Feds bite down on ‘Shark Tank’ winner

breathometer

Amazon.com

Source: Feds bite down on ‘Shark Tank’ winner, clarionledger.com

PDF: breathometer

Getting behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking is never a good idea. But many people would pay good money to know if they’re legally impaired before they drive or do other tasks. And, it turns out, many have. After debuting on the hit show “Shark Tank” in 2013 (the first time all five “sharks” invested in a new product), the Breathometer hit the market and brought in millions in sales.

The Breathometer is a little pocket-sized device that uses your cellphone’s headphone jack, and it is used with a companion app. After drinking, the user breathes into the device, which then gives you a reading of your blood-alcohol content on the phone’s screen and informing you of whether your blood-alcohol level is within legal limits. The company marketed two devices, the Original (sold for $49), and the Breeze ($99).

While the “Shark Tank” investors were impressed and immediately saw the potential in the device, the reviews about its effectiveness were mixed. CNET reviewer Wayne Cunningham remarked, after testing the device, that the Breathometer “makes for a fun party game and a potential way to meet people in bars, but its testing results should not be taken as proof of driver safety.”

The product also caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which announced last week that the company had settled charges that its claims about the Breathometer’s accuracy weren’t backed up by scientific evidence and could endanger both drivers and the public by giving false reassurance to drivers.

 Breathometer was sold with the assurance that it had undergone “government-lab grade testing” and that it was a “law-enforcement grade product,” both claims the FTC says were unsubstantiated. In some cases, the device “regularly understated BAC levels,” and the company continued to market the devices even after it learned of the issues in late 2014.

“People relied on the defendant’s products to decide whether it was safe to get behind the wheel,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Overstating the accuracy of the devices was deceptive — and dangerous.”

The settlement requires the company and its founder and CEO, Charles Michael Yim, to cease from “making future accuracy claims for a consumer breathalyzer product unless such claims are supported by rigorous testing” against National Highway Traffic Safety Administration protocols. The company must also provide refunds to consumers who bought devices.

In a statement on its website, Breathometer noted it had settled the case and was moving on. Its next product, Mint, analyzes your breath for compounds that could indicate poor oral health. “We feel it is important to clarify that this settlement does not undermine our achievements in creating quality consumer health devices,” the statement read. “We proactively stopped manufacturing Original and Breeze in 2015 prior to the FTC’s inquiry. We stand behind our current product, Mint, and its quality and pioneering technology.”

We’ve seen a lot of cases come up in which companies claim their products are effective at doing some task or other, and back up those statements by saying their products have been tested (or even endorsed) by official agencies and reputable testing labs. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case, and sometimes the results can be dangerous. A wide range of products can cause potential harm or even death if a user trusts marketing claims, often in lieu of getting real medical or safety advice from experts.

“Representations about safety are of great significance to consumers,” the FTC said in its Deception Policy Statement, which gives guidelines about how companies should verify their advertising claims. “It’s usually hyperbole to suggest that companies substantiate their claims as if lives depend on it, but it’s an accurate statement for a product that promises to accurately test the BAC of a person who is deciding whether to drive after drinking,” added the FTC’s blogger Lesley Fair.

Since 950 Mississippians died in alcohol-related crashes in 2015 (according the Mississippi Department of Transportation), it’s a serious safety issue. Ultimately, deciding to drive after drinking is taking an incredible risk, one that might have catastrophic effects on your future and those of others. So, while such devices may be fun at parties, it’s far too big a decision to entrust to a smartphone.

Pain relief promise unproven

From Pain relief promise unproven: column, clarionledger.com

Millions of Americans deal with joint pain, much of it caused by arthritis and related conditions. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from some form of doctor-diagnosed arthritis, and that number will soar to 67 million by 2030.

Joint pain is so common and so debilitating that many people will do just about anything to ease it. And while there are many ways to get some relief (even if it’s only temporary), the population of joint-pain sufferers has created a market for various types of products that promise relief.

