Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is here to HELP!

While AnswerLine has been providing information and resources for Iowa consumers with home and family questions for over 40 years, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has been serving Iowans since the early 1900s.  The Mission of ISU Extension and Outreach is to engage citizens through research‐based educational programs and extend the resources of Iowa State University across Iowa. AnswerLine is just one of the entities of extension outreach. Let me introduce you to some of the other resources available to help individuals and families navigate issues that may concern them. 

  1. Stay informed on general ISU Extension and Outreach resources and opportunities through the Extension home page and news feed.
  2. The Iowa 4-H team has at-home learning resources which are publicly available for members and families to use.
  3. Iowa Concern offers free and confidential calls and emails 24/7 to help with stress management, financial issues, legal aid, and crisis resources.
  4. The ISU Horticulture and Home Pest news page offers download publications, how to improve your garden videos, and a Hortline for answers to lawn and garden questions.
  5. Get help with meal planning and food budgeting through the Spend Smart Eat Smart website.
  6. Visit the Beginning Farmer, Women in Ag and Ag Decision Maker websites for updates on programs and helpful resources from the Farm Management team. You can also contact the farm management field specialists with your questions. 
  7. Preserve the Taste of Summer offers a number of publications and resources for safe food preservation techniques.
  8. For great information on home gardens, farmer’s markets and u-pick operations, plant sales, and more or how to become a Master Gardener, the Master Gardener Program site is a must.
  9. When Teens don’t know who to talk to, Teen Line can help with a variety of issues that affect Teens and their families.
  10. Use the ISU Extension Staff Directory when looking for a specific person or persons in a specific area of expertise.  The Contact page offers additional resources and provides a form to send an email with questions, concerns, or suggestions. Ask An Expert is always available for questions; those questions come to AnswerLine where we either answer the query or send it to someone in Extension (Iowa or elsewhere) that can better answer it.

Besides these resources, one can always find help at the ISU Extension and Outreach extension offices located in each of Iowa’s counties, on social media outlets, and the many blogs written by Extension staff on current topics.  At the present time, most ISU Extension and Outreach in-person events throughout the state have been canceled through May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, ISU Extension and Outreach staff remain committed to serving Iowans during this difficult time; phones and emails are being answered by Extension staff at the county and state levels.  Please check out the resources available that may provide the help you seek and watch for updates on how ISU Extension and Outreach will proceed to serve Iowans after May 31.

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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Caring for Cloth Masks

As the world makes a slow comeback from the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC is now recommending individuals wear a new piece of ‘attire’, the face mask or any face covering, any time one goes out where social distancing is hard to practice such as to grocery stores, pharmacies, or other places where other people are likely to be present in number.  In recent days, many retail outlets are requiring this new attire of their customers. Employers, too, may be requiring employees who are unable to maintain the recommended 6 foot distance from others during the course of essential work functions to wear masks. It seems that for the foreseeable future, the face mask or covering of the nose and mouth will be a necessary part of our attire.

Hand washing and social distancing remain the critical means of disease prevention. When going out for essentials or required in the workplace, cloth masks are becoming essential attire.  While not as effective as clinical masks, properly made cloth masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking large droplets from coughs and sneezes. 

Many have put their DIY skills to work and created cloth masks at home for themselves and others.  In a previous blog, I shared guidelines for DIY face masks.  However, acquiring a face mask is only step one.  Step two is wearing it to limit the spread of germs.  STEP THREE IS CARING FOR IT TO KEEP IT EFFECTIVE AND SAFE.  There are differing reports on whether coronavirus can live on clothing or cloth.  The general thought is that the coronavirus is more likely to live on hard surfaces than soft surfaces like fabric.  Despite that, the CDC urges laundering of cloth masks after each use, daily, or when wet or soiled.  When regular use is required, having multiple masks will be necessary. 

