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The Consumerist

No Lime In Your In-Flight Vodka Tonic? Blame Bad Weather, Drug Cartels

Tue, 2014-04-08 23:00

(Jason M. Childs)

(Jason M. Childs)

Does your in-flight drink lack that certain something, a bit of citrus formerly provided by a lime? While I’m sorry for your loss, there are bigger problems than that out there, like drug cartels waging war with each other and natural disasters wreaking havoc with farmers’ crops. You can blame those issues for a temporary lime shortage that’s prompting many airlines to make do without lemon’s green sibling.

According to the Associated Press, there’s a lime shortage in the Mexican state of Michoacan after growers cut down their supply due to unrest caused by drug cartels, as well as flooding from heavy rain. Both are no good for lime lovers, and of course, even worse for the people living there.

Add in the drought in California and the price of limes is spiking, leading some airlines to drop limes from their beverage services — for now. The average price of a lime is about $0.56 as of last week, up from $0.31 during the same period a year ago.

“We temporarily pulled limes about two weeks ago, due to skyrocketing lime prices,” says an Alaska Airlines spokeswoman, noting that the airline usually goes through about 900 limes a day.

United Airlines is making do with lemons in some cases, citing the California drought. But alas, lemons won’t do it for everyone in the lime-loving set.

“We still serve limes, though they’re more difficult to source. So, on some flights we’re substituting with lemons,” says a United spokesman. The airline says it expect to be back to normal lime supplies by late May.

Over at Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, limes are still in full effect, the companies report. And JetBlue won’t be making changes either — it uses crystallized citrus additives instead of real fruit already.

We can get through this together, believe me. It’s a whole lot easier to do than dealing with drug cartels and floods destroying where you live, after all [steps down from soapbox].

Some airlines drop limes from beverage service [Associated Press]

Carrabba’s Co-Founder Arrested Twice In Three Days At Texas Winery He Once Co-Owned

Tue, 2014-04-08 22:35
(Chris Rief)

(Chris Rief)

Sometimes you just need a little wine. But word to the wise: don’t steal it from the winery you used to co-own and definitely don’t come back to said winery the next day wielding a hammer and tormenting the employees. If you do you might end up like a Texas restaurateur who was arrested twice in three days last week.

Damian Mandola, the co-founder of the Carrabba’s Italian restaurant chain, was arrested for burglary on Thursday and then arrested two days later for assault with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief, Houston Press reports.

According to police records, the 61-year-old was arrested on April 3 after he was spotted driving recklessly in a golf cart and broke into the local winery he formerly co-owned to allegedly steal a bottle of wine.

He was released from the Hays County Jail that same night after posting $5,000 bond. But Mandola wasn’t done with the winery just yet.

He allegedly returned to the scene of the crime twice on Saturday. After being told that the winery’s sign was damaged, an employee called police to document the issue. Upon returning to the winery from examining the sign, the employee was informed that the former co-owner was riding an all-terrain golf card behind the building.

“I headed outside, and upon reaching the corner of the building I heard a tire burst, which was the tire of my Toyota Tacoma,” the employee tells the Houston Press. “As I rounded the corner I witnessed Damian smash the back window of my truck.”

The employee then took photos of Mandola brandishing a knife and a hammer, both of which are listed as deadly weapons in the arrest report. Mandola allegedly called the employee “a few choice names” and fled on his golf cart. That’s when the employee called police for a second time that day.

Later while the winery was hosting a wedding, Mandola returned and continued to taunt the employee. The employee informed a Hays County Sheriff, who was working security for the wedding, that Mandola had returned. Shortly after, deputies arrived and took him into custody.

According to police records, Mandola was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief. He was released on Sunday after posting a $15,000 bond.

The Houston Press reports this wasn’t the first run in for the man and the winery. In 2010, Mandola and the current winery owners had a falling out that prompted Mandola to remove his name from the winery’s products. He also tried to have a court evict the current owners from the land.

Damian Mandola Arrested in Hill Country for Second Time in Three Days [Houston Press]

Another Day, Another Delivery Driver Chucking Packages From The Truck Window

Tue, 2014-04-08 22:18

(CBS Los Angeles)

This is just the wind-up before the pitch. (CBS Los Angeles)

Is there some kind of delivery driver discus event in the works that we don’t know about? Because why else would we keep seeing FedEx (not just once, but at least twice), UPS and now United States Postal Service employees chucking packages here, there and everywhere?

Because I’m fairly certain there’s no Delivery Driver Toss contest coming up, it would seem that the USPS worker recently caught on camera flinging a package from his truck over a fence into a resident’s yard doesn’t know how to use the brakes on the vehicle. Or maybe the lawn is secretly made of hot lava. Or maybe the carrier hasn’t yet realized that there are such things as home surveillance cameras.

Otherwise, why not stop and walk the package over to the house? I’m as stumped as you are.

In the video (via CBS Los Angeles), you can see the unidentified driver cruising past the house before the package comes flying out when the truck is out of the frame. It doesn’t seem like the truck slowed down, either, which could mean the driver is pretty confident about his/her arm.

The package bounces a few times before coming to rest. It ended up with a hole in it and a gap along one of the edges, but it sounds like the camera lens inside wasn’t damaged.

The package’s intended recipient tells CBS Los Angeles that she feels disrespected, but is more concerned that her neighbors might get similar treatment.

“I can walk to my grass, I can walk to my yard, but the elderly that are expecting medications are dependent on whatever pharmacy to deliver because they can’t pick it up,” she said. “And what if they deliver nitroglycerine pills?”

The USPS says it has apologized and called the incident “unacceptable,” adding that it is “investigating this matter and working to identify the employee to take corrective action.”

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Video: Postal Service Worker Seen Throwing Package In Drive-By Delivery [CBS Los Angeles]

Comcast Officially Files for TWC Merger, Claims Broadband Competition Is Fine Because You Have A Smartphone

Tue, 2014-04-08 22:12

Comcast-TWCLogoIt’s a big day for Comcast: not only did they win a big old golden poo this morning, but also they formally took the first step in the regulatory dance that stands between them and their purchase of Time Warner Cable by filing a mountain of paperwork with the FCC. The massive document contains all of Comcast’s explanations for why the merger is the best idea ever… and it’s a doozy. Let’s take a closer look at their arguments, shall we?

