX as being “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” Perhaps even more worrying were messages sent by other company officials about making sure that simulator training for the aircraft was not required. 

      “I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition. Boeing will not allow that to happen. We’ll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement,” the company official said.

      Currently, Boeing has stopped production of the 737 MAX until regulators at the FAA deem that it is safe to return to the air. Regarding the internal documents, Boeing stated that the exchanges between its employees are not reflective of the company’s stance as a whole.

      “We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them. We have made significant changes as a company to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture,” the company said. 

      Since two fatal crashes involving its 737 MAX jets occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, things have been going downhill for Boeing. The company has had it...
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      Gas prices are slightly higher on conflict with Iran

      But U.S. fuel supplies are plentiful and demand is falling

      Oil prices have been volatile in response to the growing threat of military conflict between the U.S. and Iran, and prices at the gas pump have moved slightly higher in the last week.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.59 a gallon, a penny higher than last Friday. The price is 36 cents higher than at this time in 2019. The average price of premium is $3.18 a gallon, also a penny more than last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.01 a gallon, the same as last week.

      Crude oil prices spiked as high as $65.55 in after-hours trading on Tuesday, but price increases have since pulled back, with WTI closing at $59.61 on Wednesday after President Trump signaled that military action will remain on hold for a while.

      Wholesale gas prices have also fluctuated, with prices rising in some states but falling in others. The result has been a minimal rise in the national average.

      “While there is still clear geopolitical tension, there is no immediate threat to crude supply domestically or globally that can support a sustained increase to crude oil prices or domestic wholesale gasoline prices,” AAA said in its latest market update.

      The fact that retail gasoline demand weakened in the last seven days and fuel supplies grew is helping to keep fuel prices stable.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.66)

      • California ($3.54)

      • Washington ($3.14) 

      • Nevada ($3.01)

      • Oregon ($3.01) 

      • Alaska ($3.00)

      • Arizona ($2.83)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.83)

      • New York ($2.72)

      • Utah ($2.67) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($2.22)

      • Oklahoma ($2.28)

      • Mississippi ($2.28)

      • Kansas ($2.30)

      • Texas ($2.29)

      • Arkansas ($2.30)

      • Louisiana ($2.32)

      • Alabama ($2.36)

      • South Carolina ($2.37)

      • Virginia ($2.38)

      Oil prices have been volatile in response to the growing threat of military conflict between the U.S. and Iran, and prices at the gas pump have moved sligh...
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      GM recalls model year Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500s

      A possible battery issue could cause a vehicle stall

      General Motors is recalling 350,371 model year 2019-2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks.

      The battery positive (B+) cable rings may have been manufactured with excessive glue, potentially causing an intermittent electrical connection between the B+ cable and alternator.

      An intermittent electrical connection between the B+ battery cable and the alternator could cause the vehicle to stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

      The intermittent connection could also lead to electrical arcing, which could generate sufficient heat to damage surrounding material, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect for the presence of glue or other contamination at the B+ cable attachment to the alternator and clean the connection and reattach the B+ cable connection, as necessary.

      If arcing has damaged the cable, nut, or alternator, the dealer will replace the damaged components free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 27, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020 or GMC customer service at (888) 988-7267. GM's number for this recall is N192273510.

      General Motors is recalling 350,371 model year 2019-2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks.The battery positive (B+) cable rings may...
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      J&J Distributing recalls Kowalksi salads

      The products contain pine nuts, an allergen not declared on the label

      J&J Distributing of St. Paul, Minn., is recalling approximately 136 pounds of ready-to-eat Kowalksi salads.

      The products contain pine nuts, an allergen not declared on the label.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following ready-to-eat products that also contain meat and were produced from December 21 – 27, 2019, are being recalled:

      • 14-oz. plastic sealed cartons containing “KOWALSKI’S MARKETS SICILIAN CHOPPED SALAD” with a “SELL BY” sticker placed on the carton with dates of 12/27 through 01/02 (inclusive).
      • 14-oz. plastic sealed cartons containing “KOWALSKI’S MARKETS ITALIAN STEAKHOUSE COBB SALAD” with a “SELL BY” sticker placed on the carton with dates of 12/27 through 01/02 (inclusive).

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 38450” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in Minnesota.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Ron Carkoski at (651) 292-3822.

