New Mexico Urban Homesteader
Hello, I am A 50 Something, Prepper ;-}; former 60's Flower Child, don't believe in taxpayer subsidized special interest groups (political parties), DO believe in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (1st 10). Long time Independent & Informed Voter. Lover of the outdoors and firm believer that History Teaches - if only we will listen!
(No longer Urban or in NM. Now Rural in the mountains of Maine.)
This blog was started at the request of some dear friends that wish to become Preppers.
“No man who is not willing to help himself has any right to apply to his friends, or to the gods.”
Demosthenes (384–322 BC, Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens)
Monday, January 28, 2013
Threat Matrix (global) Open Source Intelligence Dashboard Control / Fast Jump Menu Maps (http://www.globalincidentmap.com/threatmatrix.php) - Maps, Graphs, Charts, Predictions, Lists of Recent Incidents, and other items are all updated automatically as new data is added to their databases from which it draws.
Nature's Fury (http://naturesfury.net/) - Real Time Activity/Alerts for Preparedness and research.
Earth Observatory NASA (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/GlobalMaps/) - For Risks on: Aerosol Optical Depth; Chlorophyll; Cloud Fraction; Land Surface Temperature; Net Radiation; Sea Surface Temperature; Snow Cover; Total Rainfall; Vegetation, etc.
The Disaster Center (http://www.disastercenter.com/) - Follow for links to: NOAA -- Warnings - Advisories; Current Warning; NWS Active/Special Warnings; Surface Analysis Loop; Graphical Forecasts; National Forecast; National Radar; National Satellite; Satellite Environment Plot; Real Time Water Data; NWS Offices and Centers.
For more detailed and specific information see U.S. Hazard - Risk Map Links (updated August 2011) @ http://www.scribd.com/doc/62202540/US-Hazard-Risk-Map-Links-August-2011
“Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Well we have covered the major games played, the Regulation Roulette and food safety, so now is the time to see just what we can do to fight these games and save our minds and monies in the process ....
Find out your supermarkets Policies
Here are some key points to ask your grocery’s manager:
• Price Accuracy Policies: Many retailers have these, including supermarkets. If any item scans at the wrong price you could get the item for free. If you notice this tell the cashier or go to customer service. There are limitations though as to the price of the item. See the store for details.
• Date or ‘Fresh’ Policies: If you find an item that is out of date, you bring this item to the service desk with an identical, in date item and they will give you the in date (and sometimes the out of date) item for free! It helps them to keep the inventory moving and you get free groceries.
• Return Policies: As we have discussed earlier, on returned items many stores will let cashiers decide if the ‘feel test’ is valid and allow produce, refrigerated and or frozen items to put back on shelf and anything not passing the test will be marked as ‘damaged’ an put on a sale rack. Find out your supermarkets policy to avoid any possible defrosted or over warmed product.
• Delivery Dates: Just as most restaurants receive shipments of fish or meat on certain days of the week, the same applies to your supermarket. Ask the store manager when produce, meat, seafood and dairy products are usually received. These receiving dates are usually 3-4 days apart and not on the weekends.
• Shoplifting: Due to the high rate of shoplifting many stores will ‘lock up’ items like; baby formula, cough and cold medications, smoking-cessation products, cigarettes, razor blades, alcohol and batteries, etc. It never hurts to ask the store manager what they do to prevent shoplifting. Shoplifting costs consumers in the U.S. millions of dollars each year. When shoplifting is high in an area the individual product price is higher to compensate for the loss to the store.
Note: Many shoplifters have been heard to say “the store can afford to lose a little money” or some such thing. The truth is that about the only entity in our food supply chain that can “afford to lose a little money” is the manufacturer and very few manufacturers (if any) will swallow it – the common practice is to pass the loss along to us consumers.
• Rain Check policy: Ask your store manager if rain checks are offered when the store is out of a sale product that they advertised. In some cases you may end up with a ‘fresher’ item at the sale price.
• Stores have different Coupon Policies: Ask your store manager about their coupon policies. Some will double or triple coupons, some don’t. Some limit the number of “like coupons,” some don’t. Some will even limit the number of coupons per transaction. Certain stores will accept competitor’s coupons (this big in the past but is not so common now). It doesn’t hurt to ask. Find out your local store’s coupon policy before shopping with coupons.
• Store Rebates: Many stores now offer one-step rebates, where all of your “store coupons” and “rebates” are tracked through the loyalty or reward card and a single check is issued back to you as a rebate. You can apply coupons to the items as you purchase them, essentially “stacking” the deals. Don’t be deceived, though. The rebate check is wonderful, but only if you have already purchased the item at a lower price. If it’s not at a discount before the rebate and coupon, it might not be a “real deal”.
Couponing – Scam or Savings?
Answer: It Depends
Did you know? The first one cent–off coupon was issued in 1895 by C.W. Post to promote his new cereal. According to Susan Samtur, author of Supershop Like the Coupon Queen, "a coupon is still one of the single best ways to get people to buy a product. Even if you forget to bring it to the store, clipping the coupon jogs your memory and you'll likely buy the product anyway."
Coupons can be manufacturer or brand specific, they can be just for a particular supermarket chain or even a specific store only. Some coupons are only valid on certain days of the week or time of day. Other coupons may have a quantity or an overall receipt dollars spent amount that needs to be purchased before the coupon can be applied. On top of this most coupons are for overly-processed foods that few households actually need. Above all, coupons are generally nothing but a marketing ploy.