Many products feature glucosamine and chondroitin, both of which are produced naturally in the body’s connective tissue. As to the effectiveness of these products, most reputable medical sources say more study is needed. But that hasn’t stopped promoters from coming up with hundreds of products that contain these products as dietary supplements. But, as one company found out recently, companies wishing to cash in on this lucrative market should be careful before making claims about what they can do for joint-pain sufferers.

Last week, the sellers of Supple, a glucosamine and chondroitin liquid supplement, agreed to a $150 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission after the agency charged they falsely advertised that their product provided “complete relief from chronic and severe joint pain caused by arthritis and fibromyalgia” and was “scientifically proven to eliminate joint pain.”

Supple, the FTC alleged, didn’t have the medical evidence to back those claims.

“Companies need solid scientific evidence to back up the health claims they make,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers should not have to take it on faith that products claiming to provide pain relief will live up to their billing.”

In federal court, the FTC alleged that Supple LLC,CEO Peter Apatow, and his ex-wife, Dr. Monita Poudyal, took in more than $150 million from sales. Marketing Supple through informercials, social media and by other methods, the company charged about $70 for a 24-day supply of the product while a 144-day supply sold for $270. In some infomercials, Poudyal acted as a medical-show host and Apatow (creator of the product) acted as the guest.

“Poudyal and Apatow described Supple,” the FTC noted in its news release, “as a powerful all-natural drink that provides complete and long-lasting relief from joint pain; treats or relieves chronic or severe pain, including pain caused by all forms of arthritis and fibromyalgia; provides pain relief comparable to drugs or surgery; repairs cartilage; rebuilds joints and entire joint structures; and restores mobility and joint function to consumers with severe mobility restrictions.”

For example, the website Consumerist.com quoted Apatow as saying, “If you just drink a can of Supple every day … it’ll help you get rid of all your pain, all your immobility, all of your suffering. You could stop taking dangerous pain drugs, you could avoid surgery.”

The FTC charges that these claims are false or not adequately substantiated. In addition, the commission alleges the defendants falsely claimed Supple is clinically proven to eliminate joint pain.

Other allegations included “expert endorsement” claims for the product made by Poudyal, while falsely representing herself as an independent, impartial medical expert and failing to disclose that she was married to Apatow during the marketing campaign. Endorsements, while effective in overcoming objections about buying a product, can be misleading if the objectivity of endorsers is compromised through conflicts of interest.

While Apatow, Poudyal and the company apparently will not have to come up with the $150 million (after telling the court they didn’t have the money), they will have to stop making any unsubstantiated claims in the future.

For more on this case, visit http://bit.ly/2e3LzGq.

Flood-damaged cars put back on market

Identify-Flooded-Cars-1024x705.jpg

cheapcarinsurance.net

via Flood-damaged cars put back on market, clarionledger.com

PDF: flooded-cars

As the region cleans up after the catastrophic flooding of the past few weeks, there are going to be lots of folks looking to sell their flood-damaged cars. It happens every time there’s a major flood, and it often catches people off-guard. Usually, flooded cars often hit the market within days.

Vehicles in the path of floodwaters can have severe damage that is not always apparent or repairable. As we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina here in Mississippi, flooded cars can be a big problem for unsuspecting buyers.

After insurance claims are settled, some cars are put back into the market. Unfortunately, it can be hard to detect a flood-damaged car. Unscrupulous owners and salesmen will often go to great lengths to hide flood damage. Legally and ethically, owners of flooded cars should disclose whether the vehicle has been in a flood, crash or other disaster. But unscrupulous sellers don’t always comply with the law, or care about ethics when there’s money to be made.

Just because a vehicle looks fine after being refurbished doesn’t mean it’s safe. Often, the floodwater has permanently damaged key components vital to operation and safety (such as the electrical system or brakes). While the vehicle may function fine at first, buyers can be on the hook for expensive repairs years later, with no recourse or warranties from the seller. And flooding can weaken the vehicle’s safety system through rust and corrosion, as well, making the vehicle unsafe to drive.

