Prevention and Detection of Molds in Your Home

July 2nd, 2015

moldHere at AnswerLine we receive many calls about mold in the home. It’s very common especially in the humid midwest summer months. Mold exposure may cause health problems; it’s not safe to live in a house with high mold levels.

Molds can usually be detected by a musty odor, and discoloration of surfaces is common with mold growth. Colors can include white, green, brown, black or orange. If you see or smell mold, you have a problem. Reliable sampling for mold can be expensive since it requires special equipment and training. Testing is not generally recommended as a first step, but instead finding the source of the moisture and controlling it and cleaning existing mold to remedy the problem.

Molds need moisture to grow.  Water leaks, flooding, high relative humidity and condensation are all situations that increase the growth of mold, and it can develop almost anywhere in a home.  There are measures you can take to prevent mold growth in your home. Most of these steps involve moisture reduction.

Mold Prevention:

  • Cleaning, disinfecting and drying surfaces prevent mold growth. Mold will grow on damp surfaces within a couple days at normal temperatures.
  • Reduce moisture levels in the bathroom by running an exhaust fan during and after showers.
  • Fix plumbing leaks and seepage to prevent the buildup of moisture and prevent the growth of molds.
  • Store clothing dry and clean to prevent the growth of mold on clothes.
  • Reduce humidity levels with the use of dehumidifiers and air conditioning when humidity levels are high.
  • Increase the flow of air within your home. Moving furniture away from walls and opening closet doors to permit air circulation limits the growth of molds.
  • Prevent condensation. Insulating walls and installing storm or thermal pane windows keeps walls warm and limits condensation.

For more detailed information on mold prevention in the home check out NDSU Extension Service’s Keep Your Home Healthy website.

Stay tuned next time – we’ll discuss mold CLEANUP in the home.

jill sig

Cleaning, Home Environment

Spring Laundry Challenges

June 29th, 2015

Spring can bring some interesting laundry problems.  Here is some help if you come in contact with some of these stains.

  • Removing pollen from clothing.

Pollen from plants can be very difficult to remove from your clothing.  If you notice that you have some pollen on your clothing don’t try to brush it off with your hand.  Instead use scotch or masking tape to lift it off the fibers. Brushing off the pollen by hand can set the stain.  If you have a stain rub liquid laundry detergent into the stain and launder in as warm water as is safe for the fabric.  If color remains use a bleach solution for white clothes or color safe bleach for colored clothes.

  • Perspiration stains

To remove perspiration stains apply liquid laundry detergent on the stains or soak in warm water with an enzyme presoak (Axion, Biz or Clorox 2) according to package directions.  If it is on a white t- shirt you could put salt on the stained area then squeeze fresh lemon juice on the salt.  Put it in the sun and allow to dry.

  • Mud and grass stains

Mud is a protein stain and needs cold water to remove.  Try rubbing the fabric against itself under cold running water to dislodge the mud.  If hot water is used first it cooks the protein, causing it to coagulate between the fibers in the yarns of the fabric, making it more difficult to remove.  If you also have a grass stain you treat the mud first then when the mud is removed use a pre-treater or liquid detergent to rub into the stain.  Allow 10-15 minutes for it to start breaking up the grass stain then rinse under hot water in your sink while rubbing the fabric together.  Pretreat again before washing as usual.   If the stain is not completely removed you can soak white items in a diluted bleach solution or colored ones in color safe bleach.

  • Tar stains

Tar stains are treated as a combination stain.  First you remove the oily/waxy portion of the stain by using a dry-cleaning solvent (Aerosol Shout, Spray’n Wash or K2R Spot Lifter) or stain stick and allow it to work to break up the stain for 10-15 minutes.  Then rub with a liquid laundry detergent and scrub in hot water.   If it is not completely removed rub liquid detergent into the stain again before washing.

With all stains check to be sure the stain was removed before putting in the dryer.  The heat from the dryer can set stains and make them almost impossible to remove.  Get out and enjoy the outdoors knowing that even if you get a few stains we can help you get them out!

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Laundry, Textiles

All About Apples

June 25th, 2015

 

Even though it is not officially apple season I have been finding great prices on apples at the grocery store.  Since apples vary in taste and texture some are better for eating, some for making applesauce and some for baking in pies.  Here are some varieties that are available locally and how they are best used courtesy of the Washington Apple Commission.

Usage Chart

apple chart

 

Here are some apples facts that will help you in determining how many apples you will need to purchase.