A piece by Kansas State University Environmental Health and Safety says a washing machine and dryer is adequate for cleaning.  The Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab suggests that face masks be washed with hot water (160֯F) in the washing machine and tumbled dried on high heat with other similar items.  Masks can also be hand washed by lathering masks with soap and scrubbing for 20 seconds or more with warm to hot water, rinsing, and tossing into the dryer.  Non-scented/allergy-free detergents should be used for laundering masks per guidelines from the University of Iowa and dryer sheets should not be used.  Further, masks can be ironed on the cotton or linen setting to further kill any remaining germs provided the masks are made of cotton.  Sanitizing face masks in the microwave, oven, or boiling water is not recommended.   A mask that is damaged or that no longer fits properly to the face should be disposed and replaced.

If filters are being used in conjunction with a cloth mask, filters too, need to be properly cleaned or replaced.  Coffee filters and paper towels are not washable so should be replaced after each use.  HVAC filters and non-woven interfacings are washable so can be laundered in the same way as the mask; however, the filter’s effectiveness decreases with each washing and will eventually disintegrate.

Masks need to be carefully removed from the face after use.  Individuals should take care not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth when removing the mask; only the elastic ear pieces or head/neck ties should be handled.  Used masks should be placed outside down on a piece of paper or in a bag until laundering with hand washing following immediately.

As discussed above, cloth masks can provide limited protection.  Proper care of the mask is important to provide protection and to maintain the health of the wearer. 

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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Steaming Vegetables

Recently an AnswerLine client called with concerns related to the safety of microwaving steam bag vegetables such as those sold under the Birds Eye Steamfresh label. These bags are sold with the vegetables inside as stand-alone products containing just vegetables or with sauces or seasonings. In general, microwaving foods in plastic containers may carry some health risks due to the transmission of BPA and pthalates from the plastic to the food. However, the bags being used for the steamed vegetable products are specifically manufactured for microwave steaming and do not contain BPA or pthalates.  These bags are designed for a one-time use.  If there is any concern, the packages can be opened and the vegetables steamed or prepared by another method.

Whether you purchase the microwave steam bag vegetables or not, there are advantages to steaming vegetables.  Frozen vegetables are usually flash frozen right after picking.  As a result, frozen vegetables may be more nutrient dense than fresh vegetables that have spent time in transit, sitting in a warehouse, or on display at the store. 

Steaming by way of the microwave, stove top, or pressure cooker are healthy ways to cook vegetables to prevent nutrient loss and retain flavor, texture, and color.  Steaming also helps to retain the water-soluble vitamins and minerals that would otherwise leech into cooking water.  Water soluble vitamins are also heat sensitive, so quick cooking times helps to reduce nutrient loss.  Vegetable nutrients along with fiber and phytochemicals, help to lower risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, and vision loss.

Steam bag vegetables can be used in the same way as any frozen vegetable.  While steam bags do add cost to the vegetables, there definitely is convenience in using the steam bag packaging as there is virtually no clean up involved.  One doesn’t need to be confined to using an entire bag when a smaller amount is needed.  The bag can be opened and a smaller portion taken out and steamed using another method. For additional information on steaming vegetables, check out Cooking Fresh Vegetables by Purdue University.

Steaming is also a great way to prepare frozen vegetables for use in a salad. One should not thaw frozen vegetables and eat them without cooking.  Blanching prior to freezing stops the aging of vegetables but does not necessarily take care of contaminants that may be found in the field such as salmonella, listeria, and E.coli; contaminants can penetrate the tiny cell walls which are broken when the vegetables are blanched.  All vegetables are packaged as ready-to-cook, not as ready-to-eat. Therefore, vegetables should be cooked to 165 degrees for that reason. In most cases this temperature can be reached by steaming the vegetables to tender-crisp and then letting them sit in a closed container for 5 minutes before serving.

Bottom line is that the best cooking method for frozen (and fresh) vegetables is steaming.  If accomplishing that is by using pre-packaged steam bag vegetables, know that it is safe when package directions are followed.  Besides nutrient retention, steamed vegetables will have better flavor and more desirable textures.

