Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.

ISSUE #1274

Ensuring Kitchen Safety: A Guide to Food Handling Practices

We all love a good meal that's not only delicious, but also safe to eat. That's why kitchen food safety is crucial to prevent harmful bacteria and contaminants from ruining our meals and putting our health at risk. By following these simple food safety practices, you can whip up mouth-watering meals with confidence and peace of mind.

Also This Month...

Homebuyers: How To Save Thousands of Dollars When You Buy

When you analyze successful homebuyers who have been able to purchase the home they want for thousands of dollars below a seller's asking price, some common denominators emerge. Although your agents negotiating skills are important, there are three additional key factors that must come into play long before you ever submit an offer.


Protect Your Appliances From Power Surges

Imagine this: outside, a thunderstorm is in full force, with lightning flashing across the sky and thunder echoing in the distance. Meanwhile, you're snug inside your home, catching up on your favorite movie while enjoying a snack from the microwave. Suddenly, a sharp crack pierces the air, and the power flickers out. You try to restart your appliances, but they remain stubbornly inert. What just transpired?

Quick Links
Ensuring Kitchen Safety: A Guide to Food Handling Practices
Homebuyers: How To Save Thousands of Dollars When You Buy
Protect Your Appliances From Power Surges



Ensuring Kitchen Safety: A Guide to Food Handling Practices

Are you confident that your kitchen is up to the challenge of maintaining food safety standards? We all savor the taste of a well-prepared meal, but ensuring it's not just delicious but also safe to eat is paramount. With our handy guide, you can confidently navigate kitchen food safety, safeguarding your meals and your health. Here's what you need to know:

Cleanliness: A pristine kitchen is the cornerstone of food safety. Start by washing your hands before and after handling food, and regularly sanitize surfaces, utensils, and dishes with hot, soapy water.

Separation: Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meats, poultry, and seafood separate from other foods. Utilize separate cutting boards, utensils, and storage containers, and always refrigerate these items promptly.

Cooking Temperatures: Ensure thorough cooking to kill harmful bacteria by using a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, and seafood. Follow recommended cooking times and temperatures diligently.

Storage: Proper storage is key to inhibiting bacterial growth. Keep perishable foods refrigerated or frozen, and utilize ice packs or coolers for picnics or BBQs.

Expiration Dates: Prioritize checking expiration dates on food products and discard anything past its prime or showing signs of spoilage.

By incorporating these practices into your routine, you can guarantee that the meals prepared in your kitchen are not only delicious but also safe and healthy. Let's not view food safety as a daunting task but rather as an integral part of our culinary endeavors, ensuring enjoyment without compromise.

Assess Your Kitchen Practices. Take this quick quiz to gauge your household's food safety practices


1. The refrigerator in my home maintains a temperature of:
a. 50°F (10°C)
b. 41°F (5°C)
c. I'm unsure; I haven't checked.

2. When we have leftover cooked food with meat, chicken, or fish, we:
a. Allow it to cool at room temperature before refrigerating.
b. Refrigerate it immediately after serving.
c. Leave it at room temperature overnight or longer.

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

4. After using a cutting board to chop raw meat, poultry, or fish, we:
a. Reuse it without cleaning.
b. Wipe it with a damp cloth.
c. Wash it with soap and hot water.
d. Wash it with soap and hot water, then sanitize it.

5. When consuming hamburgers at home, I prefer them:
a. Rare
b. Medium
c. Well-done

6. When handling cookie dough at home, it is:
a. Made with raw eggs, and I sample it.
b. Store-bought, and I sample it.
c. Not sampled until baked.

7. I clean kitchen counters and surfaces with:
a. Water
b. Hot water and soap
c. Hot water and soap, then bleach solution
d. Hot water and soap, then commercial sanitizing agent

8. Dishes in my home are washed:
a. By an automatic dishwasher and air-dried.
b. Left to soak in the sink and then washed with the same water.
c. Washed promptly with hot water and soap, then air-dried.
d. Washed promptly with hot water and soap, then immediately towel-dried.

9. After handling raw meat, poultry, or fish, I clean my hands by:
a. Wiping them on a towel.
b. Rinsing them under tap water.
c. Washing with soap and warm water.