If you’re in the market for a vehicle, it’s a good idea to be extra careful of private-sale deals on vehicles. And running a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) check on Carfax, AutoCheck or another title-checking service may reveal whether the vehicle has been marked as salvage (but may not help if the title has been “washed” illegally). Any time you get a used vehicle, take it to a local mechanic you trust so they can check it out thoroughly.

There are a few things to look for which may signify the vehicle has been in a flood. Autotrader.com sent me these helpful tips:

  • Check under the vehicle’s carpets or floor covering for mud or rust, and don’t forget the trunk. Often, hurried cleanups will ignore damaged areas covered by carpeting.
  • Take a whiff of the carpets. A mildew-like smell could be a sign of trouble.
  • Check for mud and debris in hard-to-reach areas, and on the underside of panels and brackets; they may have been missed during the cleaning process.
  • Look for rust on the heads of any exposed screws under the hood, around the doors or in the trunk.

If you find out you’ve bought a flood-damaged vehicle that wasn’t disclosed as such, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi attorney general’s office at 1-800-281-4418.

Key fobs latest VW woe

vw

businesspundit.com

via Key fobs latest VW woe, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160818_A002_5

If you own certain models of Volkswagen diesel vehicles, you’re probably aware of the $10.3 billion settlement involving “clean diesel” claims made by the German automaker. This history-making settlement between VW and the Federal Trade Commission promises to compensate consumers who bought VW models with 2.0-liter diesel engines in a “buyback” program of unprecedented size, in many cases, offering more than the vehicle’s current value, or making repairs and paying cash in addition.

Now, a new concern has emerged for VW owners: some VW cars’ remote keyless entry systems could be hacked, leading to your vehicle being stolen.  British researchers and a German engineering firm announced last week that the key fobs for millions of VW Jettas and Passats sold between 1995 and 2016, as well as those for some Audis and other brands, could be compromised, letting thieves potentially unlock and steal the vehicles. The vulnerability could affect as many as 100 million cars.

According to many sources, it’s not the first time that VW vehicles have been found to have security vulnerabilities; the same firm that released this week’s results also found significant vulnerabilities back in 2012, but announcement of those results were delayed for two years after VW allegedly sued to keep the story quiet (citing the increased risk of theft if the results were made public).

This developing story comes on the heels of the emissions scandal (some have dubbed it “Dieselgate”), in which Volkswagen was accused of having falsified emissions test results. The automaker admitted to using what’s been called a “defeat device,” which caused more than 500,000 diesel vehicles to appear to be more environmentally friendly than they actually were.

The emissions scandal is already producing a lot of confusion about the settlement and the “buy-back” program. The FTC this week warned VW, and independent dealers, that they should be careful when using the buyback program for marketing.  “It would be unwise for anyone — including independent VW dealers — to make separate offers implying either that an offer is part of the $10.03 billion settlement if it is not, or that affected diesel owners must buy a new VW or Audi,” the FTC noted in a news release. “FTC staff will be watching closely to ensure that the compensation process is unsullied by deception.”

The agency advises consumers that their first step should be to visit VWCourtSettlement.com , the official settlement website. There, owners can register their vehicle, and find out their options. Buybacks could start in late fall of this year and emissions modifications will begin once approved.

VW owners shouldn’t feel pressured to make a quick decision; they have more than two years to decide. And, if they get settlement money, they can use it for whatever they want. Apparently, the FTC and other agencies have been hearing from VW owners who have been approached with alternate offers, trying to take advantage of the concerns.

“It’s unwise,” warned FTC blogger Lesley Fair, “for anyone — including independently-owned VW dealers — to make separate offers that: 1) falsely imply that the offer is part of the pending $10 billion settlement, 2) falsely tell owners they have to spend compensation under the settlement on a new VW or Audi or 3) use “Act now!” tactics to lock owners into a separate deal before owners have the full picture of what they stand to gain as part of the $10 billion settlement.”

