Sanitizing and Deodorizing Your Refrigerator After a Disaster

As I write this, several million people are still without power after Hurricane Sandy devasted the east coast.  Any food remaining in refrigerators that have lacked power for several days in storm ravaged areas must be discarded.  But what about the refrigerator?  After days without power and with spoiled food inside, refrigerators will need a good deodorizing and sanitizing.  Here’s what the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends:

  • After disposing of spoiled food, remove and thoroughly wash shelves, crispers and ice trays with hot water and detergent.  Rinse with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
  • The interior of the refrigerator and the door should be washed with hot water and baking soda.  Use the same rinsing solution as above.
  • Leave the refrigerator door open for about fifteen minutes to air out the interior and get rid of any lingering odors.

If there are still lingering odors in the refrigerator, it’s time for some bolder tactics.  I had never heard of newspapers in the refrigerator, but it’s one of the USDA recommendations.

  • Mix equal parts vinegar and water and wipe down the inside of the refrigerator.  Vinegar destroys mildew, which can cause odors.
  • Leave the refrigerator door open for several days to air it out.  I think I’d be pondering a new refrigerator purchase at this point, but there are a few more possible solutions to try first.
  • Roll up newspapers and stuff both the refrigerator and freezer with them.  Leave the papers in the closed refrigerator for several days.  I imagine the papers absorb odors.  After several days, remove the newpapers and clean the fridge again with vinegar and water.
  • Sprinkle coffee grounds or baking soda in a large shallow container in the bottom of the refrigerator and freezer.  I always leave an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator, but you may need a few boxes worth for post-disaster odors.
  • Put a cotton swab soaked in vanilla in the refrigerator and the freezer and leave it in the closed unit for 24 hours.
  • Another option is to use a commercial cleaning product from the hardware store.

If odors remain in spite of all attempts to remove them, it may be time to replace the refrigerator.  Be sure to safely dispose of the old refrigerator by removing the door so children cannot be trapped inside.  Retailers will often take an old refrigerator when you buy a new one.  Many municipalities and utility companies also have refrigerator recycling programs.

Stay Safe Online – It’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month

It’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) has partnered with Microsoft to promote digital citizenship and standards of appropriate online behavior.  This year’s theme is “Our Shared Responsibility”, which emphasizes the role individuals, organizations, businesses and governments all have to play in fostering a safe and secure digital world.

Today everyone’s life is touched in some way by digital media, but unfortunately, internet fraud has more than kept pace with the rapid growth of online communication.  Everyone has a responsibilty to protect their part of cyberspace by securing the devices and networks they use.  NSCA promotes the concept of stop, think, connect as a starting point for online safety.  Here’s what that means in terms of steps to take to protect your online security:

  • Do not put personal information in an email, instant message or text message.  Be wary of links in messages, even from people you know.  I encountered this situation recently and it turned out the email was not from the person indicated as the sender.  Confirm the email is genuine before you click on any links.
  • Check web pages for signs of encryption, such as an https web address and a closed padlock symbol.
  • Use only your home computer for sensitive activities such as banking or online shopping.
  • Make your passwords as strong as possible and do not use the same password for all your online accounts.
  • Anti-virus and anti-spyware software should always be kept current.  There are rogue security software programs available online that will not protect your computer and may, in fact, compromise its security.  Know what you’re installing.
  • All software on your computer, including your web browser and spam filters, should be kept up-to-date.
  • Do not share your primary email address with people you do not know.  Beware of what information you share on social media and don’t “friend” people you don’t know.
  • Be very wary of emails offering deals that sound too good to be true.  Set your spam email filter on Standard or High and use the delete button freely.

If a complete stranger appeared at your door asking for your personal information, your suspicions would certainly be aroused and you would be reluctant to reveal anything about yourself.  Use the same caution online.  National Cyber Security Awareness Month reminds us to work together to keep the digital world safe for everyone.


It’s Fire Prevention Week!

Posted in General Information, Home Safety on October 8th, 2012 by Judy — Be the first to comment!

Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, which began on October 8, 1871.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, this tragic fire killed more than 250 people, destroyed more than 17, 400 structures and left 100,000 people homeless.  The theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week is “Have two Ways Out.”  This theme encourages families to make a home fire escape plan and practice that plan with every member of the household.  People are also encouraged to take notice of their larger environment and be aware of two ways out of their workplace, restaurants and any other place in which they spend time.

Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are essential fire safety items.

The NFPA found that one home structure fire was reported every 85 seconds in 2010, so Fire Prevention Week is a good reminder to review some basic fire safety tips for your household.