Brand Manufacturer Coupons: First off remember that the product itself is more expensive to begin with (remember the Brand Tax). Next add in that the manufacturer will need to cover their cost of issuing the coupon, which means that the coupon cost has already been factored into the price of the product that is charged to the supermarket. Which in turn means: Even if we don’t use a coupon for this item, we are still paying for the coupon cost.
In order to actually save money on manufacturer brand coupons you will most likely have to ‘double up’ the coupon with some other sale being offered on the product or stacking the coupon with another coupon. Some stores allow this, some do not. Or if the store offers “double” or even “triple” coupon values, then you can indeed save some bucks.
Basically saving money with manufacturer brand coupons is, in most cases an illusion, a waste of time, a waste of energy and more often than not, a waste of your health.
Yet, not to totally smash the idea of using coupons, there are still times you can receive products absolutely free or for half price since the manufacturer is hoping to get you to try their product and come back for more.
Store Coupons are usually a better value and yet we still have to be sure that the product is not close to its expiration date. We also have to be sure the coupon price is indeed a bargain. Read the fine print to be sure you don’t have to purchase a certain quantity or spend a certain dollar amount in order for the coupon to apply.
Some stores will allow you to ‘stack’ their store coupons (Target, Rite-Aide, etc.) with your manufacturer coupons for even greater savings! These store coupons can come from email, snail mail, store ads, flyers and the stores’ monthly magazines, etc. Store coupons, in general, should be viewed as a simple “sale price”, where the store coupon limits the number that can be purchased at that price. Here the coupons are generated to benefit the store and in this case, the store coupon benefits them by enforcing the limit on the number you can purchase at the price.
The key to successful couponing is the ability for you to plan ahead. If you are currently living on a set household budget, then you already know how to plan ahead. Avoid coupon impulse purchases at all costs; this will only set you back financially. Know exactly what your needs are, and stick to those needs. Most importantly, when you hand over your coupons over to the cashier; pay close attention that all your coupons were scanned in accurately. Technology is a wonderful thing, but computers make mistakes too.
Where to find coupons
- Newspapers- the Smart Source and Valassis coupon inserts appear on a near-weekly basis. The Procter and Gamble insert appears at the start of each month
- Magazines- women's publications such as Woman's Day, Red Book, Family Circle and Good Housekeeping frequently carry manufacturer coupons
- In store- look for coupons on store shelves, on products and on the back of your receipts. Also look for coupons to print out at the register
- Online- look to free grocery coupon sites for loads of printable coupons. Not all stores take them; but if yours does, you’re in luck
- Junk mail- high-value manufacturer coupons have started to appear in junk mailers, so be sure to look before you toss
- Direct from the manufacturer- check manufacturer websites for printable coupons or contact companies (by mail, e-mail or phone) to request coupons
- Store mailings- get a frequent shopper card for the grocery stores that you shop and you may be rewarded with special coupon mailings
- On products- look in and on the packaging of the products that you buy for special loyalty coupons. When on the outside of the package, these can be redeemed immediately.
According to the experts, to save the most money couponing you will need to:
- Compare your coupons to the grocery store saving circular.
- Use your coupons for items that are on sale only
- Use a coupon for an item you need to purchase or were planning on purchasing. Essentially people waste money on buying a product just because they have a coupon. If you weren’t planning on buying that jumbo sized package of cookies, why even spend any money on it? Just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you have to use it.
- Now, you have matched your coupons to the items on sale, to save time just clip out the coupons you need for the shopping trip you are planning. Save the rest of the coupon clipping for later, and find an empty binder or even a large plastic bag to store the unclipped coupons.
- When you write out your shopping list make notations as a reminder that you have a coupon for the product. This visual reminder will help to avoid those pesky little situations where you forget to give a cashier one of your coupons.
While you might be able to save a few dollars clipping coupons for brand-name goods, you’ll rarely if ever find coupons for anything without a barcode, like fresh produce. The only produce coupons I have ever personally seen were store coupons and I could tell that the fruit or veggie the coupon was for had not been selling too well.
For many people, clipping coupons is more of a hassle and can prompt unnecessary purchases, than it is an actual money saver. For others, like ‘Extreme Couponers’, it is a big money saver. It all depends on the individual and situation.
Here are some tips from the Pros on saving money at the supermarket:
Fact: Beating these games and saving money will take time and effort. No superficial action will succeed. You have to really want it.
Determine your households eating habits. It just takes a little effort over a 2 week period of keeping track of what you and your family eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Once this is done you have a basic list of what you will be purchasing on a regular basis.
Find out what you are actually spending on food. Save your grocery receipts for at least a month; subtract non-grocery items from the total receipt and then add all the totals. Keep it simple and use a clasp envelope to store your receipts and then review them about every 3-5 months to see if your eating habits have changed any or if your household has certain splurges here and there. This should be your starting point for your household food budget and will allow you to see if one supermarket consistently has lower prices than another chain. Many of us shop at more than one chain store and this is a good way to sort through all the marketing and advertising hype.
Make a master grocery list from your reviewed receipts. Use this to make your ‘normal’ shopping lists. Having a pre-planned shopping list and sticking to it is one of the biggest savings you can make because it is the prime tool in reducing impulse buying.