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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Substitute Ingredients for Coronavirus Baking

When people feel anxious, they look for something to do, a distraction of sorts, and baking provides just that for many people.  During these challenging times, it seems that people are baking more at home than previously and psychologists have coined the baking frenzy as “coronavirus baking” or “stress baking”. I, too, have found myself baking more while at home to fill in what we don’t have on hand and maybe for a distraction, too. One thing is for sure, I have more time now for baking than I had before.

Baking triggers all kinds of positive feelings and plays welcome tricks on the brain whether one is stressed or not.  Such pleasures as creativity, memories of happy times, using energy in a focused, engaged, or mindful way, and enjoying tangible or measurable accomplishments come to mind.

With people staying at home, the urge to bake may strike only to find that ingredients needed are not on the shelf.  Or, even more unimaginable, with more people baking, there is a shortage of baking supplies in some areas. 

When this happens, we look to other ingredients to substitute for what is missing.  Bear in mind, that baking is more of an ‘exact science’  so when substitutes are used, baked products will perhaps be slightly different in taste, texture, appearance, and quality, but will result in an edible baked product that can be enjoyed.  Having tried these various substitutes over time, I have found that some substitutes are better for one baking situation than others; it’s very much trial and error. Most good cookbooks provide a listing of emergency substitutions; substitutions can also be found online.  (A good, printable chart is available from Colorado State University and includes many substitutions beyond baking.)  Despite these good resources, sometimes desperate times call for more desperate measures using less common substitutions.  To that end, here are some substitutes for common baking ingredients that one may not find in the usual lists of emergency lists.

Butter Replacers
Replace 1 cup butter with

NUT BUTTERS – Nut butters need to be combined with an equal part oil to get a 1:1 butter replacement.  (i.e., combine 1/2 cup nut butter with 1/2 cup oil to equal 1 cup butter.)

Oil – ¾ cup.  Choose an oil with a light flavor.

COOKED BEANS – 1 cup mashed beans; use black beans for chocolate baking and light beans such as cannellini for light backing.

AVOCADO – 1 cup mashed avocado.

UNSWEETENED APPLESAUCE OR PUMPKIN/SQUASH PUREE – 1 cup sauce or puree; reduce liquid in recipe slightly if possible.

Egg Replacers
Replace 1 egg with

VINEGAR AND BAKING SODA – 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon vinegar combined.

UNSWEETENED APPLESAUCE, YOGURT, SILKEN TOFU, or MASHED BANANAS – ¼ cup of any.

GROUND FLAXSEED – 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, 3 tablespoons water, combine and allow to sit until thick and gelatinous.

Baking Soda
Replace 1 teaspoon baking soda with

BAKING POWDER – 3 teaspoons baking powder; reduce salt, and replace acidic ingredients (buttermilk, yogurt, lemon juice, etc) with non-acidic ingredients, if possible.

EGG WHITES – 2 egg whites whipped to stiff peaks, fold in.  Measure egg whites and reduce any liquid used in the recipe by the same amount. 

CLUB SODA (sodium bicarbonate) – replace any liquid in the recipe with club soda.

Baking Powder
Replace 1 teaspoon baking powder with

BAKING SODA – 1/3 teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon cream of tartar.

BUTTERMILK, SOUR MILK, PLAIN YOGURT – ¼ teaspoon baking soda and ½ cup buttermilk, sour milk or yogurt.  Decrease liquid in recipe by ½ cup.  (Sour milk can be made by adding ½ tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice to ½ cup sweet milk.)

MOLASSES – ¼ teaspoon baking soda and ¼ cup molasses; reduce liquids and sugars used in recipe.

White Granulated Sugar
Replace 1 cup sugar with

HONEY AND MAPLE SYRUP – ¾ cup honey or maple syrup.  Reduce liquid in recipe by 3 tablespoons. Add a pinch of baking soda to honey to reduce acidity.

