Electric Blanket Safety

With chilly nights becoming the norm, many are looking for warmer blankets and throws for cozy companions.  If one of those blankets or throws is electric, it should be inspected, regardless of age, before snuggling up for the season to make sure that it is safe.  Older blankets that have seen their better days are definitely a hazard but occasionally, a newer blanket or even one fresh out of the bag could have a wiring issue.  Electric blankets and their 100 feet of wiring account for numerous fires, injuries and death each year.

When inspecting a plug-in blanket or throw, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends looking for cracks and breaks in wiring, plugs, and connectors.  Also look for dark, charred, or frayed spots on either side of the blanket.  If the blanket shows any of these characteristics or is more than 10 years old, it should be thrown away—DO NOT DONATE. (If you want to keep the blanket for some other use like covering plants in the fall, throw away the control unit to render it non-electrical.) Older plug-ins (10 years plus) are more likely to be a hazard because most operate without a rheostat.  The rheostat control found on most newer blankets and throws control heat by gauging both the blanket temperature and the user’s body temperature.  Lastly, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to make sure the blanket has not been recalled.

If a new blanket or throw is to be purchased for self or as a gift, make sure it has been tested by and bears the label of a reputable testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).  Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions.  If the directions don’t match your intended use, do not purchase.  And again, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to make sure the blanket of consideration is not on the recall list.

Once the blanket or throw is in use, keep these safety tips in mind:

Keep the blanket flat while in use.  Folds or bunched-up areas can create and trap too much heat.  This also includes tucking ends in which can cause excessive heat build-up.  The blanket is also best stored flat or rolled which puts less stress on the coils.

Keep everything and anything off of the blanket.  This includes comforters/bedspreads, blankets, clothing, pets, and yourself.  No sleeping or lounging on top of the blanket either. Weight of any kind may cause the blanket to overheat.  Pet claws can cause punctures, rips, and tears which may expose or break the wiring and create shock and fire hazards.  If pets are a must, consider a low-voltage blanket.

Avoid washing.  Washing machines and electric blankets aren’t a given match.  Always follow the manufactures directions if washing is necessary and do not use the spin cycle.  There’s no guarantee that the internal coils in the blanket won’t get twisted or damaged or that the electrical circuitry will avoid damage in the laundry.

Heat and then sleep.  If the blanket does not have a timer, turn it off before going to sleep.  Most manufactures recommend the same.

Consider the bed.  Never use an electric blanket on a waterbed or adjustable, hospital-style bed.

Mind the cords.  Avoid running cords under the mattress as this creates friction that can damage the cord or trap excess heat.

Electric blankets and throws are great cozy companions but they need to be respected and used with care.  Today’s electric blankets are safer and more energy efficient than those of the past. Many of these innovations were developed as Underwriters Laboratories, an independent product-safety testing organization, came up with stricter safety standards for electric blankets, including warnings on the instructions.  With respect and care, these cozy companions are perfect for deflecting cold rooms and beds.

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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Beware of Halloween Decoration Dangers

‘Tis the season to be scary . . . fa, la, la, la, la, la, la . . .

Halloween has become as festive as Christmas with string of lights, blow up decorations, animated displays, fog machines, and other electric-powered decorations.  Any and all create a scare-worthy porch or yard for any trick-or-treaters that dare to ring the doorbell.  But like Christmas decorations, Halloween decorations can be a source of dangers that could spoil the holiday that is suppose to be fun.  Remember a safe celebration is the best celebration.

So as Halloween decorating approaches, here’s some safety tips from Safe Electricity to make sure Halloween is safe and fun for all:

  • Carefully inspect decorations that have been stored for cracking, fraying or bare wires.  Do not use if any of these problems are found as they may cause a shock or start a fire.
  • When replacing or purchasing decorations or cords, make sure they are Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approved and marked for outdoor use.
  • Unless specifically indicated, keep electrical decorations out of water or wet areas.
  • Be mindful of extension cords.  They should not run through water on the ground.  Use only cords rated for outdoor use.
  • Don’t overload plugs or extension cords.  Be sure to use a big enough gauge extension cord to handle the decoration wattage without getting hot.
  • Use insulated staples to hold strings of lights or cords in place.  Fasten securely.
  • Plug outdoor lights and decorations into GFCI outlets (ground fault circuit interrupters).
  • Keep cords away from walkways or anyplace where they may be a potential tripping hazard or entanglement hazard for pets.
  • Consider using a timer to have decorations or lights on for a specified amount of time.  Turn them off while away from the home and before going to bed.