10. Meat, poultry, and fish products are defrosted in my home by:
a. Setting them on the counter.
b. Placing them in the refrigerator.
c. Microwaving.

11. When buying fresh seafood, I:
a. Purchase refrigerated or well-iced fish from reputable dealers.
b. Refrigerate or freeze it immediately upon arrival.
c. Occasionally buy directly from local sources.

12. Individuals with certain health conditions should be cautious about consuming raw seafood, including those with:
a. Diabetes
b. HIV infection
c. Cancer
d. Liver disease


- 24 points: Confident in your kitchen's food safety.
- 12 to 23 points: Reevaluate your practices for potential improvements.
- 11 points or below: Immediate action required to rectify unsafe practices.


1. Answer B. Maintaining your refrigerator at a temperature range of 35-38°F (1.7-3.3°C) is optimal. This range effectively inhibits spoilage and the proliferation of harmful bacteria. Remember to regularly monitor both the temperature settings and door seals to avoid unintended fluctuations that could compromise freshness.

2. Answer B. Don't waste those delectable leftovers! Remember, once cooked food reaches room temperature, it's best to refrigerate it promptly, ideally within 2 hours of cooking. Why the urgency? Well, lingering too long at room temperature can create a haven for harmful bacteria, inviting foodborne illnesses. Stay proactive and give those germs the cold shoulder by chilling your food promptly!
Keep in mind the temperature danger zone for food, which falls between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C). Minimize exposure of your food to this range to thwart bacterial growth. When storing cooked dishes in the fridge, opt for airtight containers to prevent cross-contamination, and aim to consume them within a few days for optimal freshness and safety.

3. If answer A best describes your household's practice, give yourself two points. Give yourself one point if you chose B. Maintain a pristine kitchen sink by implementing these essential cleaning practices. Start by sanitizing your sink drain weekly, using baking soda and vinegar or a commercial cleaner to eliminate food residue and grease buildup. Similarly, show your garbage disposal some care with a weekly cleaning routine, employing ice cubes and vinegar or lemon juice to dislodge any stubborn particles. For extra sanitation, consider using a specialized cleaner designed for disposal units. And don't forget about the connecting pipe—while less frequent, giving it a deep clean every few months with baking soda and vinegar or a commercial cleaner will ensure a fresh-smelling kitchen.
Keep in mind that the frequency of cleaning may vary depending on your sink and disposal usage. Should you notice any unusual odors or buildup, adjust your cleaning schedule accordingly to maintain a clean and hygienic kitchen environment.

4. Answer D. Keep your cutting board clean and bacteria-free by following these steps. After chopping raw meat, poultry, or fish, scrape off any remaining food, then wash the board with hot, soapy water, scrubbing it thoroughly. To sanitize, either soak the board in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or wash it in the dishwasher if it's dishwasher safe. Remember to use separate cutting boards for different types of food to prevent cross-contamination and ensure food safety.

5. Answer C. Cooking a hamburger to a safe internal temperature is crucial to prevent foodborne illness, with the USDA recommending a minimum of 160°F (71°C) for ground beef. However, preferences vary; some enjoy rare burgers at 120-130°F (49-54°C), while others prefer medium at 135-145°F (57-63°C), and well-done at 160°F (71°C) or higher. Balancing personal taste with safety is key when deciding how to cook a hamburger.

6. Answer C. Indulging in raw cookie dough may be tempting, but it carries health risks due to raw eggs and uncooked flour potentially harboring harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. To stay safe, it's best to avoid consuming raw dough altogether. Alternatively, consider making egg-free dough or using pasteurized eggs and heat-treated flour, or opt for pre-made cookie dough designed for raw consumption. If you do indulge, practice proper food safety measures like handwashing and refrigerating leftovers to minimize risk.

7. Answer C or D. Maintain a hygienic kitchen environment with these key steps. Start by wiping away food debris with a dry cloth, then scrub the surface using hot, soapy water and a damp cloth or sponge. After rinsing and drying, apply a food-safe disinfectant and let it air dry. Don't forget to clean utensils and cutting boards thoroughly with hot, soapy water, and ensure regular cleaning, especially after handling raw meats or spills, for a safe and enjoyable cooking experience.