  • 3 medium sized apples equal approximately 1 pound
  • Pared and sliced, 1 pound apples yields 2 3/4 cups
  • A peck of apples weighs 10.5 pounds
  • A bushel of apples weighs 42 pounds
  • A bushel of apples will yield 15 – 20 quarts of applesauce

So take advantage of these great prices and enjoy some apples today!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation

Freezing Eggs

June 24th, 2015

eggs1We have had a lot of calls lately asking about freezing eggs. Yes, you can easily freeze eggs for later baking or scrambling. You have the choice to either freeze whole eggs or separate the eggs and freeze yolks and whites by themselves.

Whole eggs inside the shell should not be frozen.  If you have a carton of eggs freeze accidentally, discard the cracked eggs. You can safely use a whole, frozen, uncracked egg.  Just store it in the refrigerator until you need it. It may be best to hard cook the uncracked eggs that froze. The yolk in those eggs may become thick and syrupy; this change makes it difficult to use them in baking.

If you would like to freeze eggs at home, you will need to add either sugar, corn syrup, or salt to the egg yolks or whole eggs. Add one and a half tablespoons of light corn syrup OR one and a half tablespoons of sugar OR one half teaspoon of salt to every cup of eggs or yolks you freeze. Addition of the salt or sugar prevents the yolks from thickening and allows you to use them in baked products. The way you plan to the eggs will help you determine which ingredient (salt, corn syrup, or sugar) to add to the eggs. (E.g. Scrambled eggs with sugar added might not be very tasty).

Blend the egg mixture gently; avoid whipping air into the mixture. Package the eggs and freeze. Add the previously listed amounts to either whole eggs or egg yolks that have been separated. If you choose to freeze the whites alone, they do not need to have any salt, sugar, or corn syrup added. If you freeze the eggs in a clean ice cube tray and store them in a freezer bag, you will be able to use the frozen eggs easily. Remember that one egg equals about ¼ cup. Measure the amount of water it takes to fill one section of the ice cube tray so that you will know how many egg cubes it takes to equal one egg. Thaw frozen eggs in the refrigerator. Stir or shake them before using. You must use the thawed eggs within 3-5 days.

Remember to purchase eggs before the “sell by” date stamped on the carton. Once you have the eggs home, they can be safely used for another 3 to 5 weeks. The “sell by” date will have passed during the storage time but they are still safe to use.

Callers often ask if the egg floats in water, does this mean the egg is “bad? No, it does not mean the egg is bad. As the egg ages, the air cell inside enlarges enough to make the egg buoyant. This means the egg is older, but it may still be safe to use. Break the egg into a bowl to examine it for an off-odor or unsuitable appearance before you decide to use it or toss it away. A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you open the shell—raw or cooked.

Never buy cracked eggs; bacteria can enter an egg through the crack. If eggs crack on the way home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover tightly, and keep refrigerated. You must use them within 2 days.  Do not worry if the eggs crack during hard boiling; if they do the eggs are still safe.

We know that as the price of eggs increases, we will have more questions about eggs. Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we are always glad to help.

Food Preservation, Food Safety

Make your own flavored vinegar

June 22nd, 2015

With the popularity of cooking shows, cooks are looking for more exotic ingredients.  One such item is flavored vinegar.  Flavored vinegar is really easy to make as long as you follow the recipe carefully to ensure a safe product.

Glass jars or bottles are best for home flavored vinegar.  Be sure to check for cracks or nicks in the bottle.  Choose bottles that can be easily sealed with a cork or a screw top.  Wash the jars thoroughly with hot soapy water.  Next, sterilize the bottles by boiling for 10 minutes.  More complete directions are available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Choose flavoring herbs that you can pick just before you want to make the vinegar.  Choose sprigs that have not yet blossomed for the best flavor.  Pick them early in the day—just after the morning dew has dried. Use only the best, freshest looking leaves.  Discard stems, browned, or blemished leaves. Allow 3-4 sprigs per pint (2 cups) of vinegar.  Wash and dry the herbs before dipping them in a sanitizing solution.  Use 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of household bleach to make the sanitizing solution.  Rinse the herbs after dipping and blot dry again.  You can also use dried herbs to make flavored vinegar.  If you want to use dry herbs, use 3 tablespoons per pint of vinegar.

Choose white vinegar if you want to use very mild tasting herbs.  Apple cider vinegar is less harsh tasting but has an amber color that may not be appealing.  You can also choose champagne vinegar for mild flavored herbs but it will be a more expensive choice.  Red wine vinegar will work best with strong flavored herbs like rosemary but would overpower the flavor of a delicate herb.

