Deicers–helpful or harmful?

“What do you recommend for deicing sidewalks?” was a recent question to AnswerLine.  Most deicing products readily available on the market contain salt compounds known as magnesium chloride (used as a liquid on roads), sodium chloride (table salt), calcium chloride, and potassium chloride (fertilizer). Each winter these materials are applied to sidewalks, driveways, and steps to prevent slipping and falling.  However, they are often applied without regard to the substance, application, or the damage that they may cause to the home, property, environment, pets, and nearby plants.

As for mentioned, deicing products are primarily comprised of salt.  And just like household salt, all salts are not the same.  Salts can cause injury to trees, lawns, and shrubs, corrode metal and concrete, and even do bodily harm to pets and humans.  The most problematic element in any of the deicing products is the chloride; it causes corrosion and is toxic to plants.

The University of Maryland offers some great information on deicers in their help sheet, Melting Ice Safely.  While this is an older publication (1998), there is good information on how deicers work and how to use them effectively and safely.  On the second page of the publication, there is a table comparing the fore-mentioned products along with their effectiveness, corrosiveness, and potential harmfulness to plants. 

A more recent product, calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), contains no chloride and is less damaging to cars, metals, and concrete and less toxic to plants.  It is also said to be biodegradable and pet and wildlife friendly.  It works very much like the traditional ‘chloride’ products to melt ice.  The big downside is the cost.

If you want to avoid deicing products, consider using sand, kitty litter, or chicken grit. While these products won’t melt snow, they will provide traction in slippery spots. Sand and kitty litter are safe for pets and plants and can be swept up when the snow melts. (Chicken grit may be too sharp for the paws of some pets but will not harm plants.)  Boots or shoes traversing any of these products should be removed upon entering a home as they could scratch floors.

Should the landscape fall victim to deicing, a recent article published by Reiman Gardens suggests flushing the area around the plant roots in the spring with water to leech out the salts.

The best advice is to know something about the substance (salts used in the product), consider the application, and then READ AND FOLLOW the manufacturer’s directions for applying the product to minimize damage to property and landscape.  And if possible, apply even less than is recommended.  Deicing products are not meant to replace shoveling or to melt all snow and ice, but to aid in removal efforts to prevent slipping and falling.

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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Stolen Packages

My husband and I recently were in Chicago for several days at our daughter’s house while she was away on a business trip. Sadly, on our watch a thief stole 3 packages that had been delivered to her front porch while we were out to lunch. Luckily she has a security camera so the whole thing was caught on tape which made it easier to submit a police report but the whole experience was very frustrating, maddening and unnerving.

According to an article in Consumer Reports there are some things you can do to lower your risk of being a target. Even though my daughter has a working internet-enabled security camera installed and has a security system to protect the house, it still happened and it can happen to anyone anywhere. The holidays are over for 2018 but you may want to consider being proactive in 2019 to help prevent a theft happening to you or someone you know.

If it is possible, avoid home delivery altogether. If you shop on Amazon they have lockers available in some locations (often a Whole Foods store) where you can have your packages delivered to and you retrieve using a security code for the locker. Amazon also offers a Key Kit that can be used for the delivery person to unlock your home and put your packages inside the door. An Amazon Key app is another alternative that is available for your packages to be put in the trunk of your car. There is a cost for some of those services but if you shop on Amazon a lot and buy a lot of things online it may be worth researching.

UPS recommends sending packages to where you are – not where you are not. Check with the company you work for to see if it is an option to have your packages delivered to you at work. Send to a relative or neighbor who is home during the day. Send to a walk in store and pick it up there if possible. UPS offers               “access points” in some locations which are delis, grocery stores, dry cleaners, florists, etc that allow packages to be dropped off by UPS and picked up by you later. Some UPS stores have mailbox service. UPS also has a service called My Choice that is free and lets you know when your package will be arriving so you can be there to accept it, reroute or reschedule the delivery, or authorize a shipment release.

USPS offers Informed Delivery Manager. It is also free and allows you to track your packages and leave delivery instructions if you are not going to be home.

Some shippers allow a required signature at delivery so if no one is home the delivery service will take it back to it’s facility and try again later or let you come pick it up and sign for it.

Door bell cameras, motion sensors and internet-enabled security cameras have their benefits but the benefit is usually realized after the theft has been committed, which was true in our case.

I sincerely hope you never have any packages stolen but if you do, notify the police immediately and file a report. You can also contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. They are the law enforcement arm of the postal service. You should contact the shipper and delivery service as well as your credit card company and the company you bought the packages from to see if you can get reimbursed or have a new package sent. We were, thankfully, able to get all three packages we had stolen replaced at no charge.