Formally called the “Applications and Public Interest Statement,” the filing [180-page PDF] explains who the parties are, what their business is, and why their merger would be for, and not against, the public interest. It’s basically a deep expansion of Comcast PR’s greatest hits: “Applicants compete in a dynamic, expanding, and highly competitive marketplace” is one we’ve heard before, as is, “Because the parties do not compete for consumers, there is no plausible theory of competitive harm arising” from the merger. In fact, the vast bulk of the filing is spent explaining why and how the marketplace is currently competitive and will remain so post-merger.

Wouldn’t it be great if all that active competition was actually real? Consumers sure would benefit! But it’s not, and we don’t. Competition in the TV and broadband space is minimal at best, and Comcast’s legal masterwork of window-dressing doesn’t change that. No matter how they frame the arguments — geographically, financially, or technologically — the fact remains that competition, already minimal at best, will not increase with this deal.

The Geography Argument
“The transaction presents no competitive concerns because … Comcast’s and TWC’s service areas are distinct and the companies do not compete in any relevant market.” — p. 127

It’s true that Comcast and Time Warner Cable don’t actually compete against each other directly in any areas. Comcast has been waving that flag since the first day the merger was announced, and it’s a true fact. It just also doesn’t matter.

Cable competition in Los Angeles. Click to enlarge.

Cable competition in Los Angeles. Click to enlarge.

We’ve been through this before: TWC and Comcast might not compete with each other but unfortunately, nobody else really competes against them in many markets, either.

As Comcast bigwig David L. Cohen pushed hard in both a media call and in a blog post, post merger there would be “no reduction in consumer choice” anywhere. “Customers will still have the same number of video, broadband, or phone options before the deal as after it.” And that is indeed true.

But anything times zero is still zero, and Comcast’s stance isn’t useful. There already is no competition for huge numbers of consumers, and making the biggest company bigger is really not going to help on that front.

Comcast’s argument about overlapping coverage areas is, at this point, mostly important for their response to challenges of it. According to Comcast, the reason we don’t see high levels of broadband access competition is really because we’re not counting right. If we’re just looking at the cable and fiber companies, Comcast says, we’re doing it wrong.

The Technology Arguments
Contrary to the picture some have painted of DSL as a defunct service, between December 2008 and December 2012, DSL-based broadband connections grew at an average annual rate of 25 percent, exceeding cable broadband’s pace of growth at an average annual rate of 18 percent.” — p. 48

“Competitive forces are also present – increasingly and robustly so – via mobile wireless services offered by well-capitalized and aggressive national wireless providers. For a large number of Americans, wireless is already a meaningful broadband alternative.” — p. 51

If David L. Cohen has any buddies running DSL companies, surely they are right now thanking him for doing them a solid. Today Comcast is absolutely singing the praises of DSL, apparently the nation’s greatest broadband technology. The “new DSL,” as Cohen continuously proclaimed, is a worthy competitor to cable.

In their filing, Comcast asks us to consider AT&T in particular: “AT&T’s DSL and FTTN [fiber] U-verse services significantly overlap both Comcast and TWC … and AT&T has affirmed its plans to continue to enhance and expand these services.”

Here’s where Comcast and Time Warner Cable are available, according to Comcast:

Comcast's "no, really, we don't compete with TWC" coverage map, via their website.

Comcast’s “no, really, we don’t compete with TWC” coverage map, via their website.

Now here’s where AT&T provides wired broadband services, according to the National Broadband Map:

The parts of the country where AT&T provides broadband access, via the National Broadband Map.

The parts of the country where AT&T provides broadband access, via the National Broadband Map.

Even if AT&T’s service is every bit as splendid as Comcast insists, it’s still a complete non-factor for millions of broadband consumers in tons of cities and states, including the densely populated urban corridors of both the northeast and the West Coast. Meanwhile Verizon FiOS isn’t expanding, Google Fiber is still only in three cities even if it might expand, and both Verizon and AT&T are trying to cut back on what land line service they offer.

So much for wire-line competition. But there’s still 4G LTE, as Comcast stresses. So what about wireless competition?

The 4G Fallacy
The cable industry is well aware of the possibility of material mobile broadband substitution for cable broadband within the next few years. With the increasing ubiquity of 4G wireless connectivity and the multitude of enabled devices including smartphones and tablets, these predictions are increasingly becoming a reality. … 4G wireless broadband technology can deliver speeds that rival those of wireline cable and telco companies — well over 50 Mbps downstream.” — p. 54-55

Comcast is trying their hardest to sell the idea that mobile broadband is viable competition to wired broadband service. Your phone, they say, is every bit as connected as your house. Therefore, competition already exists and is robust.

Where Comcast/TWC coverage overlaps with 4G LTE coverage, according to Comcast.

Where Comcast/TWC coverage overlaps with 4G LTE coverage, according to Comcast.

To give credit where it’s due, Comcast is indeed partially right about 4G. Wireless broadband really is a huge and growing factor to consider in the internet landscape. We’ve looked at the numbers before: more than half of the country does use their phones for internet access, and about a third of people who own smartphones use them almost exclusively for their internet access.

But although mobile broadband may be a truly competitive option five or ten years from now, it certainly isn’t yet. Cohen reluctantly admitted that “wireless pricing today for some consumers is not competitive,” but implied that those consumers are the minority.

They aren’t.

The average monthly mobile bill these days runs about $144 per month, give or take. Verizon Wireless is the largest mobile phone carrier in the country, and under their newest pricing plan, introduced in February, a bill of approximately $140 per month will get a user 10 GB of data use. Users who go over their threshold pay $15 per 1GB of extra data.

