Tornado Season Safety Tips!

July 2013

Easy

Tornadoes are volatile and sometimes unpredictable. Packing wind gusts over 200 mph in some cases, these rotating, funnel-shaped columns of air can injure people, devastate homes and property.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they have been known to leave a path of damage more than one mile wide and 50 miles long.

Also, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, there were 1,692 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2011, with 758 of them touching down in the month of April.

A preliminary count by the NOAA indicates there were about 939 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2012.

In the Southern states, peak tornado season is March through May, while in the Northern states, the peak season is loosely defined as late spring through early summer.

But a tornado can occur in any state, during any season, and at any time–which is why it is a good idea to make sure to be prepared in case a tornado strikes.

Warning Signs of a Tornado

FEMA stresses the fact that when a tornado is in the vicinity, you can’t always depend on seeing a funnel cloud. It highlights the following warning signs as possible precursors to tornado activity:

  • Large hail
  • A dark, sometimes greenish sky
  • Large, dark, low-lying clouds, possibly rotating
  • A loud, roaring wind, sometimes described as sounding like a freight train

If you notice these warning signs, officials say you should take shelter immediately and, if possible, tune in to weather and news reports.

Where to Take Shelter During a Tornado

But where to go? FEMA suggests building a safe room, which is a reinforced room that can provide safe shelter, in your home if possible.

But, if you don’t have a safe room in your home, the Storm Prediction Center says you should either take shelter in a basement or in an interior room without windows. I

f you opt for a basement, officials say you should stay underneath a heavy table or work bench, and try to stay away from areas where heavy objects, like the refrigerator or a piano, rest on the floor above.

If you don’t have a basement, the SPC says you should go to a small interior room — like a bathroom or a closet — on the first floor and cover yourself with a mattress or thick blanket, to protect yourself from any falling debris.

In addition to making a plan to take shelter, it’s important to build an emergency kit for your home, which should include food, water and supplies for up to 72 hours.

Another important item to include in your emergency kit is a battery-powered radio, which can allow you to listen to weather reports, news updates and any emergency instructions.

Establishing a family communications plan may also be a good idea in case of an emergency, which may strike when some family members are away from home.

Ready.gov provides a worksheet that can help your family decide where to meet and whom to call in case of an emergency.

After the Tornado

Even after the twister has passed, the danger isn’t necessarily gone, so it’s important to remain cautious. Downed power lines, structural damage to buildings and scattered debris can pose a risk of injury after a tornado.

So, even when it’s safe to emerge from your hiding place, be careful. Glass and nails are potential hazards, so FEMA suggests wearing sturdy shoes or boots to protect your feet from dangerous debris.

Stay clear of any downed power lines, and don’t attempt to enter any buildings unless emergency personnel have deemed them safe.

Tornadoes can strike with little or no warning, but you’re not powerless. Take steps to make sure your family is armed with a plan to stay safe.

Thanks, Mint!

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Totally Trippin’: How to Plan a Last-Minute Summer Getaway Infographic!

July 2013

Easy

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Food Storage 101: How to Properly Store Meat, Dairy, and Produce for Maximum Savings!

July 2013

Easy

When summer farmer’s markets start filling up, it’s easy to buy too much of a good thing. Or at least, too much for your family to eat before it goes bad.

In fact, Americans throw out 14% of the food they buy, not counting table scraps and leftovers, according to government estimates. But you can easily cut that figure back.

Step 1: Become a better meal planner, which allows for better assessments of how much to buy.

Step 2: Organize your pantry and refrigerator to better showcase ingredients, so that lunch meat never gets lost in the back of the fridge.

Step 3: Figure out the typical shelf life for items you buy, so you know what’s on the critical must-cook list, and what can wait until tomorrow.

For help, try our handy (updated) storage guide below, compiled with data from the USDA, SeriousEats.com, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Food52, LifeHacker, FoodSafety.gov, MealsMatter.org, Self magazine and the Food Marketing Institute, among other sources:

Meats

Beef

Store on the bottom shelf in the fridge. As a general rule of thumb, ground meat keeps well for one to two days, and roasts and steaks are safe for three to five days.

Poultry

Store on the bottom shelf in the fridge, with a few paper towels underneath to catch any drips. Keep no more than one to two days.

Fish

Store in the coldest part of the fridge for no more than two days, according to the University of Arizona. Even there, it’ll keep better on a bed of ice.

Pork

Store on the bottom shelf in the fridge. Per USDA guidelines, fresh pork liver and other organ meats can be safely refrigerated for one to two days; roast, steaks, chops and ribs for three to five days.