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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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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First Aid Kits

It is time to put the summer things in storage and one of these things is the first aid kit that I store in our camper. We do not use it often but it is important to have it stocked with useful items. It is easy to find on-line lists of supplies to make up a kit and if you need several kits, it may be less expensive. I just use a plastic storage box for the kits we keep in the camper, concession stand, and out in our farm shop. We do not always consider that we may need to include other items in the kit. Emergency phone numbers like your doctor’s number or the emergency room number at the local hospital are a good idea to include. You may want to add the poison control number if you have small children. A copy of your insurance card or at least the phone number may be useful.

It is important to look through the kit and replace items used over the summer or any medications or creams that have expired. Looking through the kit when I put it away in the fall ensures that our kit is fully stocked when we need it next summer.

 

25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)

1 adhesive cloth tape

A small tube of antibiotic ointment

A package of antiseptic wipes

A small bottle of ibuprofen

An instant cold compress

2 pair of non-latex gloves (size: large)

A small tube of hydrocortisone ointment

Sterile gauze

Tweezers

Flashlight

 

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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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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Fire Prevention

I have been thinking more about fire prevention week this year than I have for many years. When our children were young, we made a point of checking smoke detectors, looking at escape routes from the bedrooms, and choosing a meeting place for the family outside of the house. Since we became empty nesters, we have focused a bit less on these safety steps. Now that we have five grandchildren that live nearby and often spend the night, I am thinking more about fire safety at home.

I have spent some time reading the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) website and looking at their fire safety education ideas. I learned that the slogan for Fire Safety Week in 2018 is “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware – fire can happen anywhere.” This slogan fits nicely with suggestions from many other parts of society. We do need to be aware of our surroundings. Last night we attended at concert at CY Stephens auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University. Our seats were in the third balcony so we had to climb a significant number of stairs to get to our seats. While we were waiting for the event to begin, I looked at both exits from our seats. I planned a first and then second exit, should that have been necessary. Here in our office, we also have two planned exits should it be necessary for us to evacuate. I know the best exit from all the rooms in our home, and the second choice exit but I do not think that my grandchildren are aware of these exits. Two of our upstairs bedrooms contain a fire ladder and I know that the grandchildren do not know how to operate it.

The NFPA suggest these calls to action:

  • Look for places fire can start
  • Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm
  • Learn two ways out of each room

Before my grandchildren’s next visit, I can look around my home for places a fire could start. I will clean out my dryer vent, make sure I do not have anything flammable near a heat source, and eliminate stacks of old magazines. I will check the batteries in my fire alarms to be sure they are all in working order. I plan to take the grandchildren on a house tour to demonstrate two ways out of every room, especially the upstairs bedrooms. We will also practice meeting up at our designated meeting spot, the big blue machine shed out in our yard. I know I will sleep better after putting my plan into action.

 

 

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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Gas Leak – How to Detect and What to Do

Millions of Americans use gas (natural or propane, i.e. LP) to heat their homes, heat their water, and cook their food.   Our family is one of them and in addition, a natural gas pipeline crosses our property.  While gas is safe, economical, clean-burning, and a versatile fuel when used properly, it is also highly combustible.  Thus, a gas leak can be a risk of a fire and explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning. To help ensure that you live safely with gas, everyone in the family should be aware of the signs of a gas leak, never ignore even the slightest indication of one, and know what to do should there be a leak.  Because of our proximity to a gas line, our gas company provides information periodically on what to know and what to do.  The same precautions apply to propane gas.

Smell.  Because gases are colorless and odorless, a strong odorant that smells like rotten eggs, a skunk’s spray, or a dead animal is added to alert or help consumers detect a possible leak.  If you aren’t sure of the scent, you can request a free scratch-and-sniff card from you supplier.

Sound.  A hissing or whistling sound near a gas appliance, meter or pipeline is also an indicator of a gas leak.

Air.  Another indicator would be blowing dirt or a breeze coming out of the ground.

Bubbles.  A leak in a gas pipe can sometimes cause bubbling in moist areas around the home.

Discolored or dyeing vegetation.  If you suddenly notice your grass or shrubs have changed color, looking more brown or rusty, that could be a sign of a leak. Plants near a gas leak will quickly become sickly and eventually die.

Feeling ill.   The symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are similar to flu or food poisoning.  You cannot see, taste, or smell CO.

Fire coming out of the ground.

If you suspect or discover a gas leak:

  • Stay calm.
  • Leave the area immediately and evacuate everyone as well as all pets or animals from the home or building. Inhaling high concentrations of gas can lead to asphyxia in which your body is deprived of oxygen.
  • Go to a remote location and call your gas company or supplier. If they can’t be reached, call the fire department.  Program your gas supplier’s number into your cellphone so that it is readily available in an emergency.
  • If gas is blowing, call 911.
  • Move quickly. Don’t stop to look for the leak, open windows, turn switches off, or unplug equipment.  Leave the door open as you leave.
  • Don’t use anything that might create a spark, such as a cellphone, light switch, or garage door opener. These can ignite gases or vapors.
  • Do not return to the building until the gas company or fire department has given you the all-clear or the leak is fixed.