Meanwhile, your average family pays about $150 per month for their home TV and broadband service. If that service is with Comcast, then it has a 300 GB “data threshold” and the overage charge, when it’s enforced, is $10 per 50 GB.

approximatetable The numbers are only rough averages, and comparing two very different services is handling the proverbial apples and oranges. But the overall message is still clear: mobile, wireless broadband is still a much more expensive way to move data than a traditional broadband connection is.

Of course, we don’t all necessarily need that much data. For someone who never does anything more complicated than check their e-mail, perhaps mobile-only is already a viable alternative. Most of us aren’t such low-volume users, though. Use Netflix or Hulu at all? HD video uses roughly 2 GB of data per hour streamed. 10 GB would get you a couple of movies, or about half a season of prestige TV. But not both. And nothing else on top of it, either.

Mobile wireless is not only limited and pricey; it’s also unreliable. If you live in an area (like Manhattan) with too many users trying to connect to a fancypants 4G LTE network, you may get kicked down to much slower 3G connectivity. And that’s if your carrier even offers LTE service where you live. And although LTE network connections can offer download and upload speeds on par with their traditional broadband brethren, on average they don’t yet.

What Happens Next
With today’s filing, Comcast has drawn up their battle lines. As predicted, they’re pushing back hard on the idea of broadband competition. They insist that they’ll make TWC customers’ lives better, get more poor families using the internet, and keep being the best at net neutrality.

The reality, though, is a lot hazier. Comcast’s behavior has a decidedly spotty record, and the company already has an outsized amount of clout.

Head executives from both Comcast and Time Warner Cable, along with a handful of other pro-business and pro-consumer witnesses, will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow. From there, the process rolls on.

Woman Receives A Birthday Card From Her Parents — That They Mailed In 1969

Tue, 2014-04-08 21:16

(CBS News)

(CBS News)

While neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays the couriers of the United States Postal Service from their appointed rounds, someone’s got some explaining to do as to why a birthday card mailed in 1969 just reached its intended recipient, 45 years later.

The envelope was postmarked June 26, 1969, and showed up last week at the Brooklyn apartment where the woman used to live with her family all those years ago. The current resident tracked down the rightful recipient and was able to reach her on the phone.

And of course, for her, it’s better late than never, reports CBS News.

“I said ‘tell me what else is on the envelope,’ at which point she said to me ‘on the back is a lipstick mark,’ and at that point I started to cry,” she recalls, “This was my mother’s thing at the time. To always seal it with a kiss.”

Her parents passed away more than 10 years ago, and she says she overjoyed to hear from their 1969 selves.

“I always knew that my parents watched over the family. It’s something else to get something like this. It validates everything,” she said.

There must be something in the air because it gets even weirder — three days after that, she got another letter from 1969, this time from an old boyfriend who was serving in Vietnam. And then her local post office found another birthday card, this time from her brother, who had also mailed it — you guessed it — 45 years ago.

She’s now reconsidering leaving Brooklyn, where her parents are buried, to move closer to her brother, who lives in Las Vegas.

“Which is why this is just to me was like 45 years later…’we found you! We’re always going to be with you, so don’t worry! Do what you gotta do,’” she said.

As for where those letters have been, the USPS doesn’t know. Maybe stuck under someone’s chair or hanging out under the vending machine or something.

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Brooklyn woman gets 45-year-old letters from loved ones in the mail [CBS News]

You can tweet to MBQ on Twitter in 2014 if you like, and I won’t take 45 years to read it: @marybethquirk

American Airlines, US Airways Merger Means New Policies, More Baggage Fees

Tue, 2014-04-08 20:52

(Kevin Dean)

(Kevin Dean)

Change is inevitable in a new relationship, and often one partner will give a little more than the other. That appears to be the case with the $17.7 billion American Airlines and US Airways merger. To better align with its new partner, American announced today it’s making more changes; this time to its baggage fees and frequent-flier rule.

Since the two airlines merged in December, creating the American Airlines Group, Inc , they have been rearranging their standards to better reflect the other’s policies, The Wall Street Journal reports.

American announced that fliers will be charged $35 for their first checked bag for flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. Previously, the carrier allowed one free checked bag per passenger on those 140 daily flights. The change applies to tickets beginning today.

Additionally, American adopted US Airways’ practice of charging customers $100 for a second checked bag on trans-Atlantic flights, an increase from the previous $60 fee.

However, American did announce some good news for travelers. The airline will drop its $70 fee for second checked bags on service to South America. The change means travelers will get two free checked bags on South American flights, a policy inline with US Airways.

Don’t worry, frequent-fliers aren’t being left out of the changes either. American said passengers who purchase tickets with frequent-flier miles or buy full-fare economy tickets will lose their ability to check two free bags on domestic flights. That is unless they have elite status.

In one of the more anticipated announcements, the two airlines aligned their redemption rates for frequent-flier awards: American will offer some one-way seats for 20,000 frequent-flier miles for about half the year. That’s 5,000 fewer miles than the previous policy.

For the remainder of the year, which is usually busier for airlines, the airline will increase the redemption rate to 30,000 miles. For the busiest travel days the redemption rate will be 50,000 miles.

On the flip side, US Airways announced it will upgrade its premium-cabin product to American’s standards by adding new meals on longer flights, noise-canceling headphones and a wider selection of movies and television shows.

Tuesday’s announcements follow a number of changes enacted earlier this year. In February, American announced it would be discontinuing bereavement fares. The decision was made to create a single, consistent program for American and US Airways.

In late January, American Airlines Group Inc. announced that American Eagle Airlines, Inc., its regional jet service carrier, will soon be known as Envoy.

The first phase of the mega-merger began in January when the airlines announced customers would see an “over communication” of changes.

Several of the those first changes involved combining or rewriting airline policies. Changes include no longer allowing military members to board before first class, instead the two groups will board at the same time, and families will no longer have the option to board early.

American Airlines Changes Bag Fees, Frequent-Flier Rules to Reflect Merger [The Wall Street Journal]

FDA’s New Rules: Honey With Added Sweeteners Might Be Sweet, But It Ain’t Honey

Tue, 2014-04-08 20:00

(Ben A. Cobb Photo)

(Ben A. Cobb Photo)

Just because something looks like honey, is sticky like honey and is sweet like honey, doesn’t mean it’s the real thing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today in new draft guidelines. That means food companies that add sweeteners to pure honey will have to tell consumers it’s not the totally real deal and label the products as a “blend.”