“If someone makes you an offer for your VW or Audi car, or suggests limits on the buyback program that don’t exist, please report them to the FTC,” Fair added. “We worked very hard to get a fair deal for VW and Audi owners and lessees, and we don’t want anyone to undermine it.”

Meanwhile, many experts say that although the key fob vulnerabilities are real (and likely not limited to just VWs), it apparently takes quite a lot of effort, targeting specific vehicles. To find out more about the buyback program related to the emissions settlement, VW owners should visit http://VWCourtSettlement.com.

Be careful refueling your A/C

AdobeStock_514814.jpegvia Moak: Be careful refueling your A/C, clarionledger.com

As the weather heats up here in the South, our air-conditioning units will be getting busier and busier. The invention of air-conditioning has without a doubt created fundamental changes in how we live. Since its introduction in 1902, air-conditioning has not only changed the way we build structures (and even entire communities); it has also changed the way we interact (or don’t) with our neighbors and how much time we spend outdoors.

The rapid spread of air-conditioning (for which I, like most Southerners, am eternally thankful) has also led to rising concerns about the impact this technology has on the environment. Some refrigerants used in air-conditioning units (known as HCFCs or Freon) are being limited or banned outright by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency out of concern they’re damaging the ozone layer. (Which — in case you weren’t paying attention in your high-school science class — protects us from being fried by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.)

The EPA is in the middle of an aggressive phase-out of some HCFCs, which will force companies to stop making them by 2020. Since the phase-out targets the widely used R-22 or HCFC-22, it’s forcing the industry to find new ways to adapt. Although R-22 use is still legal, the phase-out means the cost is rising and will continue to rise due to decreased supplies. (It’s important to remember you can still use R-22, and if you have it in your unit, it’s perfectly fine.) You’ll only have to pay higher prices if your A/C unit needs to be “recharged” due to a leak.

As costs rise and R-22 stockpiles dwindle, however, people have tried a lot of ideas for replacements. Unfortunately, some of those ideas aren’t so smart; some alternatives to R-22 are being sold that could be dangerous because they contain highly flammable propane. Yes, the same propane that you use to light your campsite or cook your hamburgers is a primary component in a substance being sold as “R-22a.” The EPAissued a news release earlier this month warning about the products and how they can cause an improperly equipped air-conditioner to explode or catch fire.

“Using an unapproved, flammable refrigerant in a system that wasn’t designed to address flammability can lead to serious consequences, including explosion or injury in the worst cases,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “As the summer cooling season gets started, we want to make sure consumers and equipment owners know what is going into their system is safe.”

The EPA has already conducted several enforcement actions about R-22a and related products, including the arrest of a Metairie, Louisiana, man who earlier this year allegedly sold a product called “Super-Freeze 22A” but didn’t warn his customers it could catch fire. In two additional cases, companies in Kansas and Illinois faced huge fines and were forced to stop selling similar products.

“EPA encourages technicians and contractors to consult our website for more information and recommends homeowners confirm that air-conditioning service providers follow manufacturers’ recommendations,” the EPA said in the news release. “Homeowners should be aware that recharging their cooling systems with the wrong refrigerant can void manufacturers’ warranties.”

The EPA has a list of questions and answers about R-22A atwww.epa.gov/snap/questions-and-answers-about-r-22a-safety.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about R-22 or alternatives, talk to your HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) technician to make sure you know what’s being put into your unit. Most experts recommend having a qualified HVAC company take a look at your system at least once a year anyway, especially since our Mississippi summer is going to give your system quite a workout.

Pressure washers can deliver nasty bite

pressurewasher

Wikimedia Commons

via Moak: Pressure washers can deliver nasty bite, clarionledger.com

PDF: Pressure Washers

All across the country, the annual ritual of spring cleaning is under way; in neighborhoods everywhere, you can already hear the unmistakable sounds of pressure washers as people prepare to erase a year’s worth of grime from their shutters, driveways, decks, siding, grills and more.