By following basic electrical safety guidelines, you will  avoid real scares or dangerous tricks and keep Halloween a fun and safe event.  Get more safety tips at SafeElectricity.org.

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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Mobile Wallet: Is It for Me? or YOU?

Most of us carry around any number of cards in our wallets: credit cards, gift cards, rewards cards, membership cards, key cards, and among them, our driver’s license. For mobile device users, there’s a new way of carrying all those cards; it’s the mobile wallet. A mobile wallet is a wallet that lives on your mobile device instead of in your back pocket. Instead of scrambling to locate a card to pay for a purchase, you simply tap your device and be on your way. Only about 16 percent of smart device owners currently use a mobile wallet app to pay for purchases according to a JPMorgan Chase survey. This limited number may be due to lack of consumer awareness, perceived insecurity, or because only 36 percent of US retailers currently offer this payment option. However, more and more merchants are moving towards mobile wallet payment by updating their systems to accommodate consumers. Besides a payment option, they are a new and powerful marketing and loyalty platform for merchants, too.

Since mobile wallets seem to be the moving trend and I have apps on my smartphone that encourage their use, I wanted to find out why I would want or should use a mobile wallet app. Here’s what I learned:

Mobile wallets provide a convenient way to pay for goods and services. The app will work on a smartphone, smartwatch, or tablet.

Mobile wallets eliminate the need to carry around a fat wallet with multiple cards that we may only use occasionally. There are no worries about misplacing or losing a card. And since mobile wallets can store all the loyalty reward cards, there is no need to carry a key chain with lots of store tags attached.

Mobile wallets are potentially safer than physically carrying credit cards or cash.  Because information stored in mobile wallets is encrypted, security is superior to magnetic strip or chip (EMV) credit cards.  Mobile wallets use what is called a Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip. When payment data is transmitted, actual account numbers are not used; rather NFC makes use of encrypted payment codes. This means that upon transaction, your device encrypts your information taken at the checkout terminal, sends data to the mobile wallet provider who decrypts the information, identifies you, and sends the payment request to the processor, who then requests the money from your bank or pays on your behalf (credit).

Mobile wallets are generally harder to steal or copy than physical cards or cash because your card is never out of your sight and your wallet is never open. To further enhance security, two-step verification should be used. One password, fingerprint, or personal identification number (PIN) to open or unlock the mobile device and a second to get into the mobile wallet app. Even if a thief were to bypass all the security, the risk is low. Mobile wallets require an underlying credit or debit card to fund transactions and those cards limit your liability for erroneous or fraudulent charges; credit cards offer more protection that a debit card since a debit card is linked to your bank account. You can also protect your data by installing an app that will help you located your device if you lose it or remotely wipe the data from the device.

Mobile wallets acceptance is growing throughout the marketplace. Millions of retailers (brick and mortar as well as online) accept mobile wallets and have payment-processing terminals available or have adapted their app systems to mobile wallet technology.   While an actual list of retailers using NFC e-transactions does not appear to exist, I found websites that do provide some information.  (I will list some of them at the end of the blog.)  Ideally, mobile wallets include a locator tool in their apps, to find nearby merchants who accept NFC payments.  Look for the contactless symbol used on compatible payment terminals.

Mobile wallets may eventually replace traditional checkout procedures. Apps are being developed that allow one to pay while they walk through the store avoiding checkout lanes completely.

What about risks?
According to Consumer Reports the risks include the possibility of increased fees, sacrificing some privacy, and the potential loss of device battery power or retailer not accepting contactless payment forcing the wallet out of the back pocket and scrambling for cash or an old credit card.

How do mobile wallets work?
Most mobile wallets work through an app on your smart device by scanning a barcode, tapping or waving at the point-of-sale. This means you can make a purchase by positioning your phone or device in front of a terminal at checkout. The phone transmits your payment information and then asks you to verify your purchase by entering a code, entering a pattern or taking your fingerprint. The N-mark (a blue square with a stylized N) will appear on the status bar of your device when NFC is active.