The only honey makers that can call their products honey are those that don’t add sugar, corn syrup or any other sweetener. The proposal’s aim is “to advise the regulated food industry on the proper labeling of honey and honey products to help ensure that honey and honey products are not adulterated or misbranded,” the agency wrote.

To feed our honey appetite, the U.S. estimates we import the majority of the 400 million pounds we consume each year, reports Reuters. Only 149 million pounds were produced in this country last year, which means we’ve got to get the rest from somewhere — leading to concerns about cheap substitutes popping up to make the pollen spread farther.

The FDA took on the honey question after a petition from the American Beekeeping Federation and other groups asked for a standard definition of the stuff to promote fair trade. So while the agency has decided not to do that, it said it would tackle the labeling issue.

Honey makers now have 60 days to comment on the proposal before the final rules are issued. And even then, the guidelines aren’t mandatory — it basically just sets in stone what the FDA thinks about the issue.

Draft Guidance for Industry: Proper Labeling of Honey and Honey Products []
Just because it’s sweet and sticky doesn’t mean it’s ‘honey’ -U.S. FDA [Reuters]

Pharmaceutical Companies Face $9B In Punitive Damages For Concealing Cancer Risks

Tue, 2014-04-08 19:22



A Japanese drug maker is facing higher punitive damages for allegedly concealing the cancer risks associated with a diabetes drug than those dished out in the past by federal juries.

The $6 billion in damages leveled against Takeda Pharmaceutical overshadow the $5 billion once imposed against Exxon Mobil Corp for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. But don’t expect that number to stick as the company says it plans to contest the damages, Reuters reports

Takeda and co-defendant Eli Lilly promoted Actos, a diabetes drug, without making clear the possibility of cancer risks associated with the drug.

“We intend to vigorously challenge this outcome through all available legal means, including possible post-trial motions and an appeal,” Kenneth Greisman, general counsel of Takeda Pharmaceutical, says in a statement.

For its part Eli Lilly, who takes 25% of liability in the case, was ordered to pay $3 billion in punitive damages. The company says in a press release that it will be indemnified by Takeda for its losses and expenses around the litigation, and also plans to challenge the outcome of the case.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer in the case says it was not certain whether the damages award would be sustained as the legal process continues.

The $9 billion in combined punitive damages awarded against the companies exceeds the massive penalty previously handed down to Exxon Mobil Corp following the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

However those damages were reduced in 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the award had been “excessive.” The company ultimately paid $500 million.

Punitive damages are awarded to discourage other companies from bad conduct, while compensatory damages are meant to pay victims for their actual losses.

In the most recent case, the jury awarded the payment of $1.475 million in compensatory damages to victims of the pharmaceutical companies.

Reuters reports the jury deliberated for an hour and 10 minutes before delivering its verdict, and another 45 minutes to come out with the multibillion-dollar punitive damages.

This isn’t the first case against Takeda, but it’s a markedly different outcome.

Last May, a U.S. judge nullified a jury verdict for $6.5 million against the company after ruling the plaintiffs failed to offer reliable evidence that Actos caused cancer.

Japan drug maker Takeda to fight $6 billion damages imposed by U.S. jury [Reuters]

Oh Good: More Mazda Vehicles Infested With Spiders

Tue, 2014-04-08 19:11

yellowsacHey, remember when a bunch of Mazda 6 vehicles were recalled back in 2011 because spiders had a tendency to infest the fuel lines and build webs, resulting in a few cracked fuel tanks and lots of nightmares? Well, it’s happening again: 46,000 more Mazda6 vehicles have been recalled. (Warning: there is a larger-than-life photo of the relevant spider species inside this post.)

Again, there’s just something about Mazda fuel lines that yellow sac spiders can’t resist. The NHTSA recall bulletin says that the spiders may weave webs in the fuel line, which is problematic for the gas tank. “In the affected vehicles, spiders may weave a web in the evaporative canister vent hose, blocking it and causing the fuel tank to have an excessive amount of negative pressure,” they explain. End result? Cracked gas tanks, gas leaks, and a risk of fire. Fire caused by spiders.

The affected model is the Mazda6, years 2010, 2011, and 2012. If you own one of these cars, call Mazda at 1-800-222-5500. The solution involves a software update.

A software update to prevent fires caused by spiders. We really are living in the future.

RECALL Subject : Spiders may Block Fuel Tank Vent Line [NHTSA]

Reminder: If You’re Still Running Windows XP, Microsoft Is No Longer Providing Support

Tue, 2014-04-08 19:03



If you’re reading this on a computer running Windows XP, you’re either the overconfident sort that thinks you’ll never get hacked or you’ve forgotten that today is the day Microsoft is dropping its support for the product. In either case, it’s time to upgrade or face security risks you don’t need to be taking.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Microsoft has been warning PC users and ATM makers alike that doomsday was fast approaching. Although not all of the ATMs in the world have upgraded, many banks are paying extra for extended support.

Those with outdated software by this time are leaving plenty of room for cyber attacks, and it’s not just your Great Aunt Dottie on her ancient PC — there are also other industrial software systems running on XP, points out CNNMoney, including major hospitals and point-of-sale systems at retail stores.

“It’s literally everywhere still,” a chief scientist at cybersecurity firm Cyclance tells CNNMoney. “Every point that’s running XP is ripe for worms. They haven’t been much of a common occurrence in modern times, but any new vulnerability could result in mass infection with very little remediation.”

All you need to do is upgrade. Or live with the fact that Windows XP computers are six times more likely to get infected, as per Microsoft’s reckoning. Ah, living on the edge.