      J&J; Distributing of St. Paul, Minn., is recalling approximately 136 pounds of ready-to-eat Kowalksi salads.The products contain pine nuts, an allergen...
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      Subaru recalls thousands of vehicles with airbag issue

      The airbag inflators may explode due to propellant degradation

      Subaru of America is recalling more than 750 K of the following vehicles:

      • model year 2009-2013 Foresters, model year 2003-2006 Bajas, model year 2004-2011 Imprezas, model year 2004-2014 WRXs (STI included), model year 2003-2014 Legacys & Outbacks, and model year 2005-2006 Saab 9-2Xs originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands or "Zone A,"
      • model year 2009-2013 Foresters, model year 2003-2006 Bajas, model year 2004-2011 Imprezas, model year 2004-2014 WRXs (including STI), model year 2003-2014 Legacys & Outbacks, and model year 2006 Saab 9-2Xs originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia or "Zone B," and
      • model year 2009-2013 Foresters, model year 2003-2006 Bajas, model year 2004-2011 Imprezas, model year 2004-2014 WRXs (including STI), model year 2003-2014 Legacys & Outbacks, and model year 2006 Saab 9-2Xs originally sold, or ever registered, in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming or "Zone C."

      These vehicles had their passenger front airbag inflators previously replaced under prior recalls using inflators of the same design. The inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity, temperature and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Subaru will notify its owners, while General Motors will notify Saab owners. Dealers will replace the passenger airbag inflators with alternate inflators, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in January 2020.

      Subaru Owners may contact Subaru customer service at (844) 373-6614. Saab owners may contact the Saab customer assistance center at (800) 955-9007. Subaru's numbers for this recall are TKA-20, TKB-20 and TKC 20.

      Subaru of America is recalling more than 750 K of the following vehicles: model year 2009-2013 Foresters, model year 2003-2006 Bajas, model year 2004...
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      Veggie Noodle Co. recalls Cece’s Fresh Veggie Ramen with Chicken Broth

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Veggie Noodle Co. is recalling its Cece’s Veggie Co. brand Fresh Veggie Ramen with Chicken Broth.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no reports of illness

      The recalled product which comes in an 11.5-oz. container with UPC 5228700653 was sold at retail stores nationally.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Veggie Noodle at (512) 200-3337 Monday -- Friday, 9 AM t-- 5 PM (CT) or by email at info@cecesveggieco.com.

      Veggie Noodle Co. is recalling its Cece’s Veggie Co. brand Fresh Veggie Ramen with Chicken Broth.The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocyto...
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      Great American Deli recalls egg salad sandwiches

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Great American Deli of Ooltewah, Tenn., is recalling GAD #114 Egg Salad Sandwiches.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no reports of illnesses to date.

      The following lots of the 4.8-oz. recalled products, with UPC: 7-41431-00114-2, are being recalled: 19094, 19107, 19129, 19155, 19158, 19218, 19237, 19259, 19274, 19297, 19304, 19310, 19322, 19336.

      The recalled products may have been sold at convenience stores, micro markets and vending machines in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

      What to do

      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 (800) 343-1327 Monday – Friday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM (ET).

      Great American Deli of Ooltewah, Tenn., is recalling GAD #114 Egg Salad Sandwiches.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.The...
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      Delta Airlines chief makes a new, tech-oriented commitment to its customers

      His appearance at CES is the first keynote by any airline executive

      Delta Airlines Chief Executive Ed Bastian took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Tuesday to reaffirm that Delta senses technology is an extremely important conduit between consumers and the airline.

      In the new world where more and more companies are keeping in touch with consumers via tech, Delta became the first airline to keynote CES. Airlines don’t typically show up at confabs like an electronics show because they might still be thinking that a free beverage, a baby-sized snack, a skimpy blanket, and a less-than-comfy pillow is all the traveler really needs to be happy. Au contraire, mon frère.

      Walk the walk, talk the talk

      Bastian’s blueprint for the future of travel as it relates to tech pretty much falls in line with what ConsumerAffairs uncovered in the CES session on Smart Tourism -- that, done correctly, technology can redefine consumer expectations.

      “We see technology as a tool to further our mission of connecting people and creating opportunities,” he said. “We’re not chasing shiny objects or tech for the sake of being cool. We are dedicated to solving your travel problems and making your voyages – and your lives – easier.”

      Seamless integration

      It’s not likely that Bastian wrote the talking points for all the industry pundits in CES’ Smart Tourism, but they’re definitely on the same page when it comes to making travel more relaxing and less stressful. By anticipating a traveler’s needs and offering services that can take the stress out of travel, Bastian hopes that amenities like a ride to the airport and app-based support can help customers move forward on their trip seamlessly. 

      The specifics of Bastian’s game plan is pretty progressive compared to the dated and pay-for-everything attitude we’ve seen from much of the airline industry. He went on record as saying that he wants to digitize the flying experience with everything from machine learning and robotics in improving employee production to free Wi-Fi. He also mentioned a single-button approach that could allow travelers to binge watch TV shows so they can feel more like they’re at home. 