8. Answers A and C are worth two points each. There are potential problems with B and D. Leaving dishes to soak for too long can foster bacterial growth, as food particles left on the dish provide a breeding ground for bacteria, potentially leading to health risks. To prevent this, it's advisable to hand wash dishes within two hours of use, promoting a safer and healthier home environment. Furthermore, allowing dishes to air dry instead of handling them while wet can reduce the risk of contamination.

9. The only correct practice is answer C. Give yourself two points if you picked it. Handling food, particularly raw meat, poultry, and fish, requires extra care to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, and if you have cuts or infections, wear rubber or plastic gloves for added protection. Remember to wash your gloved hands as frequently as bare hands to prevent bacterial transmission, as gloves can also harbor germs.

10. Give yourself two points if you picked B or C. Safe thawing practices are essential to prevent bacterial growth in food. Experts recommend using the refrigerator, microwave, or cold water methods. If opting for the water method, ensure food is submerged in a sealed plastic bag and change the water every 30 minutes; for optimal quality, thaw gradually overnight. When using a microwave, follow package instructions and allow adequate space for even thawing, with smaller items thawing more evenly than larger ones. Avoid thawing meat, poultry, and fish on the counter or in the sink without cold water, as bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.

11. A and B are correct. Give yourself two points for either. For safe seafood, opt for reputable dealers who properly refrigerate or ice their products. Upon purchase, promptly store seafood on ice or in the refrigerator/freezer, avoiding cooked seafood displayed alongside raw fish, and refrain from buying torn, open, or frosted frozen seafood. Store seafood in the coldest part of the fridge or wrap tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil, and when dealing with shellfish like lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams, or mussels, discard any that die during storage or have cracked or broken shells; live shellfish should close up when tapped.

12. If you are under treatment for any of these diseases, as well as several others, you should avoid raw seafood. Give yourself two points for knowing one or more of the risky conditions.

Ensuring food safety in your kitchen is not just about culinary prowess but also about protecting your well-being. Take the necessary steps to uphold high standards and enjoy your meals with peace of mind.



Homebuyers: How To Save Thousands of Dollars When You Buy

"When you analyze those successful homebuyers who have the experience to purchase the home they want for thousands of dollars below a seller's asking price, some common denominators emerge."

If you're like most homebuyers, you have two primary considerations in mind when you start looking for a home. First, you want to find a home that perfectly meets your needs and desires, and secondly, you want to purchase this home for the lowest possible price.

When you analyze those successful homebuyers who have been able to purchase the home they want for thousands of dollars below a seller's asking price, some common denominators emerge. Although your agents negotiating skills are important, there are three additional key factors that must come into play long before you ever submit an offer.

These Steps Will Help You Save Thousands When You Buy a Home

Make sure you know what you want . . . As simple as this sounds, many home buyers don't have a firm idea in their heads before they go out searching for a home. In fact, when you go shopping for a place to live, there are actually two homes competing for your attention: the one that meets your needs, and the one that fulfills your desires. Obviously, your goal is to find one home that does both. But in the real world, this situation doesn't always occur.

When you're looking at homes, you'll find that you fall in love with one or another home for entirely different reasons. Is it better to buy the 4 bedroom home with room for your family to grow, or the one with the big eat in kitchen that romances you with thoughts of big weekend family brunches? What's more important: a big backyard, or proximity to your child's school? Far too often people buy a home for the wrong reasons, and then regret their decision when the home doesn't meet their needs.

Don't shop with stars in your eyes: satisfy your needs first. If you're lucky, you'll find a home that does this and also fulfills your desires. The important thing is to understand the difference before you get caught up in the excitement of looking.

Find out if your agent offers a "Buyer Profile System" or "Househunting Service", which takes the guesswork out of finding just the right home that matches your needs. This type of program will cross-match your criteria with ALL available homes on the market and supply you with printed information on an ongoing basis. A program like this helps homeowners take off their rose colored glasses and, affordably, move into the home of their dreams.