  • Check all smoke detectors in your home to be sure they’re working properly.  Batteries should be changed at least once a year.  Replace smoke alarms that are 10 years old or older.
  • If your smoke alarm sounds, get out immediately and call 9-1-1 from outside your home.
  • Make a home fire escape plan.  Start by drawing a map of your home showing doors and windows and show two ways out of every room.  Be sure every member of your household knows and has practiced the plan.
  • Establish a meeting place outside your home where household members will meet up in the event of a fire.  Never go back into a burning building for any reason.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on every level of your home.  It’s especially important to have an extinguisher in or near the kitchen, as this is where most home fires start.  Only trained adults should use a fire extinguisher.
  • Security bars on windows should have an emergency release lever that will allow pushing the bars open from the inside.
  • Review your home insurance policy to be sure you have adequate insurance coverage for your belongings.  Your home inventory should also be up to date.
  • All household members should have emergency numbers in their cell phones.

The NFPA states that their survey results show that only one third of Americans have both developed and practiced a home fire escape plan.  That means a lot of us have some work to do.  Fire Prevention Week is an ideal time to put a fire prevention plan into place for your household.


Outdoor Exercise Safety Tips

Autumn is a great time of year to exercise outdoors.   The intense heat of summer has passed and cooler temperatures prevail.   A long walk or bike ride on a brisk fall day is a true delight, especially at the end of a long, stressful day.  However, with daylight hours decreasing, autumn outdoor exercise often takes place in the dim light of dusk or dawn or even darkness.  Therefore, a review of a some safety tips is in order to keep you free from harm:

Biking in autumn.

  • If you’re walking or running when it’s dark outside, use the buddy system and take a companion.
  • Stay in well-travelled, well-lit areas and avoid paths where an assailant could hide.  Alleys, hidden trails and paths with bushes or shrubs should be avoided.
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when to expect you back.  (This is especially important if you’re away from home and staying in a hotel.  Let the front desk know where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone and to call the police if you haven’t returned when planned.)
  • Don’t wear headphones when exercising outside.  You need to be able to hear what is going on around you.
  • Carry a whistle and use it if you feel threatened.
  • Bring along your cell phone in case you need to call for help.  Do not check your phone while walking, running or biking, though.
  • Wear reflective clothing or a safety vest if biking or running at night and face traffic if running alongside a road.  Always wear a helmet when biking.
  • Do not wear jewelry that will attract attention.
  • Your exercise schedule should vary and not follow any predicatable time pattern.
  • Always carry identification.

The fact that drivers are often distracted can be particularly hazardous when you’re running or biking along a road at night.  Stay alert.

Keep these safety tips in mind next time you’re exercising outdoors and your workout will be a walk in the park.

Tailgating Food Safety Tips

Posted in Food Safety, General Information, Lifestyle Safety on September 17th, 2012 by Judy — 2 Comments

September is National Food Safety Education Month.  It’s also the start of football season, and for many football fans that means tailgating.  However, a fun-filled afternoon of tailgating can become a health nightmare if proper food safety practices aren’t followed.  NSF International, an independent, non-profit food safety organization, has some recommendations for the safe handling and preparation of food while tailgating that I share here.  Follow these food safety tips to stay safe and keep the tailgate party rolling:

  • Bring along a meat thermometer to ensure that meat is cooked to the correct minimum internal temperature.  Proper temperatures are 165 degrees for whole or ground poultry; 160 degrees for ground meats other than poultry; 145 degrees with a three minute rest time for fresh non-ground pork, beef or veal.
  • Be sure that marinade used for basting is not marinade that has come into contact with raw meat.  Bring some additional marinade in a separate container for basting.
  • Bring plenty of wet wipes and hand sanitizer.  It’s especially important to clean hands after touching raw meat and before eating.
  • If grilling raw meats, being two sets of utensils, one for use with raw foods and the other for cooked foods.
  • Store dirty utensils and dishes that have touched raw meats in a separate plastic bag.  This will avoid spreading germs to other areas, such as your car or a cooler.
  • Tailgating offers many chances for cross-contamination, so it’s important to use several coolers.  Coolers should be packed with ice on top to keep food at a safe temperature of 40 degrees F.  Pack one cooler with raw meats, one with pre-made food such as potato salad and a third cooler with beverages.  Beverage coolers are opened often to get drinks, so avoid putting perishable food in a beverage cooler.
  • Food should not be left out for more than two hours.  Make that one hour if temperatures are more than 90 degrees F.  Don’t take food out of coolers until serving time.
  • When you’ve packed up all your trash, throw it out when leaving the stadium, if possible.  Bacteria can grow if the trash bag is left in your car and can spread to other surfaces.

Now that we’ve reviewed our food safety tips, let’s tailgate!  Safely, of course.