How does one get a mobile wallet?
Mobile wallet apps may be obtained in various ways. Three of the four most widely used mobile wallets are currently device or operating system specific: Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay. A fourth, PayPal, works across all major devices as do retailer or brand specific apps and major bank apps. Start by downloading the mobile app(s) of choice onto your device. Then load the credit or debit card information you want to store along with loyalty cards and even coupons. At point-of-sale, you choose the app that fits the purchase such as Apple Pay can be used only at retail outlets accepting Apple Pay and retail or brand apps can only be used at that retail outlet. Most mobile wallets offer similar features and security measures. The right one for you depends more on personal preference or on the device or credit cards you own.

In summary, mobile wallets appear to offer more convenience and security than a traditional wallet. They are widely used and accepted at retailers around the country. Based on the information I found, I’ve decided to gradually give up my fat wallet and ring of loyalty reward cards and use mobile wallet apps when I can. Is a mobile wallet for you? I’d love to hear your experience with mobile wallets!

Brief list of NFC Retailers:



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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Plug Into Safety

While we rely on electricity daily, we cannot take its power and convenience for granted without also considering the potential for fire-related and safety hazards.  May is National Electrical Safety Month and a good time to be reminded of the risks associated with electricity and the things we can do to reduce our risk and keep our living and working areas safe from electrical hazards.

Here’s some tips:

Avoid water and electricity; they are a deadly combination.  Water is an excellent conductor of electricity.  People and animals can be electrocuted when electricity’s path to the ground is through anyone touching water and something electric.  Electricity travels through the water and through the being to the ground.  That is why it’s so important to keep all electrical appliances away from water, to make sure your hands are dry before touching anything electrical, not standing in water when you touch anything electrical, and avoid using electrical power tools outdoors in wet grass or other work or damp areas.  It’s also the reason no one should ever use water on an electrical fire, but should use a multipurpose fire extinguisher instead.

Only plug one heat-producing appliance (coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc) into a wall outlet as at a time.  Each household outlet is rated for a safe amount of current, typically 15-20 amps.  Plugging too many household appliances into the same outlet may cause the outlet to  overheat or overload the circuit, start a fire, or create a shock hazard. Unplug small appliances when not in use.

Like an outlet, do not overload a cord.  A specified diameter of copper wire will carry a specified amount of current before it overheats.  Use too much current through that small cord, and it can overheat, melt down and ignite household furnishings.  Make sure that the appliance hooked to the extension cord does not exceed the rating for the cord.  Today, extension cords either have the rating stamped on a plug, or a tag is affixed telling you what amperage it is rated to support.  Devices that produce heat (hair dryers, curling irons, portable heaters, etc) or power tools that do heavy work tend to be high-amperage items.  Ensure the cord can support the total amperage load you put on it and you should have no problems.

Keep metal objects out of appliances and plugs. If a piece of toast gets stuck in the toaster, never use a metal knife to retrieve it. Unplug the toaster and then use a different tool to retrieve it.

Install tamper-resistant electrical outlets if you have young children. (http://www.esfi.org/program/tamper-resistant-receptacles-trrs-205)  If a replacement is not possible, install new protective outlet covers that don’t allow children to insert an object into the wall outlet.

Check all power and extension cords for cracks and fraying.  Those showing wear, are loose, or have tape over cracks should be replaced immediately.  Anytime you breach insulation in a cord, you’ve provided a point for current to travel out.  If current can travel from one wire to a person, they’ll get shocked.  If current can travel from the cord to a metal object, anyone who touches that object can get electrocuted, or the current can ground out creating heat and potentially a fire.  If current travels from one wire to another within the extension cord, you have a short circuit which will trip a breaker if everything works right, and can cause a fire if everything does not work right.

Avoid putting cords under rugs, carpets, or furniture.  They can be damaged or pinched by furniture or foot traffic and make it difficult to determine their condition.

Cords used outdoors should be rated for outdoor use.  The cord jacket protects against rough use, moisture, ozone and gives added flexibility at below freezing temperatures. Further, they have molded-on and bonded vinyl plugs and connectors to resist breaking or pulling off the cord.

Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage for the lamp or fixture.  If unsure, check for a sticker on the lamp or fixture base to see the maximum wattage light bulb to use.  For the new LED bulbs, make sure that there is a way to dissipate heat (https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2017/04/17/transitioning-from-incandescent-and-cfl-bulbs-to-leds/).

Install arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) in bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, and outdoors.  These kind of circuit breakers shut off electricity when a dangerous condition occurs.  AFCIs should be installed by a qualified electrician.