AGAVE NECTAR – 2/3 cup agave.  Reduce liquid in recipe by 2-4 tablespoons and oven temperature by 25 percent.

POWDERED SUGAR, BROWN SUGAR, RAW SUGAR, MAPLE SUGAR, COCONUT SUGAR – 1 cup of any.

Brown Sugar
Replace 1 cup packed brown sugar with

SUGAR AND MOLASSES – 1 cup white sugar and ¼ cup unsulphured molasses.

COCONUT SUGAR – 1 cup.

All-Purpose Flour
Replace 1 cup flour with

SEE SUGGESTIONS FROM COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY

Go ahead and make your brownies, cakes, cookies, muffins, or biscuits if it calms your nerves or helps put your mind at ease. I’ll probably be doing the same.  And know that the same pleasures derived from baking can be experienced even if we have to substitute an ingredient and settle for a product that isn’t quite the same.

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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REAL ID Update

One year ago, I wrote a blog, Real ID for Travel, informing consumers about the need to get a Real ID driver’s license to comply with the Real ID Act enacted by Congress in 2005 for domestic travel and admission to federal facilities requiring an ID. At that time, US citizens had until October 1, 2000 to acquire the required ID through their respective driver’s license bureaus.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security announced on March 26, 2020, an extension of the Real ID Act to October 1, 2021 giving citizens an additional year to obtain a REAL-ID compliant license. For more information on Real ID beyond the blog, check out the Real ID/Homeland Security website.

While we may not be traveling much during this time, we will travel again. Bottom line remains the same, if you plan to travel by air or enter a federal facility requiring ID, you will need a Real ID unless you have other proper identification; for travel, that would be a passport.  If you do not anticipate either scenario, a Real ID is not needed.

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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Food Safety and COVID-19

AnswerLine has been getting lots of calls about food safety and food safety practices during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With many of us being at home, our TVs provide some entertainment as well as non-stop COVID-19 news and advice from one ‘expert’ to the next.  The messages are very mixed and sometimes downright FALSE.  We at AnswerLine, a part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, are committed to providing consumers with researched-based information and supporting the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s measures and advice on staying safe during this time.

Here’s answers to some of the questions clients have asked regarding food safety, food packaging, and how to shop for food safely.  Answers to these questions come from the following resources:

1USDA, Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions/Food Safety 
2Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, No Evidence COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Food and Food Packaging 
3North Carolina State Extension, Covid-19 Food Safety ResourcesSee this site for copies of flyers to share on these topics.

Q:  Can I become sick with COVID-19 from food?
A:   “The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the European Food Safety Authority are in full agreement that there is currently NO evidence that COVID-19 has spread through food or food packaging.  Previous coronavirus epidemics likewise showed no evidence of having been spread through food or packaging.”2  

“Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like Norovirus and Hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness and not food poisoning, and foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.” 2

As before the pandemic, one needs to vigilantly practice good hygiene such as washing hands and surfaces often and correctly, separating meat from other foods, cooking foods to the correct temperature, and refrigerating foods properly and promptly to keep food supplies safe and prevent food-borne illnesses.

Q:  Do I need to disinfect my produce before I use it?
A:  “Washing produce before eating or using fresh is always a good idea.  It is NOT recommended to wash produce with dish soap or any detergent or to treat produce with a chemical disinfectant.”Washing produce with these products can cause vomiting and diarrhea making consumers otherwise sick.

Some have promoted the use of natural disinfectants like vinegar and water as a safer way to wash fruits and vegetables.  Unlike soaps, detergents and chemicals, vinegar and water will not harm anyone; however, vinegar and water simply offer false security when it comes to COVID-19.  While a few studies have shown that vinegar helps with some viruses and microbes, there is no evidence that it can kill COVID-19.  