Prepare to flavor your vinegar by placing the herbs in the sterilized jars.  Avoid overfilling the jar; use only 3-4 sprigs or 3 tablespoons of herbs per every 2 cups of vinegar.  If the herb you choose has large, broad leaves, you may want to coarsely chop them or bruise the leaves.  Heat the vinegar to just below the boiling point.  Then pour over the flavoring herbs.  Fill the jars to within 1/4 of an inch from the top.  Screw on the lids and let the jars cool, undisturbed.  Store them in a cool, dark place for at least 3-4 weeks to allow flavor to develop.

You will want to check the flavor after a month. Test your vinegar by putting a few drops on a slice of white bread.  If the flavor has developed enough for you, strain the vinegar, following directions listed below. If the flavor seems too strong, dilute your flavored vinegar with more of the base vinegar you used previously. 

You can strain the vinegar with cheesecloth or a damp coffee filter.  You may want to strain the vinegar several times to remove any cloudiness.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Easy Nature Crafts for Kids

June 18th, 2015

Since school has been out for a few weeks now, the kids may be starting to get bored.  Here are a few ideas for crafts using materials found in nature- directly from the AnswerLine files.  Enjoy.

 

PAINTING ON SAND

 

Materials needed:

Fine construction sand, tea strainers/flour sifters, glue, tempera paint, brushes, scrap boards or heavy cardboard, felt tip pens

Directions:

  1. Spread glue evenly over board or heavy cardboard. A scrap of cardboard can be used to spread the glue.
  2. Using sifters or strainers, sprinkle sand over glue surface. Let dry.
  3. Paint design on sand. Felt tip pens can be used to add details

 

NATURE COLLAGE

 

Materials needed:

Cardboard bolts, scrap fabric, glue, scissors,  nature material such as twigs, leaves, flowers

Directions

  1. Have child gather dried plant materials (leaves, twigs, feathers, etc.) that can be glued to a flat surface.
  2. Cut cardboard bolts in 12-15″ lengths. Cover boards with fabric.
  3. Arrange nature materials on board. Glue down. Allow to dry.

 PAPER MAKING

 

Materials needed:

Dishpan, sponge, blender, egg beater, paper scraps, lint, dried leaves, dried grass, iron, newspapers, window screen on canvas stretchers

Directions:

Staple window screen to canvas stretchers. Screen should fit into dishpan easily.

 

  1. Combine scraps, lint, dried leaves etc. with warm water and blend or beat into slurry.
  2. Pour slurry into dishpan. Add water to thin mixture.
  3. Dip screen into mixture, let drain.
  4. Sponge off excess water. Turn screen slurry side down on a stack of newspapers. Lift screen off.
  5. Cover the area with 3 sheets of newspaper and iron till dry.                                                                                              6. Peel off new sheet of paper.

 

NATURE WEAVING

 

Materials needed:

Yarns, found nature items, 2 sturdy sticks 12″ long, 3-ply jute or cotton packaging cord, comb, T-Pins, cardboard bolts

Directions:

  1. Cut 12 to 18 pieces of jute or cotton 30 long. Fold each piece in half and attach with a half hitch to a stick. Pin stick and strings to top of fabric bolt.
  2. Tie ends of jute or cord to second stick which is pinned to the bottom of cardboard.
  3. Weave over and under cotton jute cords (warp) with other pieces of yam (weft). Insert pine needles. leaves etc. at random to complete design. Weft yams do not need to be tied. Open areas of warp may be left. Use comb to pack weft yams.
  4. When finished remove T-pins from cardboard. Sticks will stay attached in weaving.

 

BARK PRINTING

 

Materials needed:

Cotton T-shirt (pre-washed), scrap fabric, newspapers, latex paint, 4″ paint brush, scrub brush/bucket, trees

Directions:

  1. Stuff T-shirt with crumpled newspaper.
  2. Paint sections of tree with latex paint. Choose a tree that is marked for cutting or use cut logs that are to be burned.
  3. Press T-shirt against painted surface.
  4. Wash off tree surface with water and scrub brush if tree is to be unharmed.
  5. After T-shirt is completely dried (4 to 8 hours) iron on reverse side of design to heat-set. Launder wrong side out, by hand.

 

CHALK SWIRLING

 

Materials needed:

Colored chalk ,  pan with water, scrap paper, popsicle stick

Directions:

  1. Using a popsicle stick, scrape off chalk particles into water surface. Chalk will float in still water.
  2. Drop paper onto water surface. Remove immediately. Chalk will stick to paper. Allow paper to dry.