      A likely story

      Yes, you’ve heard airline brass make the oath of making the flying experience better before. Only last year, Oscar Munoz, the former CEO at United Airlines, said his airline was turning a leaf and taking a pro-consumer stance. With the recent reviews United has been given by ConsumerAffairs readers, Munoz’ promise may have come to fruition. But, overall, U.S.-based carriers simply don’t fare as well in the satisfaction department as their international counterparts

      As an example, some international carriers -- like Virgin Atlantic -- have gone the extra mile to make flights comfortable. One consumer --  “C.” of Laguna Woods, California, who has celiac disease -- wrote in a review of their Virgin Atlantic experience that they were “thrilled by the way my needs were accommodated. I also liked the areas where one could stand during a long flight.” 

      Delta appears committed

      If Bastian has his wish, Delta will start showing up at the top of airline best-ofs just like Virgin. Still, at the end of the day, whatever an airline promises has to pay off on the bottom line. 

      It’s anyone’s guess as to how long Delta’s “technology is there to serve our customers” refrain will last internally and externally or grow its bottom line. Until one of those benchmarks happens, Bastian says the company is committed to the “Delta Difference” and focused on building whatever tools it takes and whatever consumer trust is needed to take the airline to new heights.

      “The opportunities to better connect people across the world are truly endless,” he said. “Technology will help us do it even better.”

      Delta Airlines Chief Executive Ed Bastian took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Tuesday to reaffirm that Delta senses technology is an e...
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      Takata recalls 10 million front airbag inflators

      The inflators may explode due to propellant degradation

      Takata Corporation is recalling 10 million PSPI, PSPI-2, PSPI-6, PSPI-L, SPI, PSDI, PSDI-4, PSDI-5, and SDI non-desiccated, front airbag inflators containing phase stabilized ammonium nitrate (PSAN) propellant that were used as interim remedy parts for previous Takata recalls.

      The inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity, high temperatures, and high temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Numerous vehicle recalls will be announced by the affected vehicle manufacturers to replace the interim replacement airbag inflators with alternates as a permanent remedy.

      The recall began January 2, 2020.

      Takata Corporation is recalling 10 million PSPI, PSPI-2, PSPI-6, PSPI-L, SPI, PSDI, PSDI-4, PSDI-5, and SDI non-desiccated, front airbag inflators containi...
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      Reichel Foods recalls products with eggs

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Reichel Foods is recalling Pro2Snax to the Max Sliced Apples, Hard Boiled Egg, Mild Cheddar Cheese, Cashews & Dried Cranberries and Pro2Snax to the Max Sweet Gala Apples, Hard Boiled Egg, White Cheddar Cheese, Almonds & Dried Cranberries.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      Reichel Foods says no illnesses have been reported.

      The recalled products, with a “Best if Used By” date up to and including 01/26/20, were shipped to retailers nationwide.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Reichel Foods at (866) 372-2609, ext. 233.

      Reichel Foods is recalling Pro2Snax to the Max Sliced Apples, Hard Boiled Egg, Mild Cheddar Cheese, Cashews & Dried Cranberries and Pro2Snax to the Max Swe...
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      Volvo recalls S60, S60I, V60, S60CC and V60CC vehicles

      The doors may not close securely

      Volvo Car of USA is recalling 144,937 model year 2011-2017 S60, S60I, V60, S60CC and V60CC vehicles.

      A component within the door latches may break, making the doors difficult to latch and/or leading the driver or a passenger to believe a door is securely closed when, in fact, it is not.

      A door that is not latched securely could open while the vehicle is in motion, increasing the risk of injury to an occupant.

      What to do

      Volvo will notify owners, and dealers will replace all four door latches free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin January 4, 2020.

      Owners may contact Volvo customer service at (800) 458-1552. Volvo's number for this recall is R89978.

      Volvo Car of USA is recalling 144,937 model year 2011-2017 S60, S60I, V60, S60CC and V60CC vehicles.A component within the door latches may break, maki...
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      Dierbergs Markets recalls products containing eggs

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      St. Louis-based Dierbergs Markets is recalling various products containing hardboiled egg in all 25 of its retail stores.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses linked to Dierberg products have been reported to date.

      The following products, shipped to all Dierbergs Markets retail locations in eastern and central Missouri and western Illinois, are being recalled:

      Item Being Recalled DescriptionSizeUPCUse by Dates
      Dierbergs Kitchen Kosher Potato Salad 12OZ237534000001/12/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Kosher Potato Salad 2LB231175000001/12/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Kosher Potato SaladBulk by pound, Party Orders, Service Case234945000001/12/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Creamy Red Potato Salad 12OZ231168000001/12/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Creamy Red Potato Salad2LB231170000001/12/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Creamy Red Potato SaladBulk by pound, Party Orders, Service Case234920000001/12/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Deviled Egg Salad12 OZ232821000001/1/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Deviled Egg SaladBy Pound Service Case, Party Sandwiches233973000001/1/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Remoulade12oz Container23933301491/05/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Remoulade12oz Container246162000001/05/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen RemouladeBulk By Pound, Service Case246965000001/05/20 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Salad Togo Grilled Chicken Cobb SaladLarge239339322212/26/19 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Salad Togo Grilled Chicken Cobb SaladSmall239339319212/26/19 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Salad Togo Classic Ham & Turkey Chef SaladLarge239339321712/26/19 and earlier
      Dierbergs Kitchen Salad Togo Classic Ham & Turkey Chef SaladSmall239339321612/26/19 and earlier

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Dierbergs Markets at (636) 532-8884 Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4:30 pm (CDT).