Q:  I have heard that the virus lives on surfaces.  Do I need to sanitize or disinfect packaged and canned food items?  Do I need to remove food items from cardboard packaging and store otherwise?
A:  As previously stated, food and food packaging are NOT major sources of virus transmission.  However, laboratory studies have shown that COVID-19 can survive for days on plastic, cardboard, glass, and steel.  Therefore, it is “possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads.”2 Person to person is the most likely means of transmission.

“Handling of food packaging should be followed with handwashing and/or using hand sanitizer.”3 If it offers one more peace of mind to handle items with gloves and to wipe plastic, glass, and cans at home with a disinfectant before storing, there is no harm in doing so as long as it is done safely, items are allowed to dry completely, gloves are disposed of, and hand washing follows.  Cardboard should not be wiped with a disinfectant prior to storage; foods items can be removed and stored appropriately otherwise with the cardboard box disposed of, if that brings more peace of mind.

Q:  Should I store my groceries someplace other than my pantry, refrigerator, or freezer?
A:  “It is NOT recommended to store groceries outside of the home, in cars or garages.”3

Q:  How can I minimize my risk at the store?
A:  “Use hand sanitizer when entering stores and wash hands and/or use sanitizer when leaving. Bring your own disinfecting wipes and use on cart and basket handles and card readers. Maintain social distancing as much as possible while shopping and give others at least 6 ft of space. Avoid touching surfaces or items unnecessarily (touch only items that you will buy) and avoid touching your mouth, nose or face.”3 To avoid touching produce with your bare hands use a produce bag to pick up items and place into a clean bag or use the same bag if you are getting a single item; avoid touching multiple items when making produce selections.  Discard all plastic bags at home and wash your hands after discarding. 

If your store permits the use of recyclable bags, make sure to follow these guidelines each and every time they are used during this time of caution.  Many stores are not permitting their use presently.

Lastly, the best food safety protection for ALL is for everyone to be responsible and avoid shopping if experiencing a cough, runny nose, or fever—symptoms of any virus.  And always seek responsible, researched-based information for as a friend’s father advised, “Misinformation is worse than no information at all!”

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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Out of Bread? Bread ‘In a Pinch’ Ideas

As we hunker down during this time of social distancing and staying home unless absolutely necessary to go out, we may find that we are running out of things that we commonly buy as needed.  One of those items may be bread.  In our previous life, we might have made a run to or a stop at the store to pick up a loaf or two.  Maybe NOT today.  There are ways to get bread ‘in a pinch’ with basic pantry ingredients at minimal cost—and no yeast needed as it might not be a staple in everyone’s pantry.  Further, the recipes are so easy that the kids can get involved with the making, too.

Idea One–‘Magic’ Dinner Rolls or Biscuits.  This recipe was shared by a friend.  The ingredients needed include flour, baking powder, salt, milk and mayonnaise.  Here’s the recipe:

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients and spoon into a greased muffin pan. The recipe makes 5-6 rolls. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 15 min or until golden brown. After you take the rolls out of oven, brush butter on top.

I experimented with this recipe a bit by adding some raisins and a small amount of cinnamon and sugar for a quick breakfast treat.  One could also add a little cheese, herbs, and bacon bits for a savory flavor.  If the latter is added, the biscuits should be eaten out of the oven rather than stored. I also plan to experiment with gluten-free flour.

Idea Two—Indian “No Fry” Fry Bread.  I’ve had Indian Fry Bread in Arizona where it is usually deep fat fried.  Since I don’t personally deep fat fry, I sought to find a recipe that could be baked.  Indian Fry Bread is a very simple bread made with flour, baking powder, salt, and warm water resulting in a tortilla-style or flat bread.  After trying several, I liked Indian “No Fry” Fry Bread published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  I used my indoor electric grill to bake them.  An outdoor grill could be used as well.  I topped my fry bread with strips of meat, onion, pepper slices, black beans, and grated cheese to make a quick lunch but anything—savory or sweet–could be used.  Further, they are very tasty and would make a great accompaniment to soup or salad.  The directions that come with the recipe are excellent.