Pressure washers have come way down in price in recent years, and have revolutionized the business of grime removal for many homeowners. The technology is straightforward; a small electric or gas engine can increase water pressure more than 80 times from what you can get from your standard garden hose (around 4,000 pounds per square inch). That’s a lot of pressure in a very small area; a chore that once took a day of elbow grease now can be done in just minutes.

But a recent Consumer Reports article warns us to be careful; pressure washers can deliver a nasty bite. Especially with “zero-degree” settings, in which the water is concentrated into a tiny laser-like stream, getting on the wrong end of the pressure washer can cause serious injuries and even infections.

“The extreme danger with pressure washers is that even with what seems a very minimal skin break, the fluid can get deep into the tissue and spread out and cause bacterial infection,” says Dr. Howard Mell, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“An estimated 6,057 people in 2014 alone went to an emergency room with injuries related to pressure washer use, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” Consumer Reports noted. “And 14 percent of those ER visits led to additional hospitalization. (Not all of the injuries could be attributed to contact with a powerful spray.)”

The article tells the story of one of Mell’s patients who was hit in the calf, producing a laceration less than 2 inches across. But internally, there was infection to the muscle. It took a long operation and months of physical therapy for the patient to heal.

One key issue with the devices is that many people automatically use the highest setting. Most pressure washers can be adjusted from a wide spray to a very small one (the “zero-degree” setting.) “The zero-degree nozzle in this case may be used to extend the reach of the water and thus eliminate the need of a ladder,” Consumer Reports quoted the Pressure Washer Manufacturers’ Association. “In addition, it may also be used for etching or removing extremely stubborn debris prior to washing or rinsing using 15-degree or larger-angle nozzles.”

Consumer Reports recommends consumers consider wider spray patterns, which may take a little longer, but are safer. They are also recommending the industry stop selling pressure washer tips that allow settings smaller than 15 degrees altogether, and if you have one (usually with a red tip), avoid using it. If you do use it, be extremely careful not to point it at any person or animal. And protect yourself with safety goggles, long pants and close-toed shoes.

PressureWasherToday, a blog that reports on pressure washer issues, has additional safety tips, including these:

  • Make sure you are working from stable ground, not a ladder. The high pressure can make the nozzle kick back and could knock you off the ladder, or make the nozzle point in a direction you didn’t intend.
  • Don’t try to work with a unit that has any damage, such as a cracked hose.
  • Avoid working around power lines or electrical cables. They can be damaged by the spray.
  • Be careful when working near windows. The spray can break glass.
  • When finished, be sure to turn off the engine, then release the pressure by squeezing the trigger.

For more information, visit consumerreports.org or pressurewashertoday.com.

Did we go overboard over hoverboards?

635875183406620238-hoverboard

(File: AP)

via Moak: Did we go overboard over hoverboards?, clarionledger.com, 1/5/2015

Recently, I watched all three “Back to the Future” movies once again (for at least the 20th time). It’s great fun; everyone loves watching the antics of Marty McFly and Doc Brown as they cavort through time in the iconic stainless-steel DeLorean. One really cool invention in the story was the hoverboard. This device came from an alternate 2015 in which the skateboard had lost its wheels, allowing Marty to hover up and down the streets of Hill Valley. Marty could be seen using the hoverboard to great effect as he escaped the clutches of bad guys and even used the board to save Doc and Clara from plunging into Shonash (or was it Clayton…er, Eastwood?) Ravine.

So, imagine the delight of millions when they started hearing hints that they would soon be able to buy one of these magical devices! And, although 2015 was disappointingly devoid of flying cars, a few of “Back to the Future’s”predictions had come tantalizingly close. (Pro baseball in Florida, tablet computers and video conferencing are just a few they got right; we’re still waiting for the Cubs to win the Series, fax machines jumped the proverbial shark a while back, and nobody’s seen a new Pontiac since 2009.)