Hotel Safety – Staying Safe in Your Hotel Room

Posted in General Information, Lifestyle Safety, Travel Safety on August 28th, 2012 by Judy — 2 Comments

When you check into a hotel for business or pleasure, safety is often not foremost in your mind.  However, you should have safety procedures in place every time you check into a hotel, especially if you’re a woman travelling alone.  Remember, you’re in an unfamiliar environment and focused upon the purpose of your trip, which can be an ideal scenario for a criminal to catch you off guard.  So let’s review a few safety tips for checking into the hotel, arriving at your room and staying at the hotel.


Stay safe in your hotel room.

Stay safe in your hotel room.

  • Keep track of your luggage while checking in, particularly computers and purses.  A busy hotel lobby is a perfect place for thieves to take advantage of distracted travellers.
  • If you’re travelling alone, take the duplicate key meant for a travel companion.  This way you know that it won’t fall into the wrong hands.
  • Avoid rooms on the first floor, which can be more easily broken into.  Ask for a room between the third and sixth floors.  Rooms on these floors can still be reached by fire engine ladders in the event of a fire but are more difficult to break into than rooms on lower floors.
  • Check your room thoroughly upon arriving, including under the bed, in the closet and in the bathroom.  Women alone should be accompanied to their hotel room when checking in.  Check window and door locks and locks on doors to adjoining rooms.
  • Review the fire escape plan posted on the back of the door and know where the fire exits are on your floor.  Count the number of room doors to the fire exit.  This could save your life if there’s a fire.
  • When in your hotel room, keep the door locked at all times.  Use the metal security bar and the deadbolt.
  • Never open your room door to strangers.  Use the view hole to see who it is.  Do not believe anyone who says the front desk sent them unless you have made a specific request to the front desk for service.  When in doubt, call the front desk and confirm they sent the person.
  • Leave your room key and a small flashlight next to your bed when you go to sleep in case you must evacuate your room.
  • Use the hotel room safe or the safe at the front desk for valuables.  Be aware that losses from room safes often will not be covered by insurance.  If you use the hotel safe, be sure to get a receipt for any valuables left there.
  • Keep your suitcase zipped closed and locked when you leave your room.  Consider using a security cable to lock your computer to a piece of furniture when you’re not in your room.
  • Leave the lights on and the tv or radio playing when you leave your room to give the impression someone is in the room.  Put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door when you leave, too.

In the event of a theft, be sure to file a police report, as you’ll need it for any insurance claim you file.  Stay alert when travelling and be vigilant about your personal safety and security and you’ll greatly increase your chances of having an enjoyable trip.

Lightning Safety Tips

Almost everyone has been caught outside in a thunderstorm, but people often underestimate the dangers of lightning and don’t seek a safe shelter as quickly as they should.  Thunder is the sound made by a flash of lightning, so if you can hear thunder, you are generally within ten miles of a lightning strike.  Once you hear thunder, you are already in danger of a lightning strike.  It’s essential to seek shelter immediately.

For a structure to provide protection from lightning, the building must be able to conduct the lightning’s electrical current from the strike zone to the ground.  This is why houses or other substantial buildings provide the best protection.  These buildings have strong outer shells and contain wiring, plumbing pipes, and even phone wiring that can act as conductors of electrical current.  Open shelters such as sheds or carports have no means of grounding the current and are not safe to occupy during a thunderstorm.



Here are a few tips to ensure you stay safe from lightning strikes during a storm:

  • Seek shelter immediately in an enclosed building or metal top enclosed vehicle.  Keep vehicle windows rolled up.
  • Once inside a building, stay away from windows and doors.
  • Do not use a corded phone during a lightning storm.  Many people sustain lightning injuries from phone use during storms, as phone and electrical wires can act as lightning conductors.
  • Stay away from the washer and dryer during a storm.  The dryer vent offers an electrical path to the outside, in addition to the plumbing and electrical systems these appliances contain.
  • Avoid contact with plumbing, as lightning can pass through metal pipes.  That means don’t shower, wash dishes or do other tasks involving contact with water.
  • Be aware that the average surge protector is not designed to protect electronic equipment from a lightning strike, so it’s best to unplug to avoid damage from electrical surges generated by lightning.
  • Don’t forget the safety of your pets.  A dog house is not a lightning-safe structure and dogs should not be left chained outside during a storm.

Finally, people struck by lightning do not carry a charge.  It is safe to touch them.  Medical assistance should be sought as soon as possible.

Pet Boarding Safety Tips

Posted in General Information, Pet Safety on July 26th, 2012 by Judy — Be the first to comment!