Prepared Meats

Once opened, a package of hot dogs can be safely refrigerated for up to a week. (Unopened packs can last for up to two weeks.) Deli-sliced lunch meats stay fresh for three to five days, and bacon, up to seven days.

Dairy

Milk

Keep milk and other dairy items at the back of the fridge’s top shelf, where the temperature is more constant. That keeps them fresher longer.

Cheese

Wrap in waxed paper and then place in a plastic bag. Stored in the fridge, it can last five to eight days.

Eggs

Don’t use the handy egg-specific door storage. Store in their carton, on a fridge shelf, where they can last up to five weeks. 

Produce

Apples

Store on the counter. Move any uneaten apples to the refrigerator after seven days. In the fridge or out, don’t store near most other uncovered fruits or vegetables — the ethylene gases produced by apples can ruin them (making carrots bitter, for example). The exception: if you want to ripen plums, pears and other fruits quickly, put an apple nearby for a day or so.

Artichokes

Refrigerate in the vegetable crisper whole for up to two weeks.

Asparagus

Store upright in the refrigerator in a plastic bag with either an inch of water or with a damp towel wrapped around the base, just like you would have flowers in a vase. They’ll last three to four days that way.

Avocados

Ripen on the counter. Can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days once ripe.

Bananas

Store on the counter. Refrigerate only when ripe — they’ll last for another two days or so.

Beets

Remove green tops an inch or two above the crown. Refrigerate beets in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss, which leads to wilting. (They’ll last seven to 10 days.) Refrigerate greens separately, also in a plastic bag. Best in the vegetable crisper.

Berries

Grower Driscoll’s recommends refrigerating berries in the crisper, unwashed and in their original container. Blueberries and strawberries should keep for five to seven days; more fragile raspberries and blackberries up to two days.

Broccoli

Refrigerate in the vegetable crisper in a sealed plastic bag. It’ll keep for three to five days.

Carrots

Refrigerate in the vegetable crisper in a sealed plastic bag for up to three weeks.

Cauliflower

Refrigerate in the vegetable crisper, stem side down, in a sealed plastic bag. It’ll last three to five days.

Celery

Refrigerate in the vegetable crisper one to two weeks in a sealed bag. Keep in the front of the refrigerator, where it’s less apt to freeze.

Citrus fruits

Store oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit on the counter. They can last up to two weeks.

Corn

Refrigerate ears still in the husk. They’ll last up to two days.

Cucumbers

Refrigerate, either in the crisper or in a plastic bag elsewhere in the fridge. They’ll last four to five days.

Garlic

Store in the pantry, or any similar location away from heat and light. It’ll last up to four months.

Green beans

Refrigerate in the vegetable crisper in a plastic bag for three to four days.

Green onions

Refrigerate in the vegetable crisper for up to two weeks.

Herbs

Fresh herbs can last seven to 10 days in the refrigerator. Store in air-tight containers with a damp paper towel on the top and bottom.

Leafy greens

Refrigerate unwashed in the vegetable crisper. Full heads will last five to seven days that way, instead of three to four days for a thoroughly drained one. Avoid storing in the same drawer as apples, pears or bananas, which release ethylene gases that act as a natural ripening agent.

Mushrooms

Take out of the package and store in a paper bag in the refrigerator, or place on a tray and cover with a wet paper towel. They’ll last two to three days.

Onions

Stored in the pantry, away from light and heat, they’ll last three to four weeks.

Peaches

Ripen on the counter in a paper bag punched with holes, away from sunlight. Keep peaches (as well as plums and nectarines) on the counter until ripe, and then refrigerate. They’ll last another three to four days.

Pears

Store on the counter, ideally, in a bowl with bananas and apples, and then refrigerate after ripening. They’ll last another three to four days.

Peas

Refrigerated in the vegetable crisper in a plastic bag perforated with holes, they’ll last three to five days.

Peppers

Refrigerated in the vegetable crisper, they’ll last four to five days.

Potatoes

Store them in the pantry away from sunlight and heat, and they’ll last two to three months.

Radishes

Refrigerate in the vegetable crisper. They’ll last 10 to 14 days.

Summer squash

Refrigerate in a perforated plastic bag. They’ll last four to five days.

Tomatoes

Spread them out on the counter out of direct sunlight for even ripening. After ripening, store stem side down in the refrigerator and they’ll last two to three days.

Tropical fruit

Mangoes, papayas, pineapples and kiwi fruit should be ripened on the counter.

Watermelon

Kept at room temperature on the counter, it’ll last up to two weeks.