Idea Three—Tortillas.  Homemade tortillas are nothing new for me as I’ve made them off and on for years.  Ingredients are very similar to Indian Fry Bread with the addition of shortening.  One thing that I learned from a very good YouTube video, How to Make Soft Flour Tortillas (recipe included in the video), was that kneading the dough for a longer time made the tortilla dough much easier to handle.  Tortillas are best baked/prepared on a hot skillet or griddle; a cast iron skillet is best but definitely not necessary. The finished tortillas can be used in all of the same ways that one might use purchased tortillas but know that they do not keep as long.  They are best used freshly made or within a day of making.

As I experimented with the recipes, I liked the suggestion of making balls before resting the dough as shown in the Flour Tortilla YouTube video for both the Indian Fry Bread and Tortillas.  I also found that I could get thinner tortillas and fry bread if I let the rolled dough rest a few minutes after the first rolling and then rolled them a second time.

Do you have ideas for getting by ‘in a pinch’ when a staple just can’t be had? I’d love to hear from you.

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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Clean Your Phone to Help Protect Against Coronavirus and Other Illnesses

It’s no secret that our smartphones are filthy and my phone is no exception.   There are any number of scientific studies documenting such.  Our phones go everywhere with us and often times to places where contamination is high making it a breeding ground for germs of all kinds.  They touch our faces, ears, lips, and hands.  And who knows what our hands have touched prior to or after handling our phone. Keeping our phones reasonably sanitary is a smart way to keep germs off our fingers and away from our face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider phones to be a “high-touch surface,” which makes them a possible carrier of the Covid-19 virus.   Therefore, it seems prudent that we clean our smartphones regularly and more so, in this time of a global health crisis.  The CDC does not know at this time how long the coronavirus lives on surfaces, but evidence suggests it could be hours to 9 days.

As a result of my concern to sanitize, not just cleaning, my phone, I began to research the proper way to do it to insure success in disinfecting and at the same time, not using something that would damage my phone.  Here’s what I learned:

Apple support has guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting Apple specific products.  Amidst novel coronavirus concerns, Apple recently updated its cleaning guide to say “70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox disinfecting wipes” could be used to clean iPhones as long as one is careful to avoid getting moisture in the openings in the phone.  Android users should check with their individual phone manufacturer for specific guidelines. In general, most manufacturers (Samsung has not yet provided a statement) suggest using ordinary household disinfecting wipes or 70% isopropyl alcohol-based wipes to disinfect phones, including the screen.  Wipes containing bleach should not be used on the screen as it will eat away at the oleophobic coating used to help prevent fingerprint smudges.  In all cases, one must avoid getting moisture into openings like the ports, switches, and camera lens.  

The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves during the cleaning and disinfecting process.  To begin cleaning, power off and unplug the phone.  Remove the outer protective case and clean as appropriate for the material the case is made from.  Wipe the phone with an appropriate disinfecting/cleaning product as suggested by the phone manufacturer.  Allow the phone and case to thoroughly dry before putting the two back together.  Finally, remove and dispose of the gloves and wash your hands.

While there are some ultraviolet light sanitizing devices available to buy, they have not been proven to be effect for the Covid-19 virus.

Here’s to an “ounce of prevention being a pound of cure” or “I’d rather be safe than sorry” in these uncertain times when there are simple things we can do to protect ourselves.

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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Shopping Like a Food Safety Expert – UPDATE

About a year and half ago, I wrote a blog on keeping food safe while shopping at the grocery store and getting it home safely.  In the blog, washing reusable grocery bags was included with advice from the USDA stating that reusable bags should be laundered at least one a month or immediately if soiled.

