Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels

We recently had someone reach out to us asking about the sanitation of hand dryers vs paper towels for drying  hands. I noticed as I recently did some traveling that many airports, restaurants and rest areas are going to air hand dryers rather than paper towels. I’m sure it is beneficial to them as a means to keep their restrooms more tidy.  According to the CDC, drying your hands is very beneficial as germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands. But is it more beneficial to us to use a hand dryer or paper towels?

According to an article in the Harvard Health blog from Harvard Medical School, bacteria in a bathroom can form a fecal cloud due to lidless toilets being flushed. That fecal cloud contains many microbes. Fortunately the majority of those microbes do not cause disease in healthy people. For those people in a hospital or with a weakened immune system though this could be a big problem.

As I was beginning to look for pictures to go along with this article the first place I decided to check was our local clinic. I found only paper towel dispensers there. As I did more research I found that is because paper towels are already routine in health care settings.

As was stated in the CDC article, the best way to dry hands remains unclear because few studies about hand drying exist and the results are unclear. There are many factors involved and of course it depends on who is paying for the study. Many are sponsored by either the paper towel industry or the air blower industry with results of course favoring their products. Some studies focused on the effectiveness of the hand drying, some on the cost, some on the carbon footprint, and some on the degree of which bacteria and viruses are deposited on the hands during the drying process.

The Harvard Health study recommended using paper towels as they found them to be the most hygienic way to dry your hands. Another study agreed suggesting paper towels can dry hands efficiently, remove bacteria effectively and cause less contamination of the restroom environment. That same study found that with air dryers people were more likely to incompletely dry their hands or not dry them at all.

The bottom line is to wash your hands effectively and dry them completely with whatever method is available. Don’t let your hands drip dry and don’t dry them on your clothes.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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FOG (Fats, Oils and Grease)

As we continue to enjoy the Holidays with family and friends, I want to remind everyone about something we may not think about often but that could certainly impact a gathering in our homes. If not disposed of properly, fats, oils and grease can build up in the pipes of your home and cause a sewer backup. Those backups are always unpleasant and expensive to repair and there are things we can do to help prevent the backups in the first place. Many food products can lead to a buildup in your homes pipes if not disposed of properly: grease from cooking a turkey in the oven or a deep fat fryer, salad dressing, leftover gravy, cooking oil, butter/margarine, etc.

Here are some tips to help us all avoid having a sewer backup event:

Use a paper towel to remove as much leftover fat, oil and grease as you can on dishes and pans before you wash them.

If you cooked with the fat, oil or grease, let it cool completely then either throw away the fat that has hardened or pour the leftover fat in a sealable container and throw it away in your garbage.

If you have deep fried your turkey, dispose of that oil after each use. If you leave the oil in the fryer to reuse at another time it may attract pests and may not be safe. Many resource recovery plants will accept used cooking oil at no or minimal cost.

By following a few tips in removing fats, oils and grease from our dishes and pans we can save ourselves a lot of stress over clogged pipes in our homes.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Cleaning up the garden tools

Fall is just around the corner and I cannot believe just how quickly the summer has passed. I must admit that I just did not have the time to spend out in the garden that I have had in previous years. We have done some remodeling around our home and the place that I always stored my garden tools has changed. I plan to use the remaining warm summery days to organize and clean up my tools so I can have a great fresh start next summer.

I need to scrub the dry and crusty dirt off my shovel and garden trowels. I will use some hot soapy water and a brush then spray the shovels with the hose. I can apply some WD 40 to the digging surface to prevent rust. My trowel handles are rubber and plastic. I can clean them in the hot soapy water. I will wash the wooden handle of my shovel and wipe it down with some boiled linseed oil.

I plan to wash my shears and trimmers. I will sharpen the blades with a ceramic stone. It is an easy process if you can take the shears apart easily and hold the stone at a slight angle to the blade. A light spray of WD 40 will keep those shears from rusting and will lubricate the blade for easier cutting.

This is also a great time to wash and repair my garden planter. I can organize the planter plates and make sure everything is in working order.

If I need to repair any tools or replace them, fall is a great time to purchase the replacements. Often stores are clearing out their summer stock and I may find a bargain.