Microsoft drops Windows XP support [CNNMoney]

Follow MBQ on Twitter for all the latest exciting news about this that and the other thing: @marybethquirk</em>

Study Finds Produce, Restaurants Most Likely To Give Consumers Foodborne Illnesses

Tue, 2014-04-08 18:30



There’s now another compelling reason to eat at home rather than going out. And if you’re preparing a meal at home make sure you wash your produce. A new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest finds that consumers are twice as likely to get food poisoning from food prepared at a restaurant than food prepared at home, and illnesses at home are most often linked to our love of all things produce.

The report “Outbreak Alert! 2014″ [PFD] found that 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000, whereas only 893 outbreaks causing 13,000 cases of illness were linked to private homes.

Researchers with the nonprofit safety group analyzed 10,409 solved outbreaks of foodborne illnesses reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over a 10-year period. A case is considered solved when both a food and a pathogen were identified by investigators.

By examining outbreaks, a cluster of two or more illnesses resulting from the same contaminated food source, researchers were able to provide analysis of foodborne outbreak and illness trends.

The study found oversight from different agencies varied when it came to foodborne illnesses. Fresh produce, seafood, and packaged foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration were responsible for more than twice as many solved outbreaks as meat and poultry products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

However, that statistic could change now that the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011. The Act gives the agency the authority to conduct more frequent inspections of food processing facilities.


Produce accounted for the largest number of outbreaks, 667, causing 23,748 illnesses. The second most common category linked to outbreaks was seafood. However, of the 602 outbreaks linked to the category only 5,317 illnesses were reported.

Produce, seafood, poultry, and beef were responsible for the largest number of foodborne illnesses during the study. However, over the decade outbreaks and illnesses linked to the four categories decreased significantly.

Instead, reports of outbreaks and illnesses associated with dairy products increased as the decade went on. Researchers say an increase in popularity of unpasteurized dairy products could be to blame.

CSPI found that raw-milk caused 70 percent of the 104 outbreaks linked to milk products. So, although less than 1% of consumers drink raw milk, they bear 70% of the burden of illnesses caused by milk-bourne outbreaks.

“Pasteurization of milk is one of the most important public health advances of the last 100 years, sparing countless people from infections and deaths caused by Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria,” Sarah Klein, CSPI senior food safety attorney, says in a news release. “Consumers should avoid raw milk, and lawmakers should not expand its availability.”

Additionally, CSPI found a trend of decreased reporting of foodborne illnesses as the study progressed.

States reported 42% fewer outbreaks to the CDC in 2011 than they did when the study began in 2002.

However, researches warn that fewer reported outbreaks doesn’t mean that fewer consumers are getting sick. Instead, they say the recession, influenza pandemics and post-9/11 bioterrorism investments have all diverted state public health budgets and attention away from identifying outbreaks and determining their causes.

“Underreporting of outbreaks has reached epidemic proportions,” Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI food safety director, says in a news release. “Yet the details gleaned from outbreak investigations provide essential information so public health officials can shape food safety policy and make science-based recommendations to consumers. Despite the improvements in food safety policy in the past decade, far too many Americans still are getting sick, being hospitalized, or even dying due to contaminated food.”

Restaurants Pose Twice the Risk of Foodborne Outbreaks as Homes, Data Show [Center for Science in the Public Interest]

15 Things People Of All Ages Need To Know About Long-Term Care Insurance

Tue, 2014-04-08 18:15



Welcome to the fourth installment in a “How To Not Suck…” series on buying insurance. Previous posts looked at auto insurance, homeowner’s coverage, and life insurance, and next week we’ll look at disability plans.

No one wants to think they’ll be unable to take care of themselves, but it’s likely to happen eventually, with one study saying there’s a 70% chance you’ll need some kind of care after age 65. Today, we’re thinking to the future. Long-term care insurance will help pay the bills should you need some kind of care, so you had better learn How To Not Suck… At Long-Term Care Insurance.

And this kind of care isn’t just for older folks. You could be in an accident or have an debilitating illness and need help. In fact, 40% of those who receive long-term care are under 65.

And we’re not talking about a long weekend. The average need for care is 1,040 days, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance

So who pays for the cost of care?

You will, unless you have long-term care insurance, or LTC insurance.

Here are 15 things you may not know — or that you need to know — about LTC insurance.

1. Medicare won’t cover the cost for most long-term care scenarios.
It will cover the kind of skilled short-term nursing care you might need after a hospitalization or an accident, but it won’t pay for permanent assistance. Medicaid will cover nursing home care, but only for those with limited assets, and you won’t have much say about what facility you’ll go to if Medicaid is paying the bills.

2. LTC insurance can be expensive, but paying outright for care is costlier.
The median cost for a home health aide for eight hours a day is $44,000 a year, and nursing home care in a private room averages $84,000 a year, according to a 2013 Genworth study. Some parts of the country are even more expensive. (Check this map to see the cost of care in your area.)

3. It’s not just nursing homes.
Lots of different kinds of care are covered by LTC policies. Each policy will spell out the details, but most will cover home health aides, assisted living, nursing homes and even adult day care..

4. You’re not too young.
Like life insurance, the younger you are, the cheaper the policy will cost. Maybe you don’t need a policy in your 20s and 30s, but start thinking about it when you’re in your 40s. If you wait too long, your health could change and make a policy more expensive, or you could even become uninsurable.

5. Your employer may offer LTC insurance at a less expensive group rate…
But many policies are not portable, meaning you can’t take them with you after you leave your job. If you want a group rate, check with your professional associations or alumni groups to see what’s offered.

(Apologies in advance for the insurance jargon in the next several items, but any policy you consider will be filled with terms you need to understand before you buy.)

6. Daily or Monthly Benefit Period:
This is the amount of money your policy will give per day or per month for care. Also know the lifetime cap on your policy.

7. Inflation Rider:
This will increase the cost of your policy, but it’s well worth it. An inflation rider means the benefit you receive will rise with the cost of living. Think about what care may cost in 20 or 30 years. Scary, indeed.

8. Elimination Period:
This is the amount of time that must pass before your policy pays on a claim. Ninety days is common (so you’d pay for care for 90 days before the policy kicks in) but taking a longer elimination period will lower the cost of your policy.