Replace worn or broken outlets or switches.  Any that are loose fitting, cracked, have broken parts,  do not function as they should, are hot to the touch, or give shock should be replaced immediately.

Uncoil cords.  Power or extension cords should be fully uncoiled when in use.    A coiled cord generates heat and with enough current running through it, enough heat can be generated to ignite household furnishings.

Turn lights off when not in use. In addition to the cost savings on your next electric bill, this simple task will also help prevent electrical fires from overheated bulbs. Consider installing motion-detecting light switches.

Electrical safety should be a top priority in your home and work area. Awareness of electrical hazards is the key to reducing the staggering number of electrically-related home fires, injuries and deaths that occur every year.


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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Transitioning from Incandescent and CFL bulbs to LEDs

Like many consumers today, my family has gradually been changing from incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFLs) bulbs to light emitting diode (LED) lights.  For many reasons, LEDs lighting is preferable to incandescent and CFL lighting:  LED’s light up very quickly achieving full brightness in milliseconds, are dimmable, radiate very little heat, use less energy, have a long life, contain no toxic materials, give off zero UV emissions, and operate in extreme hot or cold temperatures.  But gone are the days when buying lightbulbs used to be a cinch. When a 60-watt incandescent bulb burnt out in by-gone days, you purchased another pack of 60-walt bulbs, reinstalled, and that was the end.  Since 2012, incandescents have gradually been phased out, replaced temporarily by CFLs, and now the LEDs.

As we began the transition, we found there are more lighting choices than ever before and that we had much to learn in order to get the right bulb.  A good place to start is by looking for the ENERGY STAR label and checking out the chart: ENERGY  STAR Light Bulb Purchasing Guide as a guide to finding the right bulb for your light fixture.   (ENERGY STAR is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helping consumers save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.)  Since all LED bulbs are not created equal, LED bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR have met the highest standards for quality and performance.

The next step was learning the jargon:

Lumens.  For brightness, look for lumens, not watts as used by incandescent bulbs.  Lumens indicate the light output whereas watts indicate energy consumed.  Certified LED bulbs provide the same brightness (lumens) with less energy (watts).  The Purchasing Guide provides a chart to determine how many lumens are need to match the brightness of an incandescent bulb (i.e. 800 lumens = 60 watts).

Color Temperature.  LED bulbs are available in a wide range of colors matching a temperature on the Kelvin Scale (K).  Lower K values mean a warmer, yellowish light while high K values equate to cooler, bluer light.  There is a small illustration of this in the Purchasing Guide.  For a larger, more colorful and easy-to-read chart, check out the chart provided by Westinghouse.

Color Rendering Index (CRI).  This information is not always on the box but sometimes can be found in the lighting displays at the store.  CRI tells how accurately colors appear under the bulb’s light, ranging from 0-100.  The old incandescent bulbs have a CRI of 100.  Consumer Reports recommends a CRI of 80 for interior lights.

Although there are many advantages to using LEDs, they are still a bit more expensive than alternatives.  Due to their extremely low power requirements, LEDs ultimately save money over their life and will pay for themselves in energy savings.  In some communities, that savings can come within six months of installation.  Further, to help consumers, some power companies and city utilities offer energy savings programs or rebates for purchasing LED bulbs and/or LED light fixtures. From January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017, participating Iowa electric utilities are helping residents make the simple switch to energy-efficient lighting by offering special pricing on ENERGY STAR® qualified LED bulb purchases of 12 or less. If you want to see the real value of switching to LED’s, visit bulbs.com and check out the Energy Savings Calculator.

A couple of other factors that entered into our replacement equation was the need to make some fixture changes or adjustments.  Even though the LED bulbs are supposed to be exactly the same in size as the incandescents, we found otherwise.  Therefore, it was a good idea to bring our incandescent bulb along and measure everything carefully beginning with the length of the base.  The biggest surprise for me was that contrary to popular belief, LEDs do generate heat and that they need to be in a non-enclosed fixture to allow heat to dissipate from the heat sink.  Without the ability to vent, they can overheat and fail early.  A sales person at Lowes showed me how the new bulb-type fixtures provide for heat dissipation with a nearly inconspicuous small venting system in the glass of the fixture.  Further, he advised that if the LED bulbs are put into existing, enclosed fixtures, the fixture might still be usable by lengthening the stem of the fixture so that there is a small space between the top of the glass and the fixture base.  There are also bulbs specifically designed to be placed in enclosed fixtures.  If you purchase a fixture that already has LED lights incorporated into it, the heat dissipation will have been taken care of by the manufacturer, but you may need to remove some insulation in your attic surrounding the location of the fixture.