If I spend some time organizing my tools, discarding old seed, and making sure that garden chemicals are stored correctly I know I will be motivated to take better care of my tools.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Fall Spice Refresher

Summer may not be over yet but people are already craving spice-flavored foods, beverages,and smells.  Even before we had our Labor Day barbeques, Starbucks introduced it’s fall Pumpkin Spice Latte because customers were asking.  “Sweet” spices–cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and ginger–go hand in hand with fall and holidays.  Now is a good time to prepare for the season of “spice and nice” and soups and stews by going through our spice collection to make sure we are ready when it comes time to reach.
Ground spices retain their goodness for about six months.  Whole spices such as allspice berries and cinnamon sticks stay fresher longer, 1-2 years, if stored in air-tight containers.  Vanilla extract is commonly used with the “sweet” spices to bring out their best.  Vanilla retains it’s best flavor for 12 months.  And while one is in the process, why not check out the herbs, too.  Like ground spices, herbs retain their best flavor for six months.  All spices and extracts should be kept in locations away from heat and light.  If a date is not present on the container, apply the smell test.  If you don’t detect an intense fragrance when you open the container, it’s likely time to replace it.  I’m always amazed at how much more flavorable something tastes when fresh spices or herbs are used.
While fall spices are reminenct of crips days, rustling leaves, baked goods, and hearty soups and stews, there are always lots of questions about which to use for what.  Here’s a quick primer:
Allspice (whole or ground)  is the dried unripe berries of the Pimenta dioica tree found in wamer parts of the world.  The berries combine the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and complements stews, yellow vegetables, pork, poultry, cakes, cookies, and sweet breads.  When ground allspice is not available, a good substitution is a mixture of half ground cinnamon and half ground cloves.
Cardomom is a blend of seeds that bring a warm and aromatic flavor that is delightful in baked goods like gingerbread; it is also a staple of Indian cuisine. It is often used  with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate.
Cinnamon (ground or stick) is a spice obtained from the inner bark of  the Cinnamomum tree. With its mildly-sweet-to-bittersweet flavor, cinnamon is a nice addition to baked goods, stews, curries, fruit, squash, oatmeal, pork and beef.  It pairs well with fruits and chocolate.  Cinnamon sticks are perfect for mulling cider, tea, or other fall beverages.
Cloves (whole and ground) are the aromatic flower buds from a tree found in India and other countries in that part of the world.  Cloves goes well with sweet breads, yellow vegetables, chocolate, and fruit.
Chili powder is the dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili peppers, sometimes with the addition of other spices. It is used as a spice to add pungency and flavor to dishes. Commonly used in traditional Latin American dishes like enchiladas and tacos, a spoonful of chili powder also adds a welcome kick to grilled meats, stew, soup, a pot of beans, vegetables, and even chocolate.
Ginger adds a pungent zest to both sweet and savory dishes. It is derived from the Ginger plant rhizome known as ginger root or simply ginger.   Ginger is widely used as a spice or a folk medicine.  As a spice, ginger has so many uses:  baked goods, stir-fries, curries, hot tea and seafood. It also offers a great accent to garlic.
Spice Mixes (Apple Pie Spice, Pumpkin Pie Spice) are blends of ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger made specifically for convenience.  Both can be used as a seasoning in pie as well as general cooking and baking to enhance the flavors of any products using apples or pumpkin/squash.  There are many DIY recipes for making blends using basic spices such as these.
Enjoy the coming of fall and the smells and flavors that enhance it!
Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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‘Tis the Season for Fruit Fly Control

Macro view of a fruit-fly sitting on watermelon.  Note the red eyes.

As the garden produce has come into the kitchen, so have the fruit flies.  Fruit flies are those pesky tiny insects harboring around the kitchen with reddish eyes and are attracted to anything fruit or vegetable in the area.  Beyond being a nuisance, they can also carry harmful bacteria.  They multiply rapidly so if not controlled quickly, a small problem becomes a big problem.

One of the best ways to control fruit flies in the home is to practice excellent sanitation, eliminate rotting fruits and vegetables and keep as much food in the refrigerator as possible. Keep counters, sinks, and drains clean at all times–even the dishwasher. Trash should be kept tied and taken out frequently, and compost scraps should not be allowed to pileup on the counter. Cracked or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables should be cut off and discarded immediately to prevent infestation.

Chemical control is not recommended; however, you can make your own traps using attractants commonly found in the kitchen such as cider vinegar, wine or even a small piece of fruit.   Put a small amount of the attractant in a glass or jar, cover  with a plastic wrap that fits tightly to the glass, and poke very small holes in the plastic.  Fruit flies will enter the glass but find themselves trapped.  The University of Nebraska offered another simple trap using yeast and sugar.