As always, being prepared in case of an emergency is key.  First and foremost, have the number of your gas supplier programmed into your cellphone.  If you don’t have a cellphone, have the number tucked into your wallet so you can quickly dial the number from another phone.  Secondly, know how to turn off your gas should you need to or be asked to do so.  Begin by knowing where your gas meter and/or emergency control valve is located.  For natural gas users, the emergency control valve should be next to the meter.   To turn off the gas supply, simply turn the handle a quarter turn so the lever is crosswise, perpendicular, or at 90 degrees to the upright gas pipe; a wrench may be required to turn the lever. Propane users should locate the main gas supply valve on the propane tank. Close the valve by turning it to the right (clockwise).  If you are unsure about where to find these valves or what to do, contact your supplier and have them show you.  And it is always a good plan to have your gas furnace and other gas appliances checked annually and serviced as needed for proper ventilation.

During winter, keep your gas meter and valve free from snow and ice using a broom, not a shovel, to remove snow or ice.  Make sure outside appliance vents are not blocked by snow and ice. Blocked vents can cause carbon monoxide  to back up into the building or shut down your system.   If your home or business has natural or propane gas appliances, a carbon monoxide detector should be installed.  When a gas appliance malfunctions, it can produce CO, that deadly, odorless, colorless, and tasteless silent killer.  And always, always call 811 before you dig!

Everyone should know how to detect and respond to a gas leak.  Make it part of your family’s emergency response plan.

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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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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Tips for Cleaning Electric Pressure Cookers

Recently a friend emailed me asking how to clean an electric programmable pressure cooker (EPPC) so that it didn’t retain the smells of previous cooked foods.  This friend is certainly not the only one asking this question.  In fact, after I got my own EPPC, I had the same concern.  In my search for advice, I encountered lots of stories and advice from other EPPC owners with one owner even claiming to have found maggots growing in the condensation collector!  True or not, there are at least eight parts of any EPPC that should be cleaned after every use and it only takes minutes to do:  the inner pot, base, trivet, lid, silicone ring, pressure valve, condensation collector, and the anti-block shield.  With the exception of the base, all of these parts are dishwasher safe with most manufacturers.  The cooker base must be kept dry but can be wiped with a damp cloth.

It is always best to consult the manual that came with the EPPC for the best way to clean the appliance, but we know how manuals get misplaced or sometimes really don’t provide much information.  Another source is to look online for the EPPC manufacturer and hopefully find care information; however, this may not be possible with some generic EPPC brands.   One EPPC manufacturer, InstantPot, provides great care and cleaning tips.  While the tips may be specific to InstantPot, they would be useful for other EPPCs as well if information cannot be found from a specific manufacturer.

If after all of these areas have been cleaned properly and a lingering odor is still detected, it is likely coming from the silicon sealing ring as it does hold food odors.  I have found three ways to help defuse those odors: soaking the ring in vinegar, turning the lid upside down between uses or leaving the ring exposed to air, and placing a small box of baking soda in the unit between uses.   Other suggestions I’ve read include putting the ring in the sun, wiping the ring with a stainless steel soap disc, soaking or steaming in lemon water and baking soda, or purchasing two rings, one for savory and one for sweet.  If one does opt for a second sealing ring or needs to replace a ring, be sure to get genuine manufactured parts to ensure the EPPC will work correctly and safely.

Another concern EPPC users have is with the gradual discoloration of the stainless steel inner pot.  If it is turning a blue-yellow, white vinegar will bring it back to it’s original luster.  The procedure is to let white vinegar stand in the pot for at least 5 minutes and then rinse with water.  If the bottom of the pot is dulled perhaps due to sautéing or hard water, I have found that a small amount of baking soda or a non-abrasive scouring cleanser like Bar Keepers Friend Liquid Cleanser on a damp cloth or sponge does an excellent job of bringing back the original shine after rinsing and drying. Don’t use anything metallic for scouring because it will damage the finish!

These are the suggestions that I gave my friend as they seem to work well for me.  If you are an EPPC user and have additional suggestions, I’d love to hear your tips!

 

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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Spring Clean Your Medicine Cabinet

While spring isn’t quite here, it’s not too early to set some time aside to clean your medicine cabinet, drawer, or shelf.  To some extent, most people welcome spring with a little extra attention to mopping, dusting, or vacuuming away winter’s dust and dirt.  While the windows may shine and the house and yard look fresh, the medicine cabinet remains untouched with a variety of forgotten old prescription bottles and OTC medications that “might come in handy someday” still on the shelf.  Likely some of these medications have expired and may cause more harm than good.