But the hoverboard would have really been something; it seemed as though it had happened. Then, reality set in. The so-called “hoverboard” turned out to be just a down-sized, wheeled Segway (technically a “self-balancing scooter”), which looks something like a powered sideways skateboard. Still, it was pretty cool to be seen with one; many celebrities got in on the act, and the hoverboard began to top Christmas lists around the globe. Stores began selling out; it seemed as though we were witnessing the birth of an iconic new direction in personal transport. Several brands began to appear, ranging in price from about $400 to $1,800.

But, what a difference a day (OK, a few days….) make. The hoverboard is in trouble. Reports have surfaced that hoverboard batteries can catch fire, they’ve been banned in some communities (and the entire United Kingdom, except on private property), airlines won’t allow you to bring them on flights, and — in the ultimate indignity — Amazon has suggested you throw them out entirely. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has stepped into the fray, saying they are investigating the devices.

What’s going on here? Are hoverboards really the scourge of civilization? Not since the Heely have we seen such a backlash against youthful mobility devices. It could be that hoverboards were rushed to market too soon, improperly tested or ill-conceived. Counterfeit hoverboards are available online for under $300; who knows whether they are made with any quality considerations in mind?

The most likely explanation, though, is that it all happened too quickly. CNET — one of the Internet’s most trusted tech advisers — admits it hasn’t had time to test them and compare brands.

If you’re still interested in a hoverboard, though, CNET does suggest you shop carefully, with these things in mind:

It’s all about that battery. Hoverboards have powerful Lithium-Ion batteries, which can be faulty. In rare cases, they can overheat, catch fire or even explode (hence, their exclusion from planes). If you can wait, it might be a good idea to give the manufacturers some time to work out the safety issues.

Quality is important. Higher-end brands will cost more, but they are more likely to be better-made. Go directly to the manufacturer, rather than trying to get one through a third-party seller.

Keep safety in mind. Remember, these devices can propel you along at up to 10 miles per hour; that’s way faster than most of us walk, and probably as fast as most of us can run, too. If you hit an obstacle such as a pothole, piece of trash or curb, you will go flying and the result won’t be pleasant. Therefore, it’s a good idea to wear pads and a helmet, as you would with a skateboard.

We’ll have to wait and see if hoverboards (the wheeled kind) will be a lasting addition to society, or just a short-lived fad. It could be that, in a few years, the real thing will come; some inventors claim to have invented true levitation technology. If true, that will doubtless revolutionize transportation. It could be that our grandkids will wonder how they ever lived without being able to zip up and down the sidewalk on their hoverboards, as we get into our flying cars and head off into a future where we don’t need… roads.

Check the deck to prevent collapse

Originally published in clarionledger.com on 7/30/2015.

Earlier this month, a large deck at a North Carolina beachfront home collapsed, injuring 24 people as they posed for a photo. Local officials found that old, corroded nails in the 29-year-old deck (which was reportedly built to local code) had probably given way under the massive weight of the family, who ranged in age from 5 to 94. Family members plunged about 10 feet when the deck collapsed.

Such collapses are more common than you might realize; back in May, eight members of the Ultimate Frisbee team of Cedarville College in Ohio suffered injuries during a celebration of their impending graduations, and frequently we hear about similar incidents.

Decks have become more popular through the years, and there is a near-infinite variety of materials and designs available. In recent years, wood replacement products in varying styles and colors have come on the scene, providing alternatives to the same old designs and a hedge against the inevitable decay of wood. Still, the accident brings to mind the need for homeowners to periodically check to see if their decks can still function safely.

I’ll confess that the Moak family backyard deck is currently in need of serious attention. The wood is having a hard time standing up to the blazing summer heat, and seven Mississippi summers have not been kind. We have periodically applied a sealant, but not enough. Some boards are splintering and warping. It’s low to the ground, so a collapse would be unlikely to cause injury, but splinters and nails could deliver a nasty surprise. (That’s a project for cooler weather.)