 

LEAF PRINTING

 

Materials needed:

Grasses, leaves, tempera paint, paper, paint brushes

Directions:

  1. Paint under side of leaves, grasses with tempera paint.
  2. Lay the painted side down on a sheet of paper.
  3. Cover the leaves etc. with used paper, rub lightly with hand.
  4. Remove used top paper and plant material. Allow design to dry.

 

Try some of these ideas the next time you hear “I’m bored”.  You may find a budding artist in the family.

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Child Development, Holiday ideas

Grill Gifts for Fathers Day

June 15th, 2015

grilling utensils (2)It’s father’s day and if your father or husband is a griller what better gift for him than accessories for the grill!  We have assembled our top ten list to make your dad feel special on this day and all summer long!

  • A new grill brush will make cleaning the grates easier. Make sure it has a long handle since the grates clean more easily when they are warm. Many also have a scraping or curved blade that helps to clean the individual grates.
  • If you like to cook vegetables on the grill a roasting tray or basket makes it easy to do. Usually they have sides so that the vegetables can be stirred to ensure even cooking.
  • An instant read thermometer is a must. This allows the griller to know when food has reached a safe temperature. This also helps to avoid overcooking which decreases the quality of the food.
  • A new basting brush is another great grill tool. Many are now made of heat resistant materials and are dish washer safe.
  • Grill covers not only keep your grill clean but many now are available with logos of your favorite team on them! Also available are mats that go under your grill. These help to keep any grease that could drip from the grill, from staining your deck.
  • If your father uses a charcoal grill and doesn’t have a Chimney Starter it would make a perfect gift! It allows you to stack the charcoal in the canister and light some newspaper underneath. In no time at all the charcoal will be hot, ashed over and ready to use. With this there is no need for lighter fluid.
  • If your dad likes to cook ground beef patties a burger press is a must. It makes the perfectly shaped patty that will hold together when cooking. Most are bun sized so you are assured that your burger will fit in your bun.
  • New spatula, tongs and forks are grilling necessities. Make sure that they have long handles to reach to the back of the grill and if you find some that are dishwasher safe, it will make clean up a breeze.
  • A grilling cookbook is also a wonderful gift. Many times they have pictures that show the finished product which helps to determine if you want to try the recipe! Many also give vegetables, fruits and even dessert recipes.
  • Another fun idea is to put together a basket with a variety of rubs and sauces. Or find a recipe and make your own rubs with spice combinations.

Giving any of these grilling gifts will bring a smile to your dad’s face.  Hopefully he will invite you to join him for dinner as he tries them out!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Complain So Someone Will Listen

June 11th, 2015

imageIt happens to all of us.  We buy something and we get it home and discover a problem.  Something doesn’t work right or while you are installing it you find it is missing some pieces.

It is always a good idea to shop around and compare prices and features.  This is especially important if you are purchasing appliances or other major household items.  See what sort of warranty comes with the purchase and how easy it would be to get service if something goes wrong.  Ask the store about returns, exchanges, repairs, and guarantees.

As you make the purchase, remember to store receipts, warranties, or anything else that may be important if you need to return the item.  It works well to have a dedicated file or drawer for these sorts of papers.

If the time comes and you are unhappy with your purchase, follow these directions.

  • Register the complaint as soon as possible after the purchase.
  • Contact the merchant while all the details are fresh in your mind and you still have original packaging
  • Make a record of your complaint, even if it is just notes you have taken while on the phone.
  • Save any and all copies of email or letters you receive from the merchant
  • Track the names and dates of phone or in-person conversations.
  • Be clear and concise with your complaint.  Keep your supporting evidence and documents together.  Try not to lose your temper–it will not help.
  • Ask to speak to the supervisor if your problem can not be resolved by the first person you speak to.  They may not have any power to negotiate. Know what sort of resolution you want/need.  Carefully consider any resolution that is offered to you.

 

If you can not settle the issue without help, consider contacting the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office for the State of Iowa.

To file a consumer fraud complaint with the Consumer Protection Division, provide a written, detailed description of the problem and supporting documentation (if available). Please include the following:

  • Identify the name, current address, phone number, website and email address of the business.
  • Describe the problem in detail in chronological order.
  • Explain what you would like the business to do to satisfactorily resolve the problem.
  • Include copies of all documents relevant to your complaint, including receipts, contracts, bills, letters,  emails, advertisements, etc.
  • If you submit a mailed complaint, please print it or make sure your handwriting is legible.