Winter squashes

Store on the counter for up to two weeks.

Thanks, Mint!

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Do Family Dinners Improve Your Finances?

July 2013

Easy

We’ve heard it a million times: Sitting down for a family meal is good for us. Studies show it keeps us connected, instills healthy eating habits, and even helps our kids get better grades.

But here’s a new twist: It can make you wealthier.

It’s true: A soon-to-be-released study from professors at the University of Georgia looked at 8,000 families over the course of a decade, and found that those who ate together at least four times a week were more likely to be financially secure.

The families in the study who dined together may or may not have discussed money at all. Instead, the study points to their one common trait: self-regulation.

In plain English, that means they excel at establishing good habits and sticking to them.

While that may sound like psychobabble to you, it makes perfect sense: If you’re able to prioritize family meals (while balancing work, school, and all the other life demands), you’re probably able to prioritize making smart financial decisions.

But if you’re not the dinner-on-the-table-at-7-every-night kind of parent (we all end up there sometimes) all hope is not lost.

The study notes that self-regulation is like a muscle. And like any other muscle, you can strengthen it with exercise.

Try committing to some healthy routines, like aiming for at least two family meals a week to start.

Do you gather regularly for family meals? Do you think it has helped your family—and your finances?

Thanks, Mint & Beth Kobliner!

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11 Summer Food Safety Tips To Keep You And Your Family Safe!

July 2013

Easy

Summer heat and parties don’t always mix well. The combination can be a recipe for foodborne illness.

Earlier this spring, the Centers for Disease Control reported a 43% increase in Vibrio cases during 2012, and a 14% increase in Campylobacter.

The former often stems from eating raw oysters, the latter, from undercooked poultry and produce.

Cases involving other common food contaminants, such as Listeria and Salmonella, saw no change — which the CDC reported showed a need for improved prevention.

The USDA says food poisoning is more prevalent in the summer.

Heat allows bacteria opportunity to thrive, and with parties and picnics aplenty, it’s all to easy for poor prep habits (like not washing hands, or using the same cutting board for meat and veggies) to cross-contaminate food in a way that will get all your guests sick.

Take these 11 food-safety precautions for safer summer celebrations: 

Cook food thoroughly

Cooking food to a safe internal temperature is the best way to eliminate bacteria. That’s up to 165 degrees for most poultry; 145 degrees for fish: Food Safety.gov maintains a list by food type.

“Use a food thermometer rather than relying solely on your senses to assure meat, poultry or fish is prepared to a safe temp,” says culinary nutritionist Jackie Newgent, author of “1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes.”

Divide groceries

Food safety group NSF International suggests keeping fresh meat, which is more likely to be contaminated, away from other groceries. Bag raw meat packages separately so juices don’t drip onto other foods.

Wash hands

“Proper hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent illness,” says Ron Simon a partner at Simon & Luke, a law firm that specializes in food poisoning cases.

Before you start to cook, wash hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water. Repeat each time you switch between handling raw and ready-to-eat foods.

“If you are barbecuing away from home, such as in a park or at the beach, bring antibacterial soap with you in case the public restrooms are out,” he says.

Double up on utensils.

“Have at least two sets of tongs and other utensils, one to prepare food and the other to serve it,” says Simon.

That keeps safely cooked from being re-contaminated.

Shop the perimeter last

Get your dry goods first, and then walk the store perimeter for produce, meat and dairy, advises the USDA.

That way, foods in need of refrigeration will be exposed to the heat for less time. Drive straight home.

Relocate the cooler

Keep it in the air-conditioned car with you and your passengers, not in the hotter trunk, reports FightBac.org.

Pack the cooler with plenty of ice, too.

Cover food

Covering food prevents flies from landing on it and transmitting bacteria.

“Flies are one of the main channels of transmission for Salmonella,” Simon says.

Monitor the buffet

According to FightBac.org, perishable foods shouldn’t be left out for more than to hours.

If it’s hotter than 90 degrees out, they shouldn’t be out for more than an hour.

Serve kids well-done meat

“E Coli is most dangerous in children, so no rare or medium rare burgers for the little ones,” Simon says.

Defrost in the fridge

Letting food defrost on the counter exposes the surface to room temperature air for longer than is safe, according to FoodSafety.gov.

If you’re under time pressure, put the food under constant cold running water, in a container big enough to let the water flow around the food.

Boil marinade

“It’s only okay to reuse a marinade for meat, poultry, or fish when it’s boiled to destroy harmful bacteria,” says Newgent.

Better yet, set some sauce aside at the outset, instead of using it all for marinating.

Thanks, Mint!

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