For the non-grocery items on your supermarket receipts try a department or specialty store for those items and compare the prices. Most likely they will be cheaper than at the supermarket.
What Stores Are In Your Area? Make a list of all the grocery stores in your area. Think outside the box of your usual shopping. Think about specialty stores. Even if a store seems too expensive, too big, or not as convenient, you just might be surprised. Once you learn more about the stores policies, and a few tips for maximizing your savings, you may find those “over priced” stores offer the best deals in town! You can learn more about each stores policies and special savings at their individual websites.
Think outside the box: Often ‘specialty stores’ have their food for less than supermarkets, as they are not promoting or compensating for multiple product venues and manufacturing brands. Always keep an eye on the use by and sell by dates.
- See if you have any ‘day old’ bakery stores in your area. Bread, bagels, English muffins and rolls are often much cheaper.
- Many local dairies have an outlet store with all kinds of dairy products at a reduced price. From milk and cream to ice cream and yogurt.
- Does your area have a butcher shop or seafood store? It may actually be a bargain.
- A local deli may have better pricing than the supermarket and without all the chemicals and processing.
- Don’t forget the dollar stores; while many dollar stores do not carry a wide variety of foods, there are a number of items with some great savings to be found. Think paper goods, spices, cleaning products, cereals and the like. However, there are many items at dollar stores that are more expensive by unit price (due to smaller package weight or volume) than a regular grocery store, so shop wisely.
- Any ‘pick your own’ local farms in your area? These are great cost saving places and you know you are only getting what is in season and local. Be sure to ask the farmer what his growing habits are if you are trying to remove nasty chemicals, etc from your produce. These are also great places for children to get an idea on just what steps go into the food found in our grocery stores; at least the picking and washing parts anyway.
- For your fresh fruit and vegetables utilize your local farmers markets and then compare the prices. Produce is generally cheaper at farmers markets and you have the added benefits of less food miles (for you greenies), which translates to less time and manipulation or handling of your produce aka fresher food. Farmers Markets also allow most of the profit to stay local rather than going to a series of corporations.
Know your stores policies on returns, rebates, coupons, shipping and receiving or special promotions and ‘reward’ cards to combine with low prices and rain checks.
Do The Stores Offer Reward (Loyalty or Club) Cards? Most stores offer a savings, loyalty, or club card. These membership cards are generally required to receive the sale or advertised prices. Sign up for every one that is offered. In addition to the sales prices, the electronic tracking often leads to additional check-out coupons, promotional coupons, store specific coupons, and even coupons and special offers delivered to your mailbox. There are frequently special offers and incentives to increase your purchases, such as the free turkey with $50 purchases, or a special 10% off coupon once you have spent a certain amount. If your supermarkets offer actual savings for using their ‘reward card’ and you don’t mind some corporate database tracking your buying habits, then go for it.
What Are The Coupon Policies For Each Store? Not all stores are created equally when it comes to coupons. Some stores that you thought won’t accept manufacturer coupons actually will.
- Dollar General and BJ’s Warehouse do accept coupons, and have current promotions to increase your savings when you shop there with coupons.
- Costco does not accept manufacturer’s coupons, but publishes their own coupon booklet each month for extra savings in their warehouses.
- Major pharmacy chains, such as Rite-Aid and CVS, not only accept coupons, but offer manufacturers coupon in their stores. Some stores offer to match the value of the coupon (doubling), or better!. Check locally to see what is available at your specific stores.
- Many offer electronic manufacturer rebates, which can be combined with additional mail-in rebates to increase your savings.
- Many stores allow “stacking”, offering a store-specific coupon which can be combined with a manufacturer coupon for additional savings.
Even within the same chain, each store generally sets its own rules, so take the time to ask at the customer service desk for more information on common grocery store coupon policies.
Does The Store Put Out A Weekly Ad? Not every store puts out a weekly, or monthly, advertisement. And not every item listed on a sales flier is a sale. “Featured item” does not mean sale. Informing you of the price an item is selling for does not mean it’s been discounted. Be skeptical and know your prices.
This is one area the Internet ads and websites can help. Internet ads generally allow you to click on items from the online “circular”, and the details of the offer are displayed. Frequently the savings or actual discount from the “regular price” is also shown (i.e. “2/$5” in the circular may not mean much, but “members save $1 on one” allows you to evaluate your potential savings). Again, refer to your stores websites for more information on their sales.
Do They Offer Rain Checks? A rain check is a store voucher to receive the sale price on out of stock items at a future date. They are provided at the customer service desk, but only if you request it. Rain checks typically do not expire until one year after the issue date.
Rain checks are the trump card for great savings. The logic is simple. Prices may go up, coupons and rebates may become available, and the rain check provides you your own private super sale.
If your store is out of stock on a great sale item, take the time to get a rain check. Even if they are only out of one flavor, if it’s a great sale, get a rain check.
If your usual supermarkets offer any kind of discount for bringing your own bags, do it! This saves you money immediately at the check out and indirectly in community waste management taxes.
Once you know the games and rules at your local stores, you are ready to get into the game.
Compare & Know the Prices: Knowing what the average price is for at least your usual food items is a big plus for saving bucks. This will help beat a handful of the ‘Supermarket Games’.
Tip: Keep a small spiral notebook with you and when you see a product write down where and what price, sale or no sale item. When you shop take this little notebook with you. You will have a quick, easy and fast look-up to see if it is a bargain or not.