Since that blog, laundering of reusable bags has come into the lime light following a non-scientific study done by a tv station in Albuquerque, NM that is now circulating on social media.  This group contended that the bags they tested were heavily infested with bacteria that might be considered fecal contaminants.  The fact that reusable bags can be dirty is not a new story.   At study by scientists at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in 2011 confirmed such when they found that half of the bags tested in their study carried coliform bacteria with a small percentage exhibiting E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination.

While there are pros and cons to using reusable bags, cleanliness is of upmost importance.  Here are some tips from Good Housekeeping on how to launder the various types of reusable bags:

Canvas Bags – toss into the washing machine with hot water and detergent, dry in the drier.

Recycled Plastic or Polyproplylene Bags – wash by hand in warm soapy water and line or air dry; pay attention to inner- and outer-seams.

Insulated Bags – since insulated bags are usually used for raw meats, dairy products, and some produce, these bags need to be cleaned after each use with a disinfecting wipe and allowed to air dry completely before storing. If there was leakage of any kind, the bag should be turned inside out exposing the liner, washed with hot, soapy water and air dry.

Nylon Bags – flip them inside out; wash them by hand or on the gentle washing cycle in warm soapy water, and air dry.

In addition to these tips, I also like to dry my bags in the sunshine if possible. When was the last time you cleaned your reusable grocery bags?

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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New 2020 Form W-4

On December 5, 2019, the IRS issued a redesigned Form W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Certificate).  Form W-4 is used by employers to correctly withhold federal income tax from employee paychecks as determined by the employee.  Prior to the 2020 form, the amount withheld was based on allowances. The biggest change to the long-used 1987 form is that the new form no longer uses allowances to determine withholding. 

While all employees must fill out Form W-4 at the time of their employment for federal income tax withholding, the IRS is not requiring all employees to fill out a new 2020 Form W-4.  The new form was designed to work with prior year versions of the form.  Therefore, current employees need not fill out a new form unless they need to revise or update their federal withholding due to changes in their personal or tax situation.   However, all new hires will use 2020 Form W-4.

The 2020 form was designed to make it easier than previously to fill out.  The 2020 form no longer asks about allowances so gone are the days of wondering whether one should claim ‘0’, ‘1’, or something else.  Elimination of allowances aligns with the changes of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  The 2020 W-4 Form, available from the IRS, is four pages long and can be downloaded and printed for filling out or filled out online and printed.  Page 1 is the form itself and is the only page due to the employer.  Page 2-4 are informational and include worksheets and tables.

Here are some tips to help with filling out the form (Page 1):

Step 1.  Enter Personal Information.  Be sure to check the correct filing status.

Step 2.  Multiple Jobs or Spouse Works.  Skip this section if nothing applies.  If one or more jobs are held by the employee OR if the employee has a spouse working and files ‘married and filing jointly’ consideration needs to be made based upon a, b, or c.
(a) Use the IRS’s tax withholding estimator.  See Page 2 for when to use the estimator.  To use the estimator, you will need to gather some documents (given on the website) in order to provide the most accurate information.  (The estimator is only as good as the information provided.)
(b) Use the Multiple Jobs Worksheet on Page 3. Enter results in Step 4(c).
(c) If there are only two jobs with similar pay, check the box. Do the same for other job Form W-4.

Step 3.  Claim Dependents.  Include qualifying dependent children (under age 17) and other dependents (qualifying older children or elderly parents/relatives).  Be sure to read Step 3 instructions on Page 2 to meet qualification requirements.

Step 4.  Other Adjustments.  This section only applies if one desires
(a) withholding tax for non-job income:
(b) do not expect to claim the standard income tax deduction (vast majority of people claim the standard deduction);
(c) withholding additional tax for each pay period for amounts from Multiple Jobs Worksheet, line 4, or for any other reason. Entering an amount here will reduce paycheck amounts and will either increase tax refunds or reduce income tax due (Form 1040).

Step 5.  Sign Here.  Sign, date, and submit to employer.  Employees may want to keep a copy for themselves.  This is a legal tax document.

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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