      St. Louis-based Dierbergs Markets is recalling various products containing hardboiled egg in all 25 of its retail stores.The products may be contaminat...
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      Michelin recalls CrossClimate+ tires

      The tires are not marked with the required UTQG gradings

      Michelin North America is recalling 32 CrossClimate+ tires in size 225/60R16 103V XL with DOT date code 4618.

      The tires are not marked with the required UTQG treadwear, traction or temperature gradings.

      In addition, on the designated outboard sidewall and on the inboard sidewall, the “DOT” certification symbol, which precedes the Tire Identification Number (TIN) has not been molded into the sidewall.

      Without the proper markings, the tires may not be used in the appropriate driving conditions, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Michelin will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 30, 2020.

      Owners may contact Michelin customer service at (866) 324-2835.

      Michelin North America is recalling 32 CrossClimate+ tires in size 225/60R16 103V XL with DOT date code 4618.The tires are not marked with the required...
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      Gig operators protest new California law stating that drivers are employees, not contractors

      Getting to a win-win in this battle could take a very long time

      If someone walks like an employee and talks like an employee, then aren’t they an employee? California says yes.

      A new law in California (Assembly Bill 5 [AB 5]), which makes it more difficult for companies to hire workers as contractors, is getting pushback from gig economy businesses like food courier service Postmates and rideshare operators Uber and Lyft. These companies want things to stay as they were before 2020 rolled in, primarily for the cost savings on things like health insurance, which contractors weren’t entitled to.

      Food couriers and ride share companies aren’t the only ones raising a ruckus. In November 2019, the California Trucking Association went to bat for some 70,000 truck drivers in the state, filing a suit that challenged the law. A federal judge recently agreed that the law doesn't apply when it comes to independent truck drivers. 

      Other independent contractor types are also exempt from AB 5 -- medical and dental doctors, insurance agents, accountants, and others who generally work directly with customers and set their own prices. 

      Winners and losers

      When AB 5 was being debated on the California Assembly floor, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said in no uncertain words that gig companies are reaping the benefits of contract labor and the laborers are getting zilch.

      "The same week that workers had to go on strike because their per mileage fee was being cut, an investor was celebrating his $30,000 investment that became $120 million in one day," she said, pointing to the fact that it was the investors, not the drivers, who profited when Lyft went public. 

      "Something is wrong with the way that we have allowed these companies to operate. It's time to level the playing field. It's time to be honest with workers. It's time to be honest with companies.” 

      A larger section of people who live and die by the gig economy are parents who need the extra income to support their families.  

      "With this job, I have the freedom to work when I have time," Alfonso Martinez, who drives for Uber in the Sacramento area, told NPR. In Martinez’ situation, his Uber gig gives him a chance to provide for his school-aged children who have special needs.

      Fight to the finish?

      With California taking the lead on this issue -- as it does with many other things regarding consumer privacy -- other states and municipalities are likely to take notice. However, it could take some time to find a resolution that makes both companies and contractors feel like they’re getting a win-win.

      Uber operates in 600 cities and has nearly 4 million drivers; having to cough up money to pay for the kinds of benefits a normal employee would make would turn their revenue stream from black to red in a heartbeat. So, what does a company in Uber’s situation do vis-a-vis a law like AB 5? It files a lawsuit. Uber and Postmates both filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging AB 5.

      The assertion of equal protection violation comes from the large number of occupations exempted from AB 5. The “laundry list of exemptions,” is proof of its “irrationality,” the companies have argued.

      If someone walks like an employee and talks like an employee, then aren’t they an employee? California says yes.A new law in California (Assembly Bill...
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      Boeing hit with another concern on its 737 Max aircraft

      At the end of the day, pilots, Boeing builders, and consumers still need to feel safe

      We’re only days into the new year, but Boeing’s already wishing 2020 would go away.

      While the aircraft manufacturer thought it was finally out of the woods with all the problems it’s faced with its 737 Max, new issues with the jet have been raised.