For fresh fruit and vegetables, find out what in season and when, in your area for items you usually consume. Then make a new habit of only purchasing these as ‘fresh’ produce when they are in season. For the rest of the year switch to canned, frozen or even dehydrated. If you eat salads all year round, you will not be able to utilize this method for your salad ingredients.
Avoid non-grocery items at the supermarket. Look to the stores that specialize in the non-grocery item you need - A home improvement store for batteries and drain cleaner, a pharmacy for first aid and over the counter medications or a department store (Walmart, Target, KMart, etc) for personal care products and a news stand or bookstore for magazines and books (newspapers generally are the same price no matter where they are sold). Pet needs are usually cheaper at the department or pet stores.
Note: There seems to be a competition between supermarkets and department stores where laundry and dish soaps are concerned, so compare prices then shop at the cheapest store for that item.
Determine where you may be able to change brands, supermarkets or your eating habits by examining those shopping receipts you saved.
Next time you are at the store, try the store and or generic brand for a common item. Just one package, this is a test here and not a change yet. If the item is just as good as the name brand, make a note to switch to this the next time you shop for it. Remember that many store brands are packaged by the brand name manufacturer and are of the same quality and ingredients.
However, you really have to know when it’s worth choosing generic over name brand. Some products from the generic lines go head to head with name brands in terms of quality, while other products are sub par at best. If you buy poor quality products, you may end up tossing them out and wasting the money altogether. Here’s a rundown of what to buy, and what to avoid, when it comes to generic brand products:
What to Buy from Generic Brands:
- Food Staples. Your basics like flour, sugar, cooking oil, and butter will always taste, and work, the same regardless of what the label says.
- Canned Produce. Any basic canned fruit or vegetable will taste the same in a generic brand can. However, you may want to stick to the name brands when buying the fancy mixed fruit cocktails – the generic brands never give you enough cherries.
- Frozen Produce. Name brand frozen produce typically costs twice as much as the generic version, and the store brand often gives you more per bag.
What to Buy from Name Brands:
- Meat. I’ll skip my slimy chicken story and just tell you this: If you’re a stickler for the quality of your meat, you won’t be happy with the generic brand. This goes for everything from t-bone steaks to frozen chicken strips.
- Paper Products. Generic brand paper towels and toilet paper do not hold up as well as the name brands. You end up using twice as much for the same effect, which does not save you any money in the long run.
Planning Ahead: Take time prior to shopping to prepare for your trip – your time invested will really pay off! Planning meals for your family a week or so in advance has shown success in creating a good shopping list that is easy to stick to. It also helps us save time because we know what we are going to cook on that particular day and for dieters, this is big help in avoiding impulse eating. In fact planning ahead was listed by the experts as the single most important way to save money. A grocery list can keep you focused and cut down on impulse buying. Plan your meals based on what is on sale or what you have in stock and watch your savings soar!
Limit your food shopping trips. By pre-planning our meals and grocery trips we have less exposure to ‘supermarket games’ and the less exposure we have, the less we spend. Try to limit grocery shopping to every two weeks or so.
Tip: Around any major holiday plan your meals and make your shopping lists for the month prior to and including the holiday. Immediately take this list and hit all your stores (grocery, department, home improvement, etc) to stock up on as much as possible to hold you through the holiday. Let’s face it; we are already fighting the ‘game’ all the rest of the time and ALL retailers up the ante for major holidays! So the fewer trips to any store, the less chance we’ll have to spend and spend unnecessarily
Shop Alone or No? For some people if they shop alone they are better able to stick to their list, for others the shopping companion is the one who helps them stick to their list. Which is best for you?
If you have young children try to schedule your shopping without them. If they are old enough to understand the concept of budgeting, bring them along to show them how this works in day to day life.
Plan your trips and take your shopping list to warehouse or club stores. It is way too easy to go crazy here and blow your budget (and maybe your waistline) to smithereens. Although generally speaking these stores can have great deals, we still need to be careful with canned goods, refrigerated/frozen goods and ‘fresh’ produce. These stores also tend to be bulk sales, so check the use by and expiration dates and be sure you can utilize the item before it expires or goes bad.
Form a neighborhood shopping club. Then once a month as a club, plan a day and route of going to supermarkets, warehouse stores and farmers markets for your items. The membership of this club is a good place to share bulk purchases. Have a designated driver or two and take a cooler with you. Then enjoy good company and good food price savings.
Nip 4 big psychological supermarket ploys by: Eating before you shop so you are not hungry and can more easily stick to your list. Take a sweater or jacket with you, even in the summer as the colder you feel the more hungry you get and the more you are likely to purchase. Look high and low and avoid the eye level items, usually the most expensive products are at eye level. Stick to the perimeter of the store, that’s where most of the everyday good, healthy items are.
If at all possible scan you grocery store flyers before you shop. If you are couponing, this is a must. As previously stated we usually have several grocery store chains that we frequent most. By scanning the flyers in advance we can be sure we are going to the one that will offer us the most savings.
Shop when it is less crowded. When the store is ‘slow’ we can get in and out more quickly and stick to our list more easily. Remember the longer we are in the store, the more we tend to spend and don’t forget that the check-out area is a ‘supermarket game’ all by itself and accounts for almost 1/4 to 1/3 of all impulse purchases. The slowest times are generally mid week, early in the morning (around 10am) and late in the evening. Additionally, ask your grocery’s deli and bakery if they discount meat and bread on a certain day of the week.