Homeowners and property owners can do something about their decks by checking them periodically. You can check it yourself, or call a professional deck builder or contractor to take a look. For homeowners conducting their own inspections, the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) has these tips for homeowners with decks:

  1. Search for split or decaying wood. Check several different areas of the deck to be sure the wood is still sound, including the ledger board (where the deck attaches to the house and a common source of deck failure), support posts and joists under the deck, deck boards, railings and stairs. Look for soft, spongy areas in wood that can indicate insect damage or decay.
  2. Test railings and banisters. Assure the security of these key pieces of the deck by gently pushing on them to assure they are firmly attached with no “give” that could indicate failure. Using a measuring tape or yardstick, measure the height to make sure they’re up to code. NADRA notes that most codes require at least a 36-inch high railing — 42 inches is better with rails placed no more than 4 inches apart (measured from the inside of the rails) to keep small children and pets from squeezing through.
  3. Check your fasteners. Over time, fasteners may “pop” from wood, loosen or even corrode. Check nails, screws or anchors and reinforce or replace anything that looks suspicious.
  4. Step carefully. Check each step to make certain of security and lack of decay. If an area behind the stair treads is open, this opening should be no more than 4 inches high. Keep stair pathways clear of planters, décor, toys and other items that can present a tripping hazard.
  5. Clean up debris. Make it a priority to clean away leaves, branches or other debris from your deck. When left in place, these can be slippery and promote mildew. If you’re already seeing mildew on the deck, or the deck coating has worn away, now is the time to clean and apply a new waterproof coating.

“Your deck and stairs should appear even without sagging, and should not sway or move when tested,” says Bob Lett, vice president of market development for WOLF Home Products. “Plus, it’s important to check on anything used on the deck, such as grills, lighting, storage and furnishings. Making these easy evaluations part of your yearly springtime maintenance can help keep your entire family safe.”

What you should know about the Blue Bell recall

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger print edition on 4/23/2015.

PDF: Blue bell recall

In what is fast becoming one of the most sweeping recalls in history, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries has recalled all its products currently on the market due to potential infection by the potentially-deadly Listeria monocytogenes organism.

Mississippi is a big market for Blue Bell ice cream. Many Mississippians have come to love Blue Bell, as much for its reputation as an American business success story as for its tasty products. Since it’s likely that you have at least one Blue Bell product in your freezer, you need to know a few things, so we’ve pulled this information together for you.

What’s happened?

In the past several months, concerns about infection by the Listeria bacteria have increased, with the organism being found in a number of locations. Tuesday, Blue Bell announced it had initiated an “enhanced sampling program”, which revealed that Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream half-gallons produced on March 17 and March 27 contained the Listeria bacteria. Blue Bell noted in a news release that Listeria has been found in several different plants. As a safety precaution, Blue Bell is asking consumers to stop consuming Blue Bell products (including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks) and return them to the retailer for a refund.

The products being recalled were distributed to food service accounts, convenience stores and supermarkets in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma,  South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming and international locations. This is a voluntary recall by Blue Bell, and not a mandated recall by the government.

Why is it important?

Listeria is a dangerous organism, and can cause serious — and sometimes fatal — infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been following this outbreak for some time, and reports that 10 people have gotten sick, with three deaths reported in Kansas. Other cases of Listeria infection allegedly related to the outbreak have been reported in Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas.

In addition, pregnant women may face an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

What’s Blue Bell doing?

Blue Bell president Paul Kruse noted on the company’s website that the company is initiating a number of precautions, including implementation of a “test and hold” procedure for all products. This means that all products will be tested first and held for release to the market only after the tests show they are safe. A Blue Bell plant in Broken Arrow, Okla. has been closed until an investigation is completed.

In addition, Blue Bell is expanding its program to clean and sanitize equipment, expanding swabbing and testing all personnel by more than 800 percent, sending daily samples to a lab for testing, and enhancing employee training.

“At this point, we cannot say with certainty how Listeria was introduced to our facilities and so we have taken this unprecedented step,” Kruse said in a statement. “We continue to work with our team of experts to eliminate this problem… We want enjoying our ice cream to be a source of joy and pleasure, never a cause for concern, so we are committed to getting this right.”