      Before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would allow Boeing to put the Max back in the air, it asked the company to conduct a tooth-and-comb audit to make sure that it had sufficiently gone over the finer details of how long it could take a pilot behind the wheel of a Max to respond to emergencies, according to a senior engineer at Boeing as well as other people familiar with the situation.

      Uncovered in Boeing’s latest inspection was a possible issue with the wiring that helps control the tail of the aircraft -- one that could cause a short-circuit and lead to a crash if pilots didn’t respond to the problem correctly and in time. 

      The determining factor here is whether the scenario is likely and, if it is, what Boeing would have to do to keep it from happening in real life. If all it has to do is separate the wires, Boeing says that’s a relatively easy task, and it appeared ready to do that on all the hundreds of 737 Max already built.

      Boeing can’t afford to get it wrong… again

      Since 346 people died in 737 Max crashes, Boeing has bled money profusely -- to the tune of billions per day. Any further detours would certainly add more financial misery, not to mention loss of consumer trust and raised eyebrows at the FAA.

      “There are the human elements,” Peter Morris, chief economist at aviation consultancy Ascend/FlightGlobal, told the BBC. “The pilots and crew understand far more of the deep technical issues and will be understandably vociferous about the absolute integrity of the revised hardware, software and procedures. In the light of the evidence to date, they are likely to be very critical and need significant reassurance and explanation.”

      “While many passengers probably do not recognise their aircraft type, events like this inevitably get people talking. Any further incidents, even if slightly related to these issues, would be utterly disastrous for public opinion and really shake trust in aviation safety.”

      We’re only days into the new year, but Boeing’s already wishing 2020 would go away.While the aircraft manufacturer thought it was finally out of the wo...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls more than 700 k model year 2001-2011 vehicles

      The glass panel may detach from the sliding roof frame

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 744,852 model year 2001-2011 vehicles. A full list of the recalled vehicles may be found here.

      The bonding between the glass panel and the sliding roof frame may deteriorate, possibly resulting in the glass panel detaching from the vehicle.

      A detached glass panel can separate from the vehicle and become a road hazard, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the glass panel bonding and replace the sliding roof, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 14, 2020.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 744,852 model year 2001-2011 vehicles. A full list of the recalled vehicles may be found here.The bonding betwee...
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      Bakkavor Foods recalls Trader Joe’s Egg Salad and Potato Salad

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Bakkavor Foods USA is recalling Trader Joe’s Egg Salad and Trader Joe’s Old Fashioned Potato Salad.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no confirmed illnesses to date.

      The following products, which come in plastic cups and trays with SKU numbers printed on the labels and “USE BY” date codes on the top or bottom of the containers, are being recalled:

      Product

      Code Date

      Trader Joe’s Egg Salad 6 oz Cups
      UPC 0066 6695
      "USE BY "dates up through and including “12/27/19”
      Trader Joe's Old Fashioned Potato Salad, 20 oz Trays
      UPC 0032 1747
      "USE BY "dates up through and including “12/27/19”

      The recalled products were shipped to Trader Joe’s retail stores in Alabama, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Bakkavor Foods at (855) 312-7504, Monday through Friday 8:00P.M. - 5:00P.M. (PST).

      Bakkavor Foods USA is recalling Trader Joe’s Egg Salad and Trader Joe’s Old Fashioned Potato Salad.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monoc...
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      BMW recalls Z4 M40i, Z4 sDrive30i, 330i, 330i xDrive and Toyota Supra vehicles

      The headlight control units may fail

      BMW of North America is recalling 245 model year 2020 Z4 M40i, Z4 sDrive30i, 330i and 330i xDrive vehicles, and model year 2020 Toyota Supras.

      The headlight control units may fail causing a loss of one or both of the headlights.

      Headlight failure can reduce the driver's visibility, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the headlight control units free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 17, 2020.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at (800) 525-7417 or Toyota customer service at (888) 270-9371.

      BMW of North America is recalling 245 model year 2020 Z4 M40i, Z4 sDrive30i, 330i and 330i xDrive vehicles, and model year 2020 Toyota Supras.The headl...
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      American Airlines will share Boeing 737 MAX compensation with employees

      The move follows a similar action by Southwest Airlines

      American Airlines is one of three domestic carriers adversely affected by the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. It will likely be compensated by Boeing, and the airline this week served notice that it would share that compensation with its employees.

      American, along with Southwest and United, have lost money because they had to cancel and consolidate flights that used the 737 MAX. The aircraft has been grounded since March after a second fatal crash in five months.

      While the grounding has been costly for the airlines, employees have also suffered financial loss. As the airlines have canceled flights, it has meant less overtime for employees and less opportunity for growth.

      American hasn’t yet specified how it will share its expected compensation from Boeing with its employees because it doesn’t yet know how much it will receive. Southwest, Turkish Airlines, and Icelandic Airlines have reached agreements with Boeing, but negotiations with American are ongoing.