Pay with cash as often as possible to help you stick to your list and your budget. Credit cards are usually the number one cause of impulse buying and cost us mucho bucks almost every time. In fact many research studies have identified that using cash rather than a credit card prevents you from buying things you don’t really need and helps us with being aware of the prices on what we do purchase.
Keep some extra cash set aside for unexpected meat and seafood sales. This way when the sale occurs you can purchase extra of this, re-package it at home in single meal size packaging and put in the freezer. You can even marinate it and spice it up a bit before freezing. Note: If you vacuum seal the meat and seafood it will take longer to succumb to freezer burn.
Prepper Tip: Have some of your preparedness food budget cash available when you do your regular grocery shopping. This way if you are say purchasing a jar of peanut butter, you can get two instead of one - One for your everyday supplies and one for food storage. This is also a great way to take advantage of unexpected sales on items you need in your food stores.
In many cases, bulk purchases have a lower per unit price. To avoid the ‘mass expiration’ before use issue, find friends, neighbors and family you can split bulk purchases with. This way you can purchase in bulk several times over a longer timeframe and not have all the items of the purchase expire at the same time.
For long shelf life items like unground grains, rice and salt; purchase in bulk. When you get home break down the bulk purchase into specific serving sizes. For instance for unground grain I divide up the 5 gallon bucket into 10-12 cup packages. Each package is usually enough grain to produce enough flour for 2 one pound loafs of bread. For rice, 12 cups per package as this gives me 6 servings per package. I also recommend vacuum sealing these smaller packages, then putting them back in the bucket for storage.
Note: Flour, any kind has a very short shelf life, usually 2 years and that is if it is vacuum sealed and frozen. Whole Wheat flour has a year max. Yet the unground grain has a 30+ year shelf life.
2 Food Storage Calculators (Must download in excel format to see all tabs) @ http://www.scribd.com/doc/42687042/2-Food-Storage-Calculators
Food Storage Mistakes – Yikes! @ http://www.scribd.com/doc/50950637/Food-Storage-Mistakes-%E2%80%93-Yikes
Stock pile: When items you regularly buy go on sale that you can utilize before they expire, stock up. Don't think of that sale as a one-time opportunity to get your favorite food for less.
Important Note: Shelf life does not mean until the food tastes bad or is contaminated, it means until the food looses all nutritional value. ‘Old food’ can look and taste great and offer no nutritional value, you can literally starve your body to death while still eating.
Shelf Life Information on Lots of Things (Must download in excel format to see all tabs) @ http://www.scribd.com/doc/42690147/Shelf-Life-Information-on-Lots-of-Things
Ignore all sale signs and the like and look at the unit price or price per ounce of the item. In essence, be sure it really is a deal before you buy. Even if it is a 10 for $10 actual deal, if your family doesn’t utilize that product enough to go through 10 of them before expiration, only purchase your usual quantity. In most cases the price of the individual item will reap the same savings a purchasing 10 of them. You can find this out when you check with your store manager for the store’s consumer policies.
Make It Yourself and purchase single ingredients as often as possible, rather than pre-prepared. Save those veggie trays, fried chicken, ‘just add meat’ frozen packages and the like for special occasions and not your everyday food shopping. It is ok to keep a few long shelf life ‘instant’ meals handy for days that you don’t feel too well or are just stress out from a day out of H E double hockey sticks. These meals should never, ever be anywhere near half or more of your food budget.
Prepper Tip: For Preppers purchase ingredients, not ‘meals in a packet’ as often as possible. Also, purchase these ingredients in multiple food preservation methods (dehydrated, freeze dried, canned, frozen, etc.). Remember just as each food item has its own shelf life, each food preservation method does too. Also many times, ‘doubling up’ on food storage container types and preservation methods will double the standard shelf life. Like say vacuum seal home dehydrated items, then place in a reusable freezer container and stick in the freezer. Dehydration has its own shelf life, vacuum sealing its own and freezing will halt that ‘clock’ until the vacuum package is thawed.
Look High and Low: Grocery stores use many marketing tactics to coerce consumers into selecting the most expensive items. For example, stores often stock the most expensive items and brands at eye level, and place the cheaper items and brands on the higher and lower shelves. As you are going through the store, remember to check all the shelves for potential savings.
Avoid impulse buying. Just because it looks cool, smells great or is ‘on sale’ doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Stick to your list and you will not only stick to your budget, you can save yourself from a potential unhealthy ‘snack’ too!
Read the labels, even on fresh produce. The items that are produced closest to your supermarket are generally going to be the cheapest and not imported. Keep in mind that some labeling terms are not regulated in the U.S. like fresh, natural and local. On the ingredient list the items are generally listed in order of the ratio the product contains, with the highest ingredient content listed first. There is an old saying about ingredients; ‘If you can’t pronounce it, it isn’t good for you.’ This is very true in most cases.
At the check-out always watch the scanner and do an eye-ball verification of your receipt. Cashiers are human and can make mistakes and technology is only as good as the information it is fed and the human doing it, so some sale items may scan and ring up at the normal price. It pays to take the flyer to the store with you for these ‘computer’ errors.