I’m guilty of keeping them too long myself.  Largely I forget about them and as long as I don’t need anything from the medicine cabinet, they are out of sight and out of mind.  Since it is a common problem, different groups have initiated “Take Back” or cleaning times to call attention to the issue.  Twice each year we have “National Prescription Drug Take Back Day” when consumers are encouraged to return unused or old medicine to their pharmacies, hospitals, or drop-off sites.  The first one in 2018 will be April 28; there will be a second in the fall, usually in October.  We also have National Spring Cleaning Week the last week in March when medicine cabinet cleaning is encouraged as part of the spring cleaning routine.

What should consumers do the rest of the year to safely dispose of medicines if they are unable to utilize the designated drop-off times?  The FDA offers instructions on how to safely dispose of medicines by flushing unwanted drugs down the toilet and for placing them in the garbage.  The downside of these alternatives are that drugs that are flushed can taint our rivers, lakes, and water supplies.  Drugs in the trash are a potential hazard to the environment and may be found accidently by children or pets, or scavenging teens or adults looking for a high.  In 2014 the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) authorized pharmacies and hospitals to take back drugs designated as controlled substances any time from a consumer wishing to surrender them; prior to that time, controlled substances had to be surrendered to law enforcement.  Controlled substances include opioid painkillers like Oxycontin, stimulants like Adderall, and depressants like Ativan.  Drop-off is completely free and anonymous.

Now there’s a new alternative.  Since 2016, the drugstore chain, Walgreens, has been installing safe medication disposal kiosks across the nation.  Not every store has one so to find a kiosk in your area, visit Store Locator.  The kiosks provide a safe and convenient way to dispose of unwanted, unused or expired prescriptions, including controlled substances, and over-the-counter medications, ointments and creams, liquids, lotions, pet medications, prescription patches, and vitamins and supplements at no cost.

Certain medications or items are not accepted at the kiosks including needles, inhalers, aerosol cans, hydrogen peroxide, thermometers, and illicit drugs. As part of Walgreens drug take-back program, the kiosks make the disposal of medications easier and are available year-round during pharmacy hours to help reduce the misuse of medications and the rise in overdose deaths.

Here are some tips to get you started on extending your spring cleaning to your medicine cabinet:

Check the dates. Examine everything in the medicine cabinet, including ointments, supplements and vitamins. Discard any item that is beyond the expiration date and any prescription medications that are more than a year old. It is important to note that the expiration date really refers to that product unopened.  Once a medication has been opened and used, the clock starts ticking on its shelf life as contamination has been introduced. Medications and vitamins may lose their effectiveness or potency after the expiration date. Some may even become toxic.  Therefore, write the date you opened it on the container and after one year, get rid of all things opened or partially used.

Discard any items that have changed color or smell funny.  Regardless of the expiration or use by date, these items should be disposed.  This includes any colors that have faded, because they may have been exposed to too much light

Discard unmarked containers. If something is no longer in its original container or cannot be identified, get rid of it. Medications should always be kept in their original containers so that they are easily recognized. This includes ointments, since these can easily be mistaken for creams.

Dispose of medication and medical supplies properly and carefully. Because of the potential harm to the environment or to humans or pets, it is not recommended to simply throw out medication or flush them down the toilet. If you must do so, follow the FDA  recommendations.  Consider the disposal options aforementioned and utilize whichever works best for you.

Most collection sites won’t accept asthma inhalers, needles, insulin syringes or any other syringes, marijuana, mercury thermometers, and medications containing iodine. For disposal information and drop-off locations for syringes, needles, and other injectables—for example,for example, expired EpiPens—go to Safe Needle Disposal or call 800-643-1643.  When in doubt about how to safely dispose of a medication or medical device, check with your pharmacist.

Remove any personal identifying information on the prescription label.  Prior to disposal or container recycling either remove the label or black out any personal information including the RX number.  Also be sure the container is clean before recycling.

Inspect adhesive bandages.  Bandages and tapes have a limited lifespan, too, and should be replaced before their adhesive breaks down.

Lastly, consider relocating your medicine cabinet.  The bathroom is not the best place to store medication. The temperature and humidity changes that come with the shower running can lower the potency of some medicines. Medications should be kept in a cool dry place, away from children, pets, and scavengers. Consider a locked drawer or a locked box on a shelf.

It’s smart to undertake a medicine-cabinet cleaning every spring.  An annual review of prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and medical products can help keep us safe and healthy. Using an old product won’t necessary land you in the ER, but it could or it may not work effectively thereby wasting you money, affecting your health, or possibly delaying your recovery. Further, if the medicine isn’t on the shelf, it can’t be accidently used, incorrectly used, or abused.

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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