9. Shared Benefits Rider:
This is a product made for married couples. It allows you to share your benefits with your spouse. For example, if your spouse uses up all his benefits, he can dip into yours.

10. Paid Up Premiums:
If you have a fat wallet today, you can opt to pay higher premiums for a set time period, say, 10 years, and at the end of that time frame, the policy is paid up and you won’t owe anything more in your lifetime. This is also called an accelerated premium option.

11. Free-Look Period:
This is essentially a buyer’s remorse clause. If you decide you don’t like, don’t want, or regret the policy you purchased, you usually have 30 days to change your mind and get a full refund.

12. Non-forfeiture/Guaranteed Renewability:
The non-forfeiture provision will help you if the insurance company decides to increase the cost of your policy. You’ll be able to keep your policy in effect, but for a smaller benefit, rather than it be cancelled outright. A policy that’s deemed to have guaranteed renewability means the insurance company can’t increase your premiums unless all similar policies in your state get an increase. It can’t be cancelled, either.

13. Exclusions:
Because nothing in life is easy, some reasons for needing care may be excluded from your policy. Self-inflicted injuries, alcohol and drug abuse and some mental illnesses are generally excluded.

14. If you’re thinking about a policy, get your spouse on board.
You could save as much as 40 percent if you both opt for the insurance.

15. There are some tax incentives available to offset to cost of LTC policies.
There are partnerships between some states and private insurers, you may be able to deduct premiums as part of your medical expenses on federal returns and some states offer similar incentives.

Also make sure you work with an insurance company that will be around in 20 or 30 years when you may need to make a claim. Imagine paying all those years and getting nothing? Egads.

To learn more about the costs, check out the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

Next week: Our insurance series wraps up with a look at the essentials of disability coverage.

Have a topic you’d like to see covered in How To Not Suck? Or maybe you’re an expert who would like to share your insight with Consumerist readers? Send us a note at

You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.

15 Things You Need To Know About Life Insurance
15 Things Everyone (Including Renters) Should Know About Homeowner’s Insurance
15 Things You Need To Know About Buying Auto Insurance
How To Not Suck… At Going To Small Claims Court
How To Not Suck… At Buying In Bulk
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 5: Spending Your Wedding Cash
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 4: The Honeymoon
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 3: The Costly Little Extras
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 2: The Stuff People Pay Too Much For
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 1: The Most Expensive Steps
How To Not Suck… At Teaching Your Kids About Money
How To Not Suck… At Valentine’s Day Gifts
How To Not Suck… At Merging Your Money When You Marry
How To Not Suck… At Borrowing For College
How To Not Suck… At Saving For College
How To Not Suck… At Pre-Paying For Your Funeral
How To Not Suck… At Making Financial New Year’s Resolutions
How To Not Suck… At Last-Minute Christmas Gifting
How To Not Suck… At Saving For The Holidays
How To Not Suck… At Charitable Giving
How To Not Suck… At Disputing Credit Report Errors
How To Not Suck… At Lowering Your Utility Bills
How To Not Suck… At Home Inspections
How To Not Suck… At Understanding Credit Card Rewards
How To Not Suck… At Getting Ready For Tax Season
How To Not Suck… At Picking A Retirement Plan
How To Not Suck… At Deciding When To DIY
How To Not Suck… At Getting Out Of Debt
How To Not Suck… At First Year College Budgets

DISCLAIMER: Any websites, services, retailers, or brands mentioned in the story above are only intended as some of many options available to consumers, and do not constitute an endorsement by Consumerist, Consumerist Media LLC (CML) or its staff. Per Consumerist’s No Commercial Use Policy, such information may not be used by others in advertising or to promote a company’s product or service. In addition, this policy precludes any commercial use of any of CML’s published information in any form, or of the names of Consumers Union®, Consumer Media, Consumer Reports®, The Consumerist, or any other of CU or CML’s publications or services without CU or CML’s express written permission.

Netflix’s New 4K Streaming: Watch Kevin Spacey Or Big Cats Chasing Down Prey

Tue, 2014-04-08 18:01

Remember CES?

Remember CES?

While me, you and most likely everyone you know probably doesn’t own an Ultra HD 4K TV, for those that do own the newer, 2014 models, Netflix says it’s just started streaming 4K content, as expected. Which means yes, you can get up close and personal with Kevin Spacey’s face(y), if that’s your thing. No judgment.

It’s the first major non-proprietary 4K content to become available, notes CNET, and because it’s Netflix, that includes its original series House of Cards along with “some nature documentaries.” So that’s why I’m going to guess — there’s no guarantee and that headline is mostly for fun — that there will be big cats and animals running away, because that’s what I think of when I think of nature documentaries.

Anyway the 4K streams are only viewable on 4K TVs from this year, which is most of the sets announced at CES earlier this year.

Before this new spate of Netflix material, anyone with a 4K TV looking for 4K content were kind of out of luck, besides those using Sony’s video players on Sony 4K TVs, or a small smattering of YouTube clips.

And if you do own a 2013 4K TV, you won’t be able to watch the streams coming from Amazon, Comcast, Fox and others later this year, unless the set can be upgraded to handle HEVC (high efficiency video coding). No Spacey facey for you otherwise, at least not in ultra HD.

Netflix begins 4K streams [CNET]

Discover Settles Lawsuit Over Unsolicited, Prerecorded Phone Calls For $8.7 Million

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:05



Because no one loves getting an robocall from a credit card company without first signing up for such a phone call — and let’s face it, who would sign up for that on purpose? — a court has settled a class-action lawsuit against Discover Financial Services for auto-dialing people who definitely didn’t want to be called.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2012, was finally settled by a U.S. district judge for $8.7 million, reports the Chicago Tribune. About eight million potential members are involved in the case and will receive either a cash reward or a boost on their credit card balances.

The plaintiffs at the forefront of the case pointed out that in 2007, the Federal Communications Commission cited Discover for making “prerecorded telephone calls to consumers who had not expressly invited or authorized the calls.”