If you’re a pet owner, chances are that at some point, you will have to board your pet at a boarding facility or kennel.  Standards at boarding facilities can vary widely and it pays to do thorough research before leaving your pet in one of these accomodations.  Visit the facility in advance and ask questions of the staff.  You should determine:

  • Where your pet will stay.  Is the area too confining for your particular dog?  If you’re boarding a cat, are dogs and cats kept far enough apart so that your cat doesn’t constantly hear dogs barking?
  • How much time your dog will have to be walked or play outside her cage and whether your dog will be interacting with other dogs.
  • What food your dog will eat and whether there is an additional charge for feeding a special diet.
  • Where pets are taken if they become ill.

In addition to determining the quality of the pet care and the ammenities the facility provides, it’s important to verify that the staff is prepared to handle emergencies such as fires or natural disasters.  Here are a few safety tips for evaluating a kennel to ensure your pets are boarded safely:

  • The facility should have fire extinguishers as well as clearly marked fire exits.
  • Check to see if there is a working sprinkler system.
  • Ask if the building wired for security and fire detection.  Third-party security monitoring is good, as the staff may not be at the facility 24 hours a day.
  • Ask the staff about the after hours evacuation plan for the animals in case of an emergency.  If no staff is present when the facility is closed, determine who evacuates the animals in an emergency.
  • Your pet should have a microchip to ensure you are reunited after an emergency.

Don’t hesitate to ask the boarding facility staff about safety and evacuation plans at the facility.  If they’re not sure about safety and evacuation plans are vague, you may want to choose another boarding facility.  Your best friend’s life may depend on it.


Stay Safe During Extreme Heat

Many parts of the U.S. are experiencing periods of extreme heat this summer.  As a result, there have been many cases of heat-related illness.  Heat-related illness occurs when the body cannot sufficiently cool down in extreme heat conditions.  The best protective factor in extreme heat is to spend time in a cool, air conditioned space.  Here are some safety precautions you should take during a prolonged heat wave to prevent heat-related illness:



  • Drink plenty of water, even if you’re not thirsty.  Avoid drinks with sugar, caffeine or alcohol, as they can actually cause you to lose fluids.
  • Use the buddy system.  If you must work outside during the hottest part of the day, work with a partner so you can watch out for each other.
  • Never leave kids or pets unattended in a vehicle.  Vehicles get hot very quickly and it can be fatal to people or animals.
  • If you must leave animals outdoors in the heat, make sure they have plenty of water and access to a shady area.  Check on them often.
  • Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day.  Limit outdoor exercise to cooler early morning or evening hours.
  • If you need to locate the nearest shelter during a power outage in extreme heat, text SHELTER + your five digit zip code to 4FEMA.
  • Be aware that people in urban areas may be at greater risk from a prolonged heat wave than those in rural areas due to the effect of concrete and asphalt holding heat longer.  This stored heat is then released slowly at night, causing what is known as an “urban heat island effect.”

The elderly, infants, young children, and those with chronic medical conditions are most at risk of heat stress, so pay special attention to their needs.  If you have any elderly neighbors who lack air conditioning, perhaps you could take a few minutes to pay them a visit.  A few hours spent in a cool library or community center could be life-saving for them.

A Safety Checklist for Your Grill

Posted in General Information, Outdoor Safety on June 28th, 2012 by Judy — Be the first to comment!

Most of us couldn’t imagine a summer without our grills.  Fortunately, we don’t have to, but we do need to keep a few safety precautions in mind so we use our grills safely.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) claims that 3600 people end up in emergency rooms each year due to grill accidents, so it’s worth reviewing a few safety tips.

  • Check for gas leaks whenever the liquid propane (LP) gas container is re-attached to the grill.  The CPSC recommends using a soapy solution of one part liquid detergent and one part water at the connection points.  If the solution bubbles, there’s a leak.  If tightening the connection doesn’t work, close the container valve and take the grill to a qualified repair person.
  • Keep hoses as far away as possible from hot surfaces.
  • Check hoses for cracking, brittleness and leaks.
  • Your grill should be at least 10 feet away from your house and other buildings.  The grill should only be used in a completely open space, not a breezeway, carport, garage or covered porch.
  • A grill should never be left unattended while cooking.
  • Keep children away from the grill.  The outside of a grill gets very hot and burns can result from contact with it.
  • A kitchen fire extinguisher should be kept near the grill. 

 A few safety tips for LP containers:

  • A filled LP container should never be left in a hot car.
  • Never store a filled LP container indoors.
  • Always keep containers in an upright position.
  • Never fill an LP container yourself.  The container should be filled only by a LP gas dealer or qualified service station operator.

Now that we’ve gotten our grill safety out of the way, let’s eat.  Bon appetit!