What now?

Consumers are urged to gather any Blue Bell products and return them to the store where you purchased them for a refund.

Kruse said the company will resume making and selling ice cream products, but will make sure products are free of Listeria before doing so.

For more information about the recall, call 1-866-608-3940 Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. CST or go to bluebell.com.

Understanding Recalls

Originally printed in the Clarion-Ledger print edition on April 12, 2015. 

If you’ve visited the customer service desk at one of the big-box retailers, you may have noticed a bulletin board plastered with pieces of paper and titled “Recalls”. The other day, I noticed this board at a local store. The board was over to the side where it would hardly be noticed, and surrounded by shopping carts and other obstacles to make it difficult to read what was posted. Then I realized that few people would ever even be interested enough to read it anyway.

Many consumers are confused about what actually happens during a recall. It’s actually quite complicated; the public recall is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. But recalls can affect you and your family’s health and safety, so it’s a good idea to understand them.

Dozens of products are recalled every week. Most of the time these don’t make the news, but sometimes they do so – often in spectacular fashion. Just this week, a recall of Sabra Hummus made the national news because some cases of the popular dip had been found to be infected with the potentially-deadly Listeria organism. In that case, consumers were urged to throw away the product, or take it back to the store for a refund.

But wide news coverage is the exception, rather than the rule. Occasionally, we’ll write about a recall affecting our consumers, such as one we did a few months ago regarding potentially-dangerous tree stands. But choosing which recalls to highlight is a difficult decision for the media.

This week, besides the Hummus, there were recalls affecting children’s pajamas (fire risk), patio furniture (risk of breaking), Macadamia nuts (potential salmonella infection) and intravenous (IV) fluids (found to contain “particulate matter.”) In many of these cases, it’s unlikely you ever heard about it, unless you are in a business that sells or uses that product. In some cases (such as with some of the Macadamia nuts), they were sold in just a few locations.

Simply stated, a recall is an action to address an issue which has been found to be a concern for health, safety or which has the potential for harm. Recalls can originate with the manufacturer of the product (self-reporting), through reports from consumers or from government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Once the problem is discovered, the company is required by law to report it, and work with the agency to issue a recall.

Recalls are an attempt at damage control, but are usually only partially effective. For example, if you buy a swing set for your child and the bolts holding the swing on the frame break and send your child to the emergency room, you (or your attorney) might call the company to complain. Upon investigating, the company finds that a single box of bolts was made of substandard metal, but now the problem is all over the country because the bolts are in hundreds of units.

For lots of reasons (potential lawsuits among them), the company issues a recall. But there’s a problem: they don’t really know who bought those swing sets. They only know that they were sold in certain toy stores, in certain cities.

There is a lot riding on these damage control efforts. Not only does a company have the moral and ethical responsibility to do what it can to stop potential harm, it must also deal with potential lawsuits. And a company’s response can make or break its reputation. Perhaps most famously, drug maker McNeil has been lauded for their quick recall in response to deliberate poisoning of Tylenol in 1982, leading to seven deaths. But many other companies have gone out of business because they didn’t get out front of the issue and take responsibility.

So, how do you know about recalls, and what to do about them? First, there are lot of good websites out there which alert the public. For example, the CPSC site (www.cpsc.gov) has current recall information on its Recalls tab. And the CPSC will also send you emails about recalls as well, just go to the Stay Connected link on the right side of the CPSC Recalls page.

Also, there are a lot of other government agencies and industry groups which alert the public about recalled products, including the FDA (food and drugs), USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (food safety issues), American Veterinary Medical Association (recalls affecting pets), and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (vehicles, tires, child safety seats, etc.)

Secondly, there are many free mobile apps for all platforms which will provide you with alerts, often customizable to your situation. Popular apps include Recalls and Parenting Ages and Stages, available on the iTunes store, and Recall Watch, available for Android.