The FCC warned the company that it would face fines of up to $11,000 for each violation or each day, the lawsuit said. But one of the plaintiffs claimed that after he got a Discover card in January 2011, he started getting calls on his cell phone less than a year later, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

“The court concludes that the settlement agreement is fair, reasonable and adequate,” the judge wrote, adding in an extra award of $2.2 million for attorneys’ fees and costs and $2,000 for each named plaintiff.

The law firm that brought the case seems content with the outcome — after all, those phones aren’t ringing now (we hope).

“For many, the primary goal was to put an end to these phone calls,” the law firm said.

Discover settles ‘auto-dial’ case for $8.7 million [Chicago Tribune]

Uber Tired Of Customers Using Cars As Couriers, Begins Testing Actual Courier Service

Tue, 2014-04-08 16:53

(Kat N.L.M.)

(Kat N.L.M.)

One could argue that Uber is a type of courier service, right? They’ve delivered Christmas Trees, kittens to brighten your day and of course shuttled you across the city. Well, you won’t have to argue the merits of that point anymore now that the company has officially began testing Uber Rush – an actual courier service.

The new service operates much like a traditional courier service and uses the Uber app technology already at play with the company’s car service, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

The ability to easily traverse Manhattan without cars made it the ideal city to test the new service, Uber officials say. If things go well the service would first expand to additional New York City boroughs and then possibly other large cities.

While officials with the company wouldn’t say how many couriers they have on the roster, they say it’s enough to make delivery reliable. However, the company is currently recruiting bicycle and pedestrian messengers to deliver your packages.

Prices for the service range from $15 to $30, depending on how far the item must travel. As always, Uber takes their standard 20% commission for each delivery.

Launching the new service seemed like a reasonable next step for the company, officials say.

“No one was getting it quite right on the messenger service piece, and we were seeing people use Uber cars to move things,” says Josh Mohrer, Uber’s general manager in New York, tells Bloomberg.

So how does the new service stack up against the old standbys? Not too bad, as it turns out.

A Bloomberg reporter enlisted Uber Rush’s services to deliver a test package containing a book, a granola bar, and a dollar bill from the Bloomberg office at East 59th Street and Lexington Avenue to a friend who works near Battery Bark City.

The delivery was quoted at $25 and promised to be delivered within 90 minutes.

Ten minutes after putting out the call on the Uber app a courier showed up at the Bloomberg offices, although without a helmet.

After a little research the reporter found the prices were slightly higher than standard courier rates, but lower than rush rates.

All in all, the package was delivered to the friend’s office building intact within 90 minutes of pick-up.

Uber Expands Into Courier Service WIth Manhattan-Only Pilot [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Congratulations To Comcast, Your 2014 Worst Company In America!

Tue, 2014-04-08 16:01



Four years since winning its first Worst Company tournament, Comcast’s doubted that the Kabletown Krusher could ever regain that 2010 form. But after a few years of letting others hold the title, Comcast was fiercely intent on bringing a second Golden Poo to its Philadelphia lair. And in one of the narrowest Final Death Matches in the centuries’ long history of WCIA battle, Comcast managed to hold the genetically modified body blows of Monsanto.


From the onset of the day-long bout, lawsuit-lovin’, herbicide-makin’ Monsanto was within striking distance of the Philly Kid, but Comcast gained a hair-thin edge early on and never ceded the lead.

Comcast’s road to the Poo started out without a speedbump, as the company powered through the first three rounds without ever giving up more than 30% of the vote. And with two-time reigning champ EA eliminated in Round One by Comcast’s merger partner Time Warner Cable, followed by three-time consecutive runner-up Bank of America’s surprise defeat at the hands of Walmart, Comcast seemed destined for the Final Death Match.

But the nation’s largest cable and Internet provider (which is trying to become even larger), almost got stopped in its track by first-time contender SeaWorld, riding high on waves of negative publicity tied to the documentary Blackfish. Comcast pulled off a buzzer-beater to hold off SeaWorld and earn its place in the Final Death Match.

Comcast’s win makes it only the second company to claim multiple Poos. Last year, video game biggie EA was both the first two-time winner and its first repeat champ.

And so that’s it for WCIA 2014. See you again next year!

PS: Here is the full bracket from this year’s tournament:

Did You Turn In A Lost Diamond Ring At Newark Airport? There’s A Free Flight Waiting For You

Tue, 2014-04-08 15:53

(PIX 11 News)

(PIX 11 News)

Most of the time, when you find something that’s not yours and you turn it in, it’s not like you’re expecting a huge thank you, a burst of applause or a ticker tape parade. You do the right thing because it’s the right thing — but if you did happen to turn in a lost diamond ring at Newark Airport? You’ve got a free flight.

It’s a mystery that once solved, will result in a free $500 flight voucher for whoever the Good Samaritan was that found the 4-carat ring on Valentine’s Day this year, reports the New York Post.

The 52-year-old woman who accidentally dropped it that day during security screening didn’t even realize it was gone until she was already on a plane to London. Many might’ve bidden the bauble goodbye, but someone found it and turned it into a Transportation Security Administration officer.

“I was amazed by the honesty,” the owner told the NYP. She called the TSA upon landing and was successfully reunited with her ring, a 25th anniversary pressent from her husband. “It’s unheard of.”

Now the Global Gateway Alliance wants to find this mysterious do-gooder and give him or her a round-trip flight voucher from United Airways for being so honest. If it’s you, you can email and include proof of travel date and time. The TSA will then verify you’re the right one using security footage. You’ve got until May 31, at which time the prize will go to charity.

“While all of us wait in long lines, struggle with security protocols and hear horror stories of thefts by airport workers, it’s important to know that our fellow travelers have our backs and TSA agents work hard for passengers,” said Alliance Chairman Joseph Sitt.

Who returned diamond ring? Airport group wants to know [New York Post]

You can follow MBQ on Twitter where you will likely find zero diamond rings: @marybethquirk

Roving Band Of Miscreants Flipping Over Smart Cars Around San Francisco

Mon, 2014-04-07 23:00

(NBC Bay Area)

(NBC Bay Area)

Do you live in San Francisco? Cool, I hear it’s a nice city. Oh, do you own a Smart Car? You might want to check outside and see if it’s resting on all four wheels as it’s supposed to, after police say a roving pack of vandals has been going around the city overturning the teensy little vehicles.