Limit purchases of fresh produce to in season items, when they are the cheapest and at their peak nutritionally.
Shopping for Fresh & Seasonal Foods @ http://www.scribd.com/doc/55585307/Shopping-for-Fresh-Seasonal-Foods
U.S. Fruit & Vegetable In Season & Harvest Dates State by State (must download in Excel format to view all tabs) @ http://www.scribd.com/doc/55585033/U-S-Fruit-Vegetable-in-Season-Harvest-Dates-State-by-State
Purchase fresh produce and meats from locally grown farms and ranches. The smaller the distance from farm/ranch to point-of-sale the less the item has been exposed to
contaminates, less fuel costs have been added and the less inspections are needed to insure safety – all of which reduce the cost of the item.
Above all keep track of government bills and regulations regarding our food. Let your congressmen know you want choices and not dictates, that you don’t want any portion of our food supply controlled by any corporation and that you want the freedom of choice on who our food is grown, cultivated, harvested, prepared and distributed to us.
For more detailed Tips & Tricks see http://www.scribd.com/doc/122465113/The-Great-American-Supermarket-Games-Who-Wins-Who-Loses
Friday, January 11, 2013
Ok we have covered the ‘games’ and ‘regulation roulette’; What is our strategy for general safety in these supermarkets? Well ...
General Supermarket Food Safety
Just as in a restaurant, grocery store food safety starts with the managers and employees. But your own observations can help you decide if you should be shopping there. Groceries, markets, supermarkets and the like, enable us to make choices. In a restaurant, we rarely get to say, “I want THAT steak”, or see the product in uncooked form before it is placed in front of us. But in the grocery, we can pick and choose, at least up to a point.
How do you know which grocery stores are the safest? It depends on a number of factors, including your area, the competition, the staffing and the store itself. Most big chain stores are fairly safe, because safety issues will put their name on the line. Yet, this doesn’t stop them from selling chemical laden produce or GMO products, however, when it comes to the ‘common sense’ safety factors it generally does. Just remember that these stores can be staffed by people who let safety slip. An individually owned, local store might have impeccable standards, since it is a personal business; on the other hand, it may have little money to deal with broken coolers and other safety problems. In the grocery business, the profit on every dollar in sales amounts to only pennies. It’s a tough business for anyone to be in.
While grocery stores vary in size and style – from the corner market to the convenience store to the super-mega-mart to the specialty shop – they all have risks that we should look out for. Consider the following:
Are the cold foods less than cold, or the hot foods less than hot? Germs like to grow at certain temperatures. But, generally speaking, germ growth is halted or reduced when temperatures are below 40˚F (4.5˚C) or above 135˚F (60˚C). If the food that should be cold (meat, chicken, fish, etc.) is not really cold, and/or if the refrigerator they’re in feels warm to the touch, you might want to be worried. Check what the thermometer in the case says. Most retail coolers are set at the proper temperature, but the cooler may have broken. Whenever you notice this, you’ll want to let the management know (it might have happened recently and they may not be aware). Unhappily, you will have to wonder how long the food has been sitting at a wrong temperature; it might be long enough for germs to have gained a foothold and created a problem for anyone who wants to eat it. (Be aware that some food items are packaged or designed to be able to sit at different temperatures.) Likewise, food that is warm or lukewarm when it should be hot has been sitting and cooling… how long? You don’t know. You might not want to take a chance.
The 'Cold Line' or 'load limit' of open air refrigerated/freezer cases. In the dairy and egg section this is typically called the 'cold line'. This is a colored line painted on by manufacturers. If you see eggs stacked above this line, know that these eggs can sweat, igniting possible bacterial growth and milk or cheese may get a shade too warm and spoil quicker. In the freezer section anything stacked above this colored line is suspect as it could thaw, refreeze, thaw, refreeze and that is a big bacterial no-no.
Do you see a mouse, rat or roach running across the aisle? No, the mice are not valued customers; they’re looking for free meals under racks, under counters, in back storage rooms, or anywhere else. While they search, they spread the germs they carry to everything they touch, eat, or go to the bathroom on (remember, they have no bladder control!). Most of the time such uninvited patrons prefer to search at night when no one is around (they are probably very scared of you); their being seen in the daytime may be an indication that there are many of them. If you see one of these critters “shopping” with you, you know that the location has not taken pest control seriously and that there are problems! If you have no choice but to shop at that store, check each each of your food items very carefully for any kind of damage – any tears, chewed appearance, or blemishes. Do not buy anything the least bit damaged.
Are parts of the store dirty? Being human we all have ‘off days’ however if you see a trend after several trips where the store just looks dirty or disorganized – shop someplace else. If you feel up to it, tell the manager what you see and why you are going elsewhere.
Health inspectors routinely visit supermarkets to look out for the red flags that may signal unsafe conditions for your food. But you can do a little snooping yourself. Flies in the produce or meat departments could be depositing bacteria on raw food. Sticky goo on bottled or canned goods could mean a contaminated package leaked onto other packages. Roaches scurrying across the floor could also be harboring dozens of different diseases. And of course, check the shelves and products for dirt and grime—cans that are covered in dust may be an indication that they've sat around past their shelf life.