      “As we’ve said before, we expect American will be compensated for the lost earnings that the Max grounding has caused,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein told CNBC. “We anticipate that part of any compensation American receives will be eligible for profit sharing for our team.”

      737 MAX remains grounded

      In late 2019, American estimated the grounding of the aircraft would result in losses of $540 million in pretax income for the year. The losses could go much higher since there is no clear indication of when the planes will return to service. American and Southwest have removed the 737 MAX from all schedules through April, and United has canceled MAX flights through June.

      American is following the example of Southwest Airlines, which reached an agreement on compensation with Boeing last month and announced it would share $125 million of that with its employees.

      Meanwhile, there is no concrete timetable for returning the 737 MAX to the air. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has pointedly said that it will determine that date with little to no input from Boeing. The agency is requiring the manufacturer to complete an audit of the software updates it has made and test the revised system in flight simulators with a number of different pilots.

      After that, pilots for airlines flying the Boeing 737 MAX must undergo a new round of flight training. 

      American Airlines is one of three domestic carriers adversely affected by the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. It will likely be compensated by Bo...
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      FDA finalizes rules banning many e-cigarette flavors

      The agency hopes the new policy will make the products less popular among teens and children

      Reports in recent weeks have suggested that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was getting ready to ban a litany of flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes. On Thursday, those speculations became reality as the agency finalized its enforcement policy on the issue.

      In a press release, the agency said its decision is motivated by the desire to stem the tide of youth vaping in the U.S., which has been called an “epidemic” by officials.

      “The United States has never seen an epidemic of substance use arise as quickly as our current epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes,” said Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar. 

      “By prioritizing enforcement against the products that are most widely used by children, our action today seeks to strike the right public health balance by maintaining e-cigarettes as a potential off-ramp for adults using combustible tobacco while ensuring these products don’t provide an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for our youth.”

      Policy takes place within 30 days

      The FDA says that the new policy will be enforced within 30 days after it has been submitted to the Federal Register for publication. After that time, the agency says that it will begin enforcement actions against illegal electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) that fit the following description:

      • Any flavored, cartridge-based ENDS product (other than tobacco- or menthol-flavored ENDS product);

      • All other ENDS products for which the manufacturer has failed to take (or is failing to take) adequate measures to prevent minors’ access; and 

      • Any ENDS product that is targeted to minors or likely to promote use of ENDS to minors.

      In other words, the agency will aggressively pursue legal action against companies who sell e-cigarettes or e-liquids that have flavors other than tobacco and menthol, and it will be paying special attention to how products are marketed to young people.

      “Coupled with the recently signed legislation increasing the minimum age of sale of tobacco to 21, we believe this policy balances the urgency with which we must address the public health threat of youth use of e-cigarette products with the potential role that e-cigarettes may play in helping adult smokers transition completely away from combustible tobacco to a potentially less risky form of nicotine delivery,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn.

      Reports in recent weeks have suggested that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was getting ready to ban a litany of flavored cartridge-based e-cigarett...
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      Lowe’s to hire more than 50,000 employees to kick off spring season

      The company is hosting hiring events across the company over the next few months

      The holiday shopping season is over, so many retailers will be winding down their hiring to start 2020. But Lowe’s is already looking ahead to its busy spring retail season. 

      The company announced on Thursday that it will be hiring over 53,000 full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers to fill out more than 1,700 stores across the U.S. this spring. To get ready, Lowe’s says it will be holding hiring events over the next three months in different U.S. regions.

      “Lowe’s stores in Florida, Southern California and Hawaii, as well as parts of Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Texas, Alabama, and Georgia, where spring weather typically arrives earliest, will host the first walk-in hiring events from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8,” the company said in a press release. “Candidates may receive on-the-spot offers during this open interview process.”

      Getting ready for a busy spring season

      Lowe’s plans to hold four other hiring events into early March to cover the rest of its stores in other U.S. regions. Those are scheduled to take place on Jan. 15, Feb. 5, Feb. 19, and March 4. For a full rundown of where these events are taking place, consumers can visit the company’s event page here.

      Seasonal positions that will be filled during these events include cashiers, lawn and garden associates, stockers, and loaders. The company notes that around half of all seasonal workers typically convert into permanent workers. 

      Part- and full-time positions also include supervisors, sales specialists, and customer service and merchandise service associates. 

      “Spring is the busiest season for home improvement projects and a great time to launch a new career at Lowe’s,” said Jennifer Weber, Lowe’s executive vice president of human resources. “As part of our strategy to better serve customers and operate our stores more efficiently, these hiring events will help us build the right teams at the right times across the U.S. to meet customer demand as they plan for spring.”