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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Make Sure Your Cell Phone is ‘Clean’ Before Discarding

After a recent TV news story regarding how much information was found on discarded cell phones in a university study, it seemed appropriate to review what one needs to do before selling, trading-in, or donating a cell phone to purge the phone of any personal information.  All of the cell phones used in the study were purchased randomly from Goodwill.

If a new cell phone is in your future, here’s some tips on how to safely remove all personal data from your existing phone for peace of mind and to make sure you leave nothing behind that could be used maliciously by someone else.  The same steps can be taken for tablets before disposal, too.

  1. Back up all your data, settings, photos, videos, texts, call log, contacts, etc.  If you’re unsure how to do this, check with your provider.
  2. Remove your SIM card and SD card if you have one.
  3. Log out of all social media accounts, email accounts, and any apps which might track personal data.
  4. Once all your data has been backed up, encrypt your phone.
  5. Disable and remove all accounts and apps with personal data.
  6. Perform a factory reset.

CNET provides how-tos/videos on how to perform these tasks on Windows, iOS and Android phones.

The FTC advises that once you have performed all of these tasks, that you double check to make sure nothing remains on your phone. Further the FTC advises that you keep the serial number of your phone before letting it go.  And finally, dispose of your phone responsibility.  If you aren’t selling, trading, or giving away your phone, check with your local sanitation agency to learn how to dispose of it properly.

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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Preventing Cellphone/Smartphone Robocalls

This week is National Consumer Protection Week which makes this the perfect time to talk about ways to protect yourself from those annoying automated telemarketing calls, known as Robocalls, which have long been a landline nuisance and now are the bane of cellphone users.  With consumers discontinuing use of landlines, those shady marketers are making those same calls to our private cell phones/smartphones.  The FTC says it is the number one consumer complaint the agency receives.   Not only are the calls a nuisance, Consumer Reports that deceptive marketers use robocalls to commit fraud and rip off vulnerable consumers to the tune of an estimated $350 million every year.

With  VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or in more common terms, phone service over the internet, marketers, scammers, and phony agents can make millions of calls a day at no charge.  The DO NOT CALL Registry does not stop VOIP calls.  Making it worse, is that these fraudsters can spoof their number to make it appear as a call from your neighbor, family, FBI, IRS, or any other legitimate source.

While the cell phone companies say they are working on the problem, they do not agree on an immediate solution to solving the problem even though the technology exists to bring it to an end.  Therefore, it is up to the consumer to protect themselves.

There are ways to fight back and the good news is that there are several apps that will block these calls.  As always, only use apps provided by your phone manufacturer such as the ITunes store or Google Play.  CITA (Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Assn, a Washington DC, non-profit, advocacy group representing the wireless communications industry that enables Americans to lead a 21st century connected life) offers a listing of apps for Android, Blackberry, iOS (Apple) and Windows.  Some top rated apps from these services include:


Mr Number

Privacy Star

Calls Blacklist

True Caller


Hiya (formerly Whitepages)

Before downloading/installing an app to your research.  Be sure to read carefully to understand how the app works, make sure it meets your needs, understand costs, if any, and know what personal information may be requested from your phone.

Trying one of these apps on your smartphone may well add more ‘smartness’ to your phone.

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 Guidelines for Screen Time

Screen timeMany children probably received gifts with screens on them last Christmas. Digital media can have both positive and negative effects on healthy development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced new recommendations for children’s media use. Research is still too new on the devices and their content, however educational, and how they could affect a young brain’s emotional and cognitive development but there are some basic guidelines to consider. What is most important is that parents monitor the media use and talk to children about it.

Here are the basics of the new recommendations:

Under 18 months ~ limit screen time to “video chatting” with family and friends and with a parent present

18 months to 5 years ~ One hour of “high quality” programing per day. It is best to have parent involvement watching along with their child to reinforce what they are seeing on the screen

6 years plus ~ balance media use with other healthy behaviors

Problems arise when children are allowed screen time in place of other activities such as physical activity, social face-to-face interaction, and sleeping. Communication and role modeling are key to the healthy use of screen time for children.

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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Need a new password?