Once you’ve done the work to kill or trap fruit flies, keep them from coming back with these preventative measures:

1. Keep the counter clean. Fruit flies don’t just like to eat fruit; they also like spilled food, crumbs, spilled juice — just about anything. Wipe your counters frequently throughout the day and dry thoroughly.

2. Wash any produce coming into the home. Fruit flies piggyback their way into our homes on fruits and vegetables. By washing fruit and vegetables, you get rid of any eggs that may have been laid on the produce.

3. Keep produce covered or in the refrigerator. If produce must sit on the counter, be sure that it is fully contained and covered.

4. Remove odors immediately.  If something smells, chances are it will attracts fruit flies, too. Clean drains, garbage cans, pet bedding, litter boxes and similar things.

Female fruit flies lay 100 or more eggs per day.  With the possibility of new eggs hatching,  a couple of weeks of diligence will be necessary.  Continue using traps,  depriving them of food and water, and stepping up sanitary procedures to keep  them from breeding and eventually eliminating them from the home.

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Call AnswerLine

As I am sitting at work today between phone calls, I am reflecting on the tornados and damage that happened in Iowa yesterday. I have a daughter and family that live in Marshalltown. Their home had no damage and they were lucky enough to finish dental appointments early and be off the road and safe in their basement before the tornado hit.

Fortunately, there were no lives lost in the tornados that struck our state. There was a lot of property damage. Electricity is out in many homes and businesses, which leads to questions about food safety. We are always happy to help callers determine which foods to keep and which foods to discard. If your power has been off for a long time, remember to check the condition and temperature in the freezer and refrigerator when the power comes back on. Give us a call and we can help you keep your family safe.

Sometimes callers have damaged property from flooding or landing in the mud after a storm. Call us at AnswerLine and we can try to help you salvage property and prevent the growth of mold on your damaged possession.

The AnswerLine staff really care about our callers and we want to help you as much as we can. Please call us as often as you need an answer and know that we do not mind visiting with a caller as often as necessary.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Sunscreen stains on leather

Just yesterday, a caller wanted to know how to remove a sunscreen stain from a leather car seat. Leather can be tricky to clean and stains easily, so I had to do some research to find an answer for the caller. Since the weather has been hot and sunny lately, I thought other people might have the same problem.

If you want to clean it with materials you already have on hand, follow these directions:

  • First, blot up any excess lotion on the seat. Be careful to blot and not wipe. Wiping the stain can spread it and make a larger stain.
  • Next, get some cornstarch or some baking soda. You will need enough to sprinkle over the entire stain. Before you apply the starch or soda, lightly rub the spot. Friction can heat the stain and allow you to adsorb more of the lotion before sprinkling the starch or soda.
  • Once you have covered the stain with cornstarch or baking soda, allow it to sit on the stain overnight. The next morning, check the spot. If the cornstarch or baking soda have yellowed, then they have adsorbed some of the stain. If you can still see some of the stain, you can repeat the treatment.
  • If the stain remains, it may be time to use a leather cleaner.
  • You can always contact the dealership that sold you your car as they often have leather care kits for use on the seats. If they do have a kit available, use both the cleaner and then the conditioner after cleaning the seat.

Don’t let a stain keep you from protecting your skin with sunscreen this summer.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Care for stone countertops

In the last two years, several of the AnswerLine staff members have remodeled their kitchens and bathrooms. During the remodeling process, a big topic is always what sort of countertops are the best for my situation and what kind of maintenance will the countertops require. I have done a bit of research on several of the existing options.

Granite counters are very popular right now. They do not require a lot of maintenance but it is a good idea to wash the counters regularly with a soapy cloth to prevent stains. Blotting spills with paper towels eliminates the possibility that you will spread a stain while swiping it with a cloth. Acidic cleaners like lemon juice, ammonia, and window cleaner may damage granite counters. Instead, you can make your own cleaner with three parts of dish detergent and one part rubbing alcohol.

Granite countertops need to be sealed several times a year. Test yours to see if the previous seal has worn away. Place a few drops of water on the countertop and check for beading. If the water beads up, the counter does not need to be resealed. If it does not bead up, then seal the counter with a granite stone sealer. Follow the directions on the package. If you are sealing kitchen countertops, be sure that the sealing compound is non-toxic. Apply sealer to clean countertops and allow it to rest for a half hour or so. Sealing the countertop will not eliminate the chance of staining but it will help the granite be more resistant to staining.