      The holiday shopping season is over, so many retailers will be winding down their hiring to start 2020. But Lowe’s is already looking ahead to its busy spr...
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      Gas prices start 2020 by moving higher

      Heightened military tension between the U.S. and Iran could raise them even more

      Despite forecasts that prices at the pump would fall in late December and early 2020, the price of gasoline has started the new year moving higher. New tensions in the Middle East may cause even higher prices in the weeks ahead.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.58 a gallon, three cents higher than a week ago. Regular now sells for an average 33 cents a gallon more than a year ago. The average price of premium is $3.17, also three cents higher than last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $3 a gallon, a penny more than last week.

      The average was largely driven higher by sharp increases in prices in the Midwest and Southeast. Prices rose 11 cents a gallon in Michigan and 9 cents a gallon in Ohio. All of the top 10 states with the cheapest gas -- mostly located in the Southeast -- saw prices at the pump rise in the last week.

      “The majority of states saw gas prices increase in the last week – some by as much as a nickel to a dime, but any spikes in gas prices that motorists are seeing will be short-lived,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “AAA expects gas prices to decrease following the holidays.”

      But Casselano’s comment came hours before a U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s top general in an airstrike on Iraq’s Baghdad Airport. The airstrike was in retaliation for the Iranian sponsored attack and siege on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

      Oil prices surged in overnight trading, with Brent crude prices approaching $70 a barrel and poised to go higher. 

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.66)

      • California ($3.55)

      • Washington ($3.16) 

      • Nevada ($3.03)

      • Oregon ($3.02) 

      • Alaska ($2.97)

      • Arizona ($2.83)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.79)

      • New York ($2.71)

      • Utah ($2.71) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($2.22)

      • Oklahoma ($2.26)

      • Mississippi ($2.28)

      • Kansas ($2.28)

      • Texas ($2.29)

      • Arkansas ($2.29)

      • Louisiana ($2.32)

      • Alabama ($2.35)

      • South Carolina ($2.36)

      • Virginia ($2.37)

      Despite forecasts that prices at the pump would fall in late December and early 2020, the price of gasoline has started the new year moving higher. New ten...
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      Ford recalls model year 2020 Explorers and Lincoln Aviators

      The vehicle may leak fuel, posing a fire risk

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 3,857 model year 2020 Explorers and Lincoln Aviators.

      Over time, the protective sleeve on the vapor fuel line may chafe through the plastic liquid fuel line and cause a fuel leak.

      A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will install a longer protective sleeve on the liquid fuel line, as necessary, free of charge.

      Owners will be notified of the safety risk with an interim letter on January 20, 2020. A second notice will be sent once parts are available, expected late in the first quarter of 2020.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 19S49.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 3,857 model year 2020 Explorers and Lincoln Aviators.Over time, the protective sleeve on the vapor fuel line may chafe...
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      Advance Pierre Foods recalls ready-to-eat beef patties

      The product may contain small, green soft plastic pieces

      Advance Pierre Foods of Cincinnati, Ohio, is recalling approximately 15,739 pounds of ready-to-eat beef patties.

      The product may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically small, green soft plastic pieces.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following frozen item, produced on September 11, 2019, is being recalled:

      • 15.09 lb. frozen, bulk-packed cases containing “CN FULLY COOKED FLAMEBROILED BEEF PATTIES” with product code 69097 on the case label.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “Est. 2132” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to a single distribution location in Iowa. The warehouse then distributed the product to institutions -- including schools.

      While the product was distributed to schools, it resulted from a commercial sale and was not part of the food provided by the USDA for the National School Lunch Program.

      The recalled product was not sold in retail stores.

      What to do

      Institutions that purchased the recalled product should not serve it, but discard or returned it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Worth Sparkman at (479) 290-6358.

      Advance Pierre Foods of Cincinnati, Ohio, is recalling approximately 15,739 pounds of ready-to-eat beef patties.The product may be contaminated with ex...
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      Ashland Sausage recalls pork sausage

      The product may be contaminated with hard, dark plastic pieces

      Ashland Sausage of Carol Stream, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,092 pounds of natural casing pork sausage.

      The product may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically pieces of hard, dark plastic.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions

      The following ready-to-eat (RTE) item, produced on November 14, 2019, is being recalled:

      • 12-oz. plastic packages containing 5 pieces of “BERKSHIRE NATURAL CASING SAUSAGE” with lot code S318.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 21549” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in Illinois and New York.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard or return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Paul Podgorski at (630) 690-2600.

      Ashland Sausage of Carol Stream, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,092 pounds of natural casing pork sausage.The product may be contaminated with extr...
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      Qantas takes home the trophy as 2020’s safest airline

      Safety is important, but there are fliers who aren’t all that happy with Qantas’ customer service

      What’s the safest airline to fly? Once again, it’s Qantas, according to AirlineRatings.com, an airline safety and product rating website.