Closeup of Password Box in Internet Browser

There have been a number of stories in the news recently about security breaches in large companies. Usually, these are companies that we would assume are safe.  The message at the end of all these stories is usually about the importance of changing your password regularly.  It can be difficult to follow the suggestion to regularly update your password for each account.  If we think about the number of passwords the average person has, it can be a bit overwhelming to think about regular updates.

I know that I struggle with having enough different passwords for all my different accounts. The internet experts advise us not to use the same password on multiple accounts and not to write those passwords down on paper.

Here are a few more tips for keeping your accounts safe:

  • Never share your password with anyone.
  • Choose a password that is easy for you to remember.
  • Choose a password that is difficult for others to guess.
  • Don’t use a password on multiple accounts.
  • Stay away from using your name or other family member or pet’s names.


Here are some suggestions for choosing a difficult to guess but easy to remember password.

  • Longer passwords are better than short passwords. Try to use at least 8 characters.
  • Use the first letters of the words in a sentence that is easy for you to remember but hard for anyone else to guess. My First Car Was ­A Green Chevy.
  • Use punctuation in those sentence passwords to get to 8 characters. Remember that the punctuation does not necessarily need to be placed at the end of the sentence. Your password could look like this. MFCW!AGC. You can use additional punctuation and numbers to reduce the chance that anyone could guess your password.
  • Choose several words that do not typically go together, or choose a short phrase.

I plan to use some of these ideas to revise passwords on many of my accounts as the new year begins.

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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Electric Pressure Cookers


Recently one of AnswerLine’s Facebook followers asked about electric pressure cookers and Instant Pot.  Not knowing much about either myself, I promised to do some research and share what I learned.  This is a timely question as Electric Programmable Pressure Cookers (EPPCs) have increased in popularity in recent years and Consumer Reports has included an electric pressure cooker in its Holiday Gifts for the Family Chef  article. With anything new, there comes lots of questions:  are EPPCs safe, is pressure cooked food nutritious, does cost equate quality, and are these cookers/pots all they are cracked up to be? The noted promise of an EPPC is to save you time so you can eat well.  So if you are thinking about putting an electric pressure cooker on your holiday list, here are some things you will want to know.

Pressure cookers have long been noted to decrease cooking time, reduce energy consumption, and retain nutrient quality equal to or higher than that of foods cooked by other methods.  In today’s world, the consumer has a wide choice of pressure cookers ranging from the conventional stovetop pot to the EPPCs known as the Third Generation of pressure cookers which are safer and easier to use with the big advantage of convenience over stovetop models—you don’t have to watch the pot!  A Cook’s Illustrated article points out some disadvantages of EPPCs to stove top models which included capacity, non-stick coatings, inadequate handles, weaker heating elements, and storage issues.

Nearly all EPPCs these days are multi-cookers that include slow-cooking, searing, sautéing, simmering, steaming, yogurt making, and warming functions.  An Instant Pot is simply one of many multi-cookers designed to replace a slow cooker, EPPC, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot.   These cookers may be touted as “6 in 1” or “7 in 1” which really mean very little.  The multi-cooker that does what you want it to do is the most important consideration.  While there are many websites that provide information and/or recommendations on EPPCs or multi-cookers, Utah State University Extension tested five different cookers and compared several consumer considerations including safety features, ease of operation, cleaning, and special features.  Based on their tests, the following features were deemed the most important to consider before purchasing an EPCC:

  1. Look for a safety valve that locks the appliance while still under pressure.
  2. A spring-loaded venting system (quick-release vent) delivers the best and most consistent performance.
  3. Look for a pressure setting of 10psi or above.
  4. Detailed trouble shooting/safety sections and thorough instructions on use and care in the User’s Manuel is a must.

Last, but not least, I must address the difference between a pressure cooker whether it is a stove top  model, an EPPC, or a multi-cooker AND a pressure canner.  A pressure cooker is not a pressure canner and should NEVER be used for canning.  Often, the two are used interchangeably in conversation and I want to make it clear that they are NOT!  A pressure canner is designed to CAN  low-acid foods for storage in canning jars at a temperature higher than boiling water.  Pressure cookers are designed to cook everyday foods and as such heat up and cool too quickly to adequately process canned food safely.  Articles by Oregon State University Extension Service, Michigan State University Extension, and the National Center for Home Food Preseration provide great and detailed information on the difference between pressure cookers and canners and why cookers cannot be used as canners.

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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Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
 1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
 1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)