If the service areas or public restrooms look pretty bad, the areas where employees handle your food may look the same. On the other hand, don’t confuse customer-created trash with dirty locations. Customers always create trash (especially during rush periods) and it does get cleaned up. However, if you observe built-up debris or dirt on shelves, in coolers, or in other areas, keep your eyes open for problems – including the pests that the debris attracts.
Canned food in the discounted product area – the cans with the dents and missing labels. Some local health departments do not allow these to be sold. If it is allowed in your area, you need to know that you are shopping at your own risk. The dents are a sign that the can was mishandled. The can’s lining (which you can’t see) might be damaged. A damaged lining can cause the food to go bad or develop germs. It can also be a sign of a VERY serious bacteria called botulism. Botulism bacteria create a deadly toxin (poison) in the food. So while the discount might be appealing, it isn’t the best idea to purchase any damaged cans.
As far as a missing label is concerned, it comes down to how adventurous you are. You’ll be buying something at a huge discount, but you won’t know what it is, when or where it came from, or how long it sat on the shelf. While canning is a perfectly good way to preserve food for a long time, it won’t stay good forever, and you don’t know the expiration date. Without the label, you’re playing Russian Roulette with your food.
In the Produce Section: Many markets and grocery stores have produce departments. This is where you can pick up vegetables, fruits, and fresh juices. Many of them also offer pre-made salads for a quick, healthy lunch or dinner. Produce departments come in all sizes, and the range of products differs.
- Most produce items are offered to the customers as “raw” products. This means that you should take them home and immediately wash them before cooking them BEFORE you eat them! The strawberries, the lettuces, anything unpackaged should be cleaned before you do anything else with it. Popping a grape into your mouth as you pass the section might be safe, but not smart. Think how many people may have already touched that grape with their dirty hands.
- Speaking of touching things, include floors. If you see a piece of produce hit the floor and then see a customer put it back, it’s not a red flag. But it’s something to notice. Although many consumers don’t realize it, most grocery stores have a policy that anything un-packaged that touches the floor must be thrown away. That doesn’t help the store – it definitely hurts profits – but overall it is wise. Often, a customer may pick up a peach or a carrot off the floor and put it back where it belongs, thinking it’s the right thing to do. You don’t need to be stressed out about it, but you might want to point it out to an employee.
Do the prepared salads, sprouts, or the cut melons feel warm (or at least not cold)? Prepared salads often contain proteins like chicken, ham or cooked eggs. Cut melon pieces can grow bacteria (usually E-coli or Salmonella) if the melons haven’t been washed properly before cutting. Both of these items should be kept at 41 ˚ F (5 ˚ C) or lower; if they aren’t, germs may be going crazy. It might not be happening in every instance – but you can’t tell just by looking. If the products have been warm for a while (and how long HAVE they been warm?), they could send you to the emergency room.
Do you see any rotting or molding fruits, vegetables, or lettuces? Just don’t buy them! The same freshness that is the hallmark of the produce section is also its bane. Produce just doesn’t stay fresh long – most items are good for only 3 or 4 days from the time they’re set out for customers. Leave the bad ones out of your cart. You might want to point them out to the produce employees, just to be nice.
The produce department is one of the simpler ones in the store! Just look for freshness and be sure to clean/prepare those fruits and veggies before you eat them.
Meat Department: As you know, most supermarkets and grocery stores have meat departments, where you can pick up packaged or 'freshly' (we already covered the Freezing Switch) cut steaks, chicken, chops, and other meats to take home to cook on your grill, your stove top, or your oven. In many cases, a meat-cutting employee can help you find the best cuts of meat for the price you want to pay.
The area where meat cutters cut and wrap the steaks and meats is usually a refrigerated prep room. Talk about a “cool” job! This enables the meat to stay at the proper temperatures (and avoid growing any germs) while they work.
You may have noticed that meat cutters look messy! Don’t worry about it. Their aprons or coats often pick up blood as they are cutting up the beef. However, if you see a employee with a dry, crusty coat (in other words, it looks as if it has been worn for a few days straight) you have reason to be concerned.
Does the meat look spoiled? You do have to remember here that red meat is NOT naturally bright red. Don’t buy any meat that looks the least bit “funny” to you! Old meat looks grey, green, or brown, depending on the cut. Don’t just go by the “use-by” date; spoiled meat could be “in date.” The discoloration is the clue. Even if the price is very good, don’t mess with it! If you’re uncertain, do this: ask for a second opinion on the piece or package of meat from the meat department employee or the grocery store manager, and watch the reaction. Unhappily, if you have any doubt that they are telling you the truth, you’d better not shop there.
Does the package in the cooler feel warm (or at least not cool)? When you’re shopping for meat, you get to touch the packaging. You should expect all meat coolers to hold products at 41 ˚ F (5 ˚ C) or lower. While you don’t have to carry a thermometer around, it’s something you can check yourself. If you reach into a cooler and the product doesn’t feel cold to the touch, touch the package below it or beside it – even if that isn’t a product you intend to buy. Sometimes the heat from lights can make the top package feel just a little warm. But if all the products feel warmer than they should, you might want to ask questions. If no one is around to ask, go get some other items on your grocery list, come back to the meat department, and check again. If you still think that the cooler is not cold enough, it’s best not to buy. Your final test would be to check the thermometer – usually located around the back or top of the cooler – and see what it says.