      In its Top Twenty Safest Airlines 2020, AirlineRatings used data from more than 400 different airlines it monitors and focused entirely on the operational aspects of each one, not how comfortable its seats are or what kind of snacks it hands out.

      In framing how the list was determined, AirlineRatings.com Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas emphasized that each airline was a “standout” when it comes to safety, innovation, and launching of new aircraft. 

      “For instance, Australia’s Qantas has been recognized by the British Advertising Standards Association in a test case as the world’s most experienced airline,” Thomas said.

      The Top 20 Safest Airlines 2020

      In pecking order, here’s how AirlineRatings Top 20 shakes out:

      1. Qantas

      2. Air New Zealand

      3. EVA Air

      4. Etihad

      5. Qatar Airways

      6. Singapore Airlines

      7. Emirates

      8. Alaska Airlines

      9. Cathay Pacific Airways

      10. Virgin Australia

      11. Hawaiian Airlines

      12. Virgin Atlantic Airlines

      13. TAP Portugal

      14. SAS

      15. Royal Jordanian

      16. Swiss

      17. Finnair

      18. Lufthansa

      19. Aer Lingus

      20. KLM

      Cheers and jeers both for Qantas

      If you’re in charge of managing the safety of passengers on long routes like Qantas flies, you’d better have your act together.

      “Qantas has been the lead airline in virtually every major operational safety advancement over the past 60 years and has not had a fatality in the jet era,” Thomas added. “But Qantas is not alone. Long established airlines such as Hawaiian and Finnair have perfect records in the jet era.”

      While Qantas takes home the trophy for safety, there are some travelers who just aren’t fans of how they’re treated on the service end.

      In reviews on ConsumerAffairs, the complaints range from delays to rudeness and even response time. One consumer complained about an issue they perceived with Qantas’ follow-through on reserve seating.

      “Do Not Fly Qantas Airlines. They are a scam promising to reserve preferred seating,” David of Maple Ridge, British Columbia complained. “I paid a lot of money 11 months ahead of time for preferred seating and day of flight. They assigned me to worst seats on plane. Said sorry it happens, and refunded me the difference. No amicable agreed solution.”

      What’s the safest airline to fly? Once again, it’s Qantas, according to AirlineRatings.com, an airline safety and product rating website.In its Top Twe...
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      FDA ready to ban fruit-flavored e-cigarettes, report says

      The compromise measure wouldn’t affect open tank devices with tobacco and menthol flavors

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spent the better part of 2019 stepping up the pressure on e-cigarettes. This year, the FDA may move from pressure to outright bans of certain types of “vaping” devices.

      The Wall Street Journal cites “people familiar with the matter” as saying the agency will move within days to ban fruit-flavored cartridge e-cigarettes because they are believed to be most appealing to children and young adults. The move would allow the continued sale of tobacco and menthol-flavored tank system devices.

      According to the Journal report, the FDA, which has expressed increasing concern about teen use of vaping devices, had to compromise with other elements of the Trump administration because of political concerns.

      Political non-starter

      An outright ban on e-cigarettes that some favored was seen as a political non-starter because it would cause too much discontent during an election year. An outright ban was also seen as a potential economic blow to small businesses.

      Since the objective is to discourage teen vaping, the compromise was viewed as workable because teens prefer the flavored cartridge systems like Juu. Open tank devices are typically favored by older adults who are using e-cigarettes in an attempt to quit smoking.

      The report says the FDA could announce the ban within days. It would follow a move by Congress two weeks ago to raise the legal age for purchasing both tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21.

      Former commissioner began the campaign

      The FDA’s campaign against e-cigarettes began under former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who resigned in early March. At the beginning of last year, Gottlieb called the growing teen use of e-cigarettes “an epidemic” and first raised the possibility of an outright ban if surging teen use continued.

      “I still believe e-cigs offer an opportunity for currently addicted adult smokers to transition off cigarettes and onto products that may not have the same level of risks,” Gottlieb wrote in a tweet last January. “But if youth use continues to rise, the entire category faces an existential threat.”

      Gottlieb singled out Juul for special criticism as he left office in April, saying there is no question the company bears some responsibility for the surging levels of teen vaping. 

      Gottlieb cited research showing that an estimated 37 percent of high school seniors have tried e-cigarettes. A quarter of youth users told researchers they didn’t realize the products contain nicotine.

      In November, Juul voluntarily stopped selling mint-flavored products. Previously, it halted sales of its mango, creme, and cucumber flavors. With mint dropped from its offerings, Juul now only offers tobacco and menthol flavors. 

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spent the better part of 2019 stepping up the pressure on e-cigarettes. This year, the FDA may move from pressure to...
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