Quartz countertops are also very popular right now. I chose them for my kitchen because they do not require sealing. Quartz is actually a manufactured product, made of quartz stone and a synthetic polymer. They are very easy to care for and do not require polishing. I clean my countertops with a warm, wet dishcloth. Clean spills and sticky foods as soon as the spill occurs to avoid stains. Glass and surface cleaners will not damage quartz surfaces. However, avoid bleach and harsh, acidic cleaners on quartz as well as granite surfaces. In addition, hot pans set directly on the quartz countertops can cause damage.

Marble countertops are not quite as popular as granite and quartz. Marble is a porous surface even though it is very durable. Remember to use only mild dish soap and warm water to clean marble. Test your marble counter top every couple of months to see if the marble needs to be resealed. Test marble in the same manner you test granite. If needed, apply the sealer over clean countertops and let it sit on the countertop for about 30 minutes.

Soapstone is another choice for stone countertops. This stone is very durable and hard to scratch or etch. Soapstone is a non-porous surface that is hard to stain and is tolerant of hot pans. Remember that soapstone can be damaged by dropping heavy objects on it. Soapstone is more likely to dent than scratch or chip. Soapstone does not need to be sealed, but like a butcher block counter, it does need to regular oiling. Oil the counter by spreading some mineral oil on the surface. Use a towel to rub the oil into the stone. Leave for 30 minutes and the remove excess oil. Not oiling the surface will result in dark spots showing on the surface of the stone—over time. Again, harsh or acidic cleaners are not recommended.

We are lucky to have so many different choices for countertops these days. Stone countertops do not require much more care than my old Formica countertops and I do enjoy the look of stone.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Eliminating Ants

Are ants finding their way into your home this Spring/Summer? AnswerLine receives calls on a regular basis from callers looking for ways to get rid of those pesky ants.

Ants are typically trying to get in looking for nutrition and/or shelter so the first thing to do is eliminate any food or water sources the ants would be attracted to including rinsing out recycling containers before putting them in the storage bin.

If there appears to be nothing the ants might be looking for but they are still coming in, clean the infested area with soapy water or an ammonia window cleaner. If you can find the entry point where the ants are getting in you can seal it with petroleum jelly until you can silicon caulk the opening.

There are pesticide-free sprays on the market that can be effective in getting rid of ants. The safest homemade remedy to deter ants is to mix equal parts water and white vinegar and spray on the paths.

If you can identify the type of ant  you are trying to get rid of you can be more specific in what you use. There are hundreds of different species of ants found in the United States but only a fraction of those are actually found in or around homes and buildings. Observation and baiting with sticky traps can be important steps in the beginning to help determine where the ants might be coming from or where they are most active.

Terro is a commercial product you can purchase that typically has good results. Be sure to read the instructions for storage and usage if you have children and/or pets in the house. Terro makes products to treat ants both inside and outside the home.

Ants are Springtime house guests that are never welcome. With a little bit of diligence we should all be able to keep our homes ant free.

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Prepare for New Medicare Cards Coming in 2018

If you haven’t already heard or read, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be issuing new cards to beneficiaries beginning in April.  The cards will automatically be mailed to all 58-60 million current beneficiaries. Beneficiaries don’t need to do anything to receive one beyond watching their mailbox. However, if there has been an address change, beneficiaries should contact the Social Security Administration (SSA), which will be preparing and mailing the cards, at ssa.gov/myaccount or by calling 800-772-1213.  

Image used with permission from CMS.

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015, required the removal of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) from all Medicare cards by April 2019.  The new cards will feature a randomly assigned Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) made up of 11 letters and numbers rather than the beneficiary’s social security number that is currently used to help prevent identity theft.  The MBI will replace the SSN for Medicare transactions like billing, eligibility, and claims.

Recently the CMS released information as to when beneficiaries can expect to receive their new card.  The mailing schedule is as follows:

  • Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia: April-June 2018 

  • Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon: April-June 2018 

  • Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin: After June 2018 

  • Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont: After June 2018 

  • Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina: After June 2018 

  • Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming: After June 2018 

  • Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Virgin Islands: After June 2018 

Beneficiary benefits won’t change under the new MBI and there is NO charge for the card.  Sadly, scammers are already at work.  Beneficiaries should  beware of anyone who contacts them about their replacement Medicare cards.  CMS officials will never ask a beneficiary for personal or private information or for any money as a condition of getting a new Medicare number and card. 

This would be a good time to prepare elderly parents, relatives, or friends for the change and warn them of any possible phone or internet scams regarding the new card as well as check addresses with the SSA.  Since most Midwest beneficiaries won’t begin receiving the new cards until June 2018 or later, there is time to act.  Just don’t forget to do so!

For additional information, check the CMS new card info site.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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