Does a meat department employee help you without washing hands first? What’s the difference? It depends on what the person is doing for you. If you notice that an employee is cutting meat, and that person comes up to help you without washing his or her hands, AND he or she touches the meat you want to buy, your food is receiving blood, juices and possibly germs. If the food handler is touching something raw that you’re going to cook; if he or she is touching something ready to eat (already cooked and not going to be cooked again, such as cooked crab or shrimp). If the employee puts on gloves, at least that a small barrier, but there’s still a lot of risk involved; ask questions and make your best judgment. (Always feel free to ask questions! Good employees and managers like questions.)
The Store Deli: The Deli is one of the highest risks for problems in a grocery store when it comes to food safety. As you undoubtedly know, many groceries have deli (delicatessen) counters. There you find the higher-quality meats, cheeses, salads, side items, and specialty products. Sometimes you’ll also find hot food (like chicken or meatloaf) that is easy to take home to supper or to take out to the picnic. Often the deli employees will fresh-slice cheeses and meats for you at your request.
Oddly enough, the biggest risk with deli food is that it is considered ready-to-eat (ready to put in your mouth without any extra preparation or steps)! In other words, you’re not planning to cook or wash it again; it goes basically straight into your mouth. Cooking a steak or washing your lettuce is a step that helps your food to be safer. However, when it’s going to go straight into your mouth, there might be a higher safety risk.
So here are a few suggestions about your deli purchases:
- When you shop, make sure that you select your hot items last, especially if you’re driving a long distance to get home. Even having those hot items in your grocery cart with other foods (especially cold food) will drop the temperature of the hot items and raise the temps of the cold ones.
- Don’t allow the hot foods to sit out at room temperature for very long. Letting them sit on the picnic or pot luck table for a few hours might be convenient, but it could also allow the food to grow dangerous germs that could put you at risk. To find out more about food safety at picnics.
Do you see employees handling food with bare hands? If I handle your food with my bare hands, that food (which is going straight into your mouth) also carries anything that was on my hands – including whatever I touched before I handled your food. Most deli departments require their employees to wear disposable gloves to avoid accidentally transferring anything (other food items, germs, or chemicals) to your food. Never forget those cooties!
Do you see food handlers not washing their hands? Depending whether they are wearing gloves, not washing is not so bad. No glove and not washing and I would go somewhere else. If you notice any employees walking into the deli and beginning to work without washing hands, this warns you that hand washing is not a focus in this department. The problem? You don’t know what the person was doing a few minutes before! Maybe he or she was handling trash, going to the restroom (and washing or not washing hands after wards), or out on break. The fact that you don’t know is enough for you to think twice about buying food here.
Are the hot foods hot? Not really? The risk is even higher with deli items than in the general store area, especially if you are dealing with hot items ready to go. See if the packaging states how long ago the hot foods were put in the self-service case. Anything that has sat longer than three to four hours may have cooled down to below 135 °F (60 °C). That makes it risky to eat. In addition, chicken that sits out for a long time becomes dried out and tough. Ask the deli employees if they have anything fresher coming out; if they don’t, it might be smarter to purchase a cold chicken or meat dish and reheat it yourself.
Next time, last but not least - some tips on Saving Monies at the supermarket ;-}
Saturday, January 5, 2013
Have you noticed the recent commercials by “Family Farmers”? They are not only sponsored by Monsanto, they are the same commercials that ran in California last year! Yes, sirree – the battle has begun …
On December 17, 2012 New Mexico Senator Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) introduced and prefilled SB 18, which is an amendment to sections of existing NM commerce laws on Food and Commercial Feed. This will be taken up by the legislature when the regular session begins on January 15, 2013.
Basically this amendment will require GMO ingredient labeling on food, raw or processed and livestock feed.
Food & Water Watch, which worked with Senator Wirth on the wording, issued a press release on December 20, 2012 about this new battle and it can be view at http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/pressreleases/amendment-to-label-ge-food-pre-filed-for-new-mexico-senates-consideration/
SB 18 can be viewed at: http://www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/_session.aspx?chamber=S&legtype=B&legno=%20%2018&year=13
You can download the amendment @ http://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/13%20Regular/bills/senate/SB0018.pdf
The two key contacts to this New Mexico battle are:
Eleanor Bravo, Food & Water Watch, 505-730-8474
NM Senator Wirth, 505-988-1668 ext. 104
OK New Mexicans, it is time to go to the Round House; time to write, email and call your state senators and spread the word!
I for one am 100% behind this amendment as I have a ton of food allergies and some of them are an allergic reaction to chemically bleached grains and RoundUp, along with RoundUp resistant food products. I have been living with these allergies for several decades and am a bit tired of having to get sick in order to find out if the product I am eating contain these allergens – and that is on top of then having to throw it out!
For some rather scary information on what is done to our “unlabeled” food see The 6 Creepiest Lies the Food Industry is Feeding You at http://www.cracked.com/article_19896_the-6-creepiest-lies-food-industry-feeding-you.html
Folks, this is on top of the fact that the FDA recently approved GM salmon, so now that salmon you eat may not only be dyed, it will most likely be GM too.
So New Mexico the ball is in our court. Let’s show the rest of the U.S. that when it comes to important issues we are concerned with the bottom line and not politics.
Read for more information on New Mexico's and U.S.A.'s continued battle for Truth In Labeling @ http://www.scribd.com/doc/119111273/People-VS-Biotech-GMO-Labeling-Battleground-New-Mexico-2013