 

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Consumer Management

Inappropriate Exhibits for County Fairs

June 8th, 2015

County fair season is just around the corner and soon we will be getting lots of questions at AnswerLine about the safety of food projects for the fair. This can be a confusing subject for 4-H members, their parents, and even some judges. On the surface, the rules may seem to be rather random. However, if you can understand what the rules are based on, then it is a bit easier to understand why the rules are necessary.

The first and most important reason for not allowing a food item to be entered at a fair is to prevent judges from sampling foods that are not safe and could potentially make them sick. Many foods are perfectly safe to take from the oven or stove and eat at a family meal. However, when the food has cooled and not been refrigerated, bacteria may grow in the food that could make someone sick. This is the reason behind not allowing meats, foods that must be stored in the refrigerator, uncooked eggs, and cream cheese frostings with smaller than a 2:1 ratio of sugar to cream cheese.

Other inappropriate foods are those containing alcohol (as no 4-H members are old enough to consume alcohol), or breads with chopped and dehydrated vegetables, meats, or layers of cheese. These last foods have the potential to be a botulism risk.

Since 4-H is a part Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; the information presented must be accurate and safe. All home food preservation exhibits must follow safe, tested recipes and procedures. Canning jars must be labeled with the food item, date preserved, method of preservation, and source of recipe. Recipes must be those that are from current, accepted resources. Those resources include: The USDA canning guide, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, Extension and Outreach recipes, and the Ball Blue Books (post 2009). Recipes that have been handed down in the family may also meet those criteria—as long as the family recipe is identical in /procedure/processing time. 4-H members must also remember to adjust processing time on canning recipes if the member lives in a county that has an altitude above 1000 feet.

Another problem area is foods that are prepared in unusual containers. Food grade containers must be used for baking; no baking in flower pots. Breads baked and sealed in jars are also considered unsafe. These products can be botulism risks because of the low acid and lack of oxygen in the jars with bread. Great conditions for the botulism bacteria to thrive. Canning jars are not designed for the dry heat of an oven and could shatter while cakes/breads are being baked. Paper bags are not considered safe as there may be chemicals in the ink or glue that could contaminate food.

There is a way that many of the inappropriate exhibits could be exhibited at the fair. Many of these foods can be made at home and photographed. The member can evaluate the product and write a detailed report with the goals, learning, and procedure. This would allow an inappropriate product to be judged and exhibited at the fair. This method allows a wide range of projects such as: learning to make the evening meal for the family, custard pie baking, freezing vegetables or fruits to preserve them, or making breads with vegetables or layers of cheese inside the bread. Another alternative is to practice making breads with vegetables or cheese in it at home but being sure that the bread baked to exhibit at the fair does not include those unsafe ingredients. These methods will not work for all inappropriate foods. Baking in nonfood safe containers or canning jars would remain inappropriate.

Remember that you can always call us at AnswerLine and we will be happy to help you know if the project is appropriate to exhibit at the fair.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety

Tips for Storing Fruit

June 4th, 2015

Fruit Wash 1Fresh fruits from the grocery store are a wonderful addition to any meal. It is recommended that we eat between 1 ½ to 2 cups a day (depending on age and activity level).  Once you bring it home how you store it determines how long it have maximum flavor and how long the fruit will last.

Many fruits are picked before they are fully ripe and shipped to the grocery store.  These fruits will continue to ripen and should not be refrigerated until they are mature.  Refrigeration before they are ripe could cause them to lose flavor and have a mealy texture.

Some of these are:

  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew melons
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapples
  • Tomatoes

If you want to make it ripen more quickly place the fruit in a single layer in a large paper bag.  Fold the top down and check it every day to see if it is ripe and ready to enjoy.  When it is fully ripe it can be eaten and the rest put in the refrigerator.

Some fruits need to be stored in the refrigerator immediately.  These are fruits that will not continue to ripen after they have been picked.  If they are left at room temperature it will speed up their decay.  These include:

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Boysenberries
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb

Some fruits can be left at room temperature or stored in the refrigerator.  These fruits will not ripen any further after picking but can also be left out at room temperature without harm.  Many of these are perfect to store in a fruit basket.

  • Apples
  • Clementines
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges
  • Watermelon

When shopping, be sure and look for fruits that are not bruised or cut since this will cause them to spoil more rapidly.  Avoid excessively soft fruits since they are at the end of their lifespan.  Remember to wash all fruit before eating.   Follow these tips and store your fruit properly to avoid costly waste from spoilage.

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Food Preservation, Food Safety