Flipping over Smart Cars makes me think of the mean people who put turtles on their backs just to see them struggle to right themselves, only in this case the vehicles can’t wiggle in protest. Their owners, however, are probably really ticked off, reports NBC Bay Area.

The news station found at least four of the vandalized cars, which have been flipped onto their front or rear ends or on their sides.

“Whoever is doing this just has misdirected anger,” said one woman who was carsitting for a pal.

Police say the suspects are still out there and will face felony vandalism charges if they’re ever caught. And it sounds like quite a fair amount of witnesses noticed something was amiss over the weekend.

One man said he saw about six to eight people wearing hooded sweatshirts flipping cars at 1 a.m. this morning.

“They looked like they were up to no good,” he said. “And sure enough, they huddled around it and lifted it up.”

“They look like they are dachshunds sitting up on their hind legs,” he added.

So cute! But so wrong.

As for why these miscreants are out there behaving badly, it’s not totally clear — but it could just be that the cars are so itty bitty and light, well, it’s just too great of a temptation for the more dastardly among us.

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Vandals Flip Smart Cars Over in San Francisco [NBC Bay Area]

Follow MBQ on Twitter because she is a friend to turtles: @marybethquirk

Ford Recalls 435,000 Vehicles For Possible Steering Issues, Possibly Unsafe Seats

Mon, 2014-04-07 22:52

(Van Swearington)

(Van Swearington)

For much of the United States winter is in the rearview mirror. But for consumers in 20 states and the District of Columbia, winter’s effects could continue to linger if they drive a Ford. The company recently announced two new recalls affecting more than 435,000 vehicles.

The company recalled 386,000 model year 2001 to 2004 Escape SUVs that may have corrosion issues related to the vehicles’ subframe, USA Today reports.

The corrosion issue could cause the lower control arm to separate, and potentially lead to diminished steering control. Salt used on the roads during the winter is thought to increase the chance of issues.

One crash, but no injuries, have been tied to the problem, officials with Ford say.

Affected vehicles can be found in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. About 37,000 SUVs are located in Canada.

Dealers will install a reinforcement cross brace to resolve the issue.

The second recall affects 48,960 model year 2013 and 2014 Ford Fusions, Escapes and C-Maxs, and Lincoln MKZs.

The vehicles have back seat frames that don’t conform to safety standards and could increase risk of injury. The company says no accidents or injuries have been attributed to the issue.

Ford launches recalls of 435,000 cars and SUVs [USA Today]

GM Unsure If Or How To Compensate Ignition-Switch Victims, Could End Up Facing Criminal Case

Mon, 2014-04-07 22:45


Roughly 7 million cars and trucks recalled, at least 13 confirmed deaths tied to one faulty part, and a decade-long cover-up all adds up to one surefire thing: GM is getting dragged to court. But which court? In the midst of all the pending suits, shouting senators, Capitol Hill hearings, and other legalese, there’s still one big question up in the air for General Motors: is this mess only going to cost them money, or did they screw up badly enough to face criminal charges, too?

GM is already facing civil lawsuits, both from families of victims killed in crashes as well as a class-action suit from angry Chevy owners. But civil suits against the company face one big obstacle: GM went bankrupt, and was restructured by the federal government, in 2009.

As Consumerist has reported, one of the results of that restructuring is that the “new,” post-2009 GM is not on the hook for the liabilities of the “old,” defunct GM. And as CNNMoney, explains, if GM pays compensation for anything that happened before the restructuring, they could end up having to pay for everything prior to that restructuring:

[T]he company that emerged from bankruptcy is technically a completely new corporation, taking only the good parts of GM — its functioning plants, brands and cars with it.

The old GM, called Motors Liquidation, was left with the unproductive plants, weak brands and about 2,500 lawsuits seeking billions in damages.

The suits pertain to everything from wrongful deaths in car accidents to contract disputes and abandoned properties. They have all been either settled, dismissed or decided by a verdict. If the plaintiffs got anything, it was only pennies on the dollar compared to what they would have won without the bankruptcy.

And GM continues to use that legal shield in cases unrelated to the recall.

GM is still “evaluat[ing] its options in response to accident victims whose vehicles are being recalled for possible ignition-switch defects,” a company spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ also adds that it is “perfectly legal for GM to steer funds to recall victims, regardless of how they may have been treated in the auto maker’s court restructuring.” But “legal precedents suggest” that they won’t.

The choice of response may be removed from GM’s hands if federal criminal charges are filed, though. In response to GM CEO Mary Barra’s testimony before Congress last week, multiple senators have suggested that perhaps prosecution is the way to go.

Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said, “I don’t see this as anything but criminal, and speaking on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said: “You know we had the Citizens United case where our Supreme Court said corporations are people … but if in fact they are people, there needs to be some criminal accountability depending on what the facts of the investigation show,” and added, “I know the Justice Department is taking a hard look at this.”

Some families also want to see GM prosecuted, the AP reports. But there are distinct challenges to pursuing a criminal case, too. It’s easy to say, “heads should roll,” but whose? The executives at the top, who came in after the fact? The engineers in the middle, who might have flubbed testing or records? Someone else entirely?

A legal expert explained to the AP that “prosecutors face a higher burden to prove criminal wrongdoing” than what comes up in a Congressional committee. And while it may be easier to spot individual actions, through particular incriminating documents, “To charge an individual, you have to show that one individual acted illegally by himself,” he said. It’s harder to prove individuals’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt than it is to go after a company as a whole.

GM is now in a bind: beset with lawsuits, they can’t necessarily create the compensation fund some lawmakers have asked for without finding themselves in even worse trouble. Perhaps if they hadn’t spent 13 years covering up problems, the mess they’re in now wouldn’t be quite so big.

Victim-Compensation Dilemma Hangs Over GM [Wall Street Journal]
Angry families want GM prosecuted for defects [Associated Press]