To help you develop your homebuying strategy, use this form:

What do I absolutely NEED in my next home:

  1. ______________________________

  2. ______________________________

  3. ______________________________

  4. ______________________________

  5. ______________________________

What would I absolutely LOVE in my next home:

  1. _______________________________

  2. _______________________________

  3. _______________________________

  4. _______________________________

  5. _______________________________

How Sellers Set Their Asking Price

For you to understand how much to offer for a home you're interested in, it's important for you to know how sellers price their homes. Here are 4 common strategies you'll start to recognize when you begin to view homes:

1. Clearly Overpriced:

Every seller wants to realize the most amount of money they can for their home, and real estate agents know this. If more than one agent is competing for your listing, an easy way to win the battle is to over inflate the value of your home. This is done far too often, with many homes that are priced 10- 20% over their true market value.

This is not in your best interest, because in most cases the market won't be fooled. As a result, your home could languish on the market for months, leaving you with a couple of important drawbacks:

  • your home is likely to be labelled as a "troubled" house by other agents, leading to a lower than fair market price when an offer is finally made

  • you have been greatly inconvenienced with having to constantly have your home in "showing" condition . . . for nothing. These homes often expire off the market, forcing you to go through the listing process all over again.

2. Somewhat Overpriced:

About 3/4 of the homes on the market are 5-10% overpriced. These homes will also sit on the market longer than they should. There is usually one of two factors at play here: either you believe in your heart that your home is really worth this much despite what the market has indicated (after all, there's a lot of emotion caught up in this issue), OR you've left some room for negotiating. Either way, this strategy will cost you both in terms of time on the market and ultimate price received

3. Priced Correctly at Market Value

Some sellers understand that real estate is part of the capitalistic system of supply and demand and will carefully and realistically price their homes based on a thorough analysis of other homes on the market. These competitively priced homes usually sell within a reasonable time frame and very close to the asking price.

4. Priced Below the Fair Market Value

Some sellers are motivated by a quick sale. These homes attract multiple offers and sell fast - usually in a few days - at, or above, the asking price. Be cautious that the agent suggesting this method is doing so with your best interest in mind.



Protect Your Appliances From Power Surges

Imagine this: outside, a thunderstorm is in full force, with lightning flashing across the sky and thunder echoing in the distance. Meanwhile, you're snug inside your home, catching up on your favorite movie while enjoying a snack from the microwave. Suddenly, a sharp crack pierces the air, and the power flickers out. You try to restart your appliances, but they remain stubbornly inert. What just transpired?

Odds are, your appliances succumbed to a power surge. These surges are rapid, intense bursts of electrical energy that can wreak havoc on your appliances, leading to damage or, worse, fires. They can occur due to various factors, ranging from lightning strikes to electrical faults, and may endure for mere microseconds. However, even such fleeting moments can inflict harm upon your appliances.

So, how can you shield your appliances from these surges? Let's begin by identifying the vulnerable appliances. Devices solely reliant on power, such as microwaves or tabletop radios, are generally easier to safeguard. Many manufacturers incorporate surge protection into these appliances, or you can opt for plug-in surge protectors for added safety. Yet, for appliances connected to external communication networks like telephones, cable TV, or satellite receivers, additional safeguarding might be imperative. Likewise, appliances integrated into your home's control system, such as garage door openers or security alarms, require attention.

How can you shield your appliances from surges? Surge protectors offer the solution. These mechanisms divert surges to the ground, neutralizing their potential harm. Surge protectors are available in various types, from plug-in variants to those installed at your house's service panel or meter socket. Your choice depends on factors like appliance sensitivity, surge severity, and your geographical location. Before purchasing a surge protector, assess how it will power your appliance if its protective component fails. Some models include an internal fuse that disconnects in case of failure, but ascertain whether it will entirely cut off output power or merely isolate the defective element. Additionally, carefully read the instructions—surge protectors may have differing indications that could be perplexing.

Shielding your appliances from surges may necessitate an investment, but it's a modest price to pay for peace of mind and effective protection. By comprehending the risks, investing in surge protectors, and ensuring proper grounding of your home's electrical system, you can diminish the peril of damage from surges and other electrical disturbances. So, the next time you're immersed in your favorite movie during a thunderstorm, you can relax, knowing your appliances are secure and sound.