Consumer Buying Advice

  • Romaine lettuce E. coli contamination linked to California farm
    by Sarah D. Young on December 14, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    Health officials traced the infection to a reservoir on a farm in Santa Barbara County By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs December 14, 2018 Following last months broad warning to consumers that romaine lettuce is unsafe to eat, health officials now say theyve identified one source of the E. coli contamination that sickened 59 consumers across 15 states. On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they had traced the E. coli contamination to a California farm. Officials tracked a positive sample to the sediment of a local irrigation reservoir used by a single farm owned and operated by Adam Bros. Farms in Santa Barbara Country. At this time, the investigation hasnt uncovered how the reservoir became contaminated. Investigation ongoing The CDC still advises consumers not to eat romaine lettuce grown in California's Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Barbara counties until further notice. "We cannot say how many cases are linked to this specific farm at this time," Ian Williams, chief of the CDC's outbreak response and prevention branch, told the media. "We have to do additional work at this farm and other farms that are being identified from our investigation." The FDA said the lettuce grown and distributed by Adam Bros. Farms isnt responsible for the entire outbreak. At this point, the investigation has identified 11 distributors, nine growers, and eight farms as potential sources. Towards the end of November, health officials said that properly labeled romaine lettuce grown outside of the aforementioned growing regions near Northern and Central California should be safe to eat. Romaine grown in greenhouses or hydroponically should also be safe for consumption. The CDC has lifted its earlier warning against eating romaine from California's San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, and Ventura counties, but it continues to advise consumers to avoid romaine lettuce that isnt clearly labeled with a harvest date and location. […]

  • The Weekly Hack: Save the Children gave $1 million to con artists
    by Amy Martyn on December 14, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    Home electric car chargers dont need wifi capabilities, researchers warn By Amy Martyn of ConsumerAffairs December 14, 2018 One of the countrys largest charities admitted in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filings that it sent nearly $1 million to a fraudulent business in Japan and another $9,000 to a hackers account in Africa. We have improved our security measures to help ensure this does not happen again, Stacy Brandom, chief financial officer of Save the Children Federation, told the Boston Globe. Fortunately, through insurance, we were ultimately reimbursed for most of the funds. In the larger heist, hackers broke into a Save the Children Federation workers email. The hacker created invoices to make it appear as though nearly $1 million was going toward purchasing solar panels for health clinics in Pakistan. And in Africa, a vendor that Save the Children works with also had his email hacked. When they sent him his bill, it went to the hacker instead. In both cases, the money was transferred to the thieves via wire transfer. The FBI has repeatedly warned consumers and businesses that hacking into someones email, posing as the victim, and asking for payments via wire transfer is a popular cyber theft tactic. Homeland Security contractors Homeland security officials say that its extremely hard to keep its systems secure following the revelation that Navy contractors and subcontractors have repeatedly fallen victim to hackers. The contractors have suffered more than a handful of security breaches over the past year and a half, according to internal Navy documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal. "Attacks on our networks are not new, but attempts to steal critical information are increasing in both severity and sophistication," Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said in one of the documents. "It's extremely hard for the Defense Department to secure its own systems," Tom Bossert, the former homeland security adviser in the Trump administration, told the Wall Street Journal. Officials are blaming the hacks on China. Community college A virus on the Cape Cod Community College computer system allowed hackers to access its entire payroll database and directly secure over $800,000. After catching the hack, school officials contacted the FBI, and the agency has been able to block $278,000 worth of the transfers so far. Home electric car chargers A security firm studying the home chargers of electric vehicles says that the devices are vulnerable to hacking and probably shouldnt be equipped with WiFi capabilities. For its report, security firm Kaspersky examined the home charger sold by ChargePoint Home, a popular third-party vendor. The WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities of the charger made way for security flaws that could allow hackers to remotely control a cars charging process, or worse. Hackers could also potentially cause damage to the car or control where it is able to drive. Kaspersky says that ChargePoint Home fixed the security flaw after it alerted the company, but the question remains as to whether there is any reason to implement wireless interfaces when there is no real need for them. […]

  • Exercising at night not found to cause sleep problems
    by Kristen Dalli on December 14, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    However, consumers may want to avoid intense activity in the nighttime hours By Kristen Dalli of ConsumerAffairs December 14, 2018 Hitting the gym is an activity many consumers save for the early morning hours, as its a great way to jumpstart the day before the sun comes up. And theres a longstanding myth that exercising at night can disrupt normal sleeping patterns. However, a new study found that idea is just a myth and nothing more. Engaging in physical activity at night was not found to alter consumers ability to sleep at night. People can do exercise in the evening without hesitation, said researcher Jan Stutz. The data shows that moderate exercise in the evening is no problem at all. However, vigorous training or competitions should be scheduled earlier in the day, if possible. Keeping things light The researchers analyzed over 20 studies that evaluated adults sleep after one night of exercise when compared with a control group that didnt exercise. The researchers found that, overall, engaging in physical activity four hours before bed didnt affect participants ability to sleep. Even moderate activity just a half hour before bed didnt cause any disruptions throughout the night. Study participants spent over 21 percent of their night in a deep sleep following nighttime exercise, while the control group spent under 20 percent of their night in a deep sleep when they didnt exercise. While a seemingly small difference, the researchers say that it carries a lot of weight, as deep sleep is one of the most important parts of recovering from physical activity. If doing sport in the evening has any effect on sleep quality all, its rather a positive effect, albeit only a mild one, said Christina Spengler, head of the Exercise Physiology Lab at ETH Zurich. The researchers do urge consumers to keep exercise light or moderate at night and avoid vigorous activity -- particularly within one hour of bedtime -- as this was found to disrupt sleep. The researchers found that participants who gave it their all at the gym right before bed didnt have enough time to let their bodies rest or recover, and it often took them longer to fall asleep. Despite these results, the researchers want consumers to know these findings are an average and could differ from person to person. Not everyone reacts to exercise in the same way, and people should keep listening to their bodies, Stutz said. If they notice they are having problems falling asleep after doing sport, they should try to work out a little earlier. Getting a good nights sleep Sleep is imperative to the way we function on a daily basis, and like Stuz said, consumers should be aware of what works for them before bedtime and what doesnt. A recent study explored the countless effects sleep deprivation can have on our bodies, both big and small. The researchers found that lack of sleep affects our ability to complete tasks without getting distracted, and it can also impede memory. Additionally, those who are sleep deprived may have a harder time finishing tasks when interrupted by text messages, phone calls, or emails. […]

  • Large portion sizes at restaurants found to be a global problem
    by Kristen Dalli on December 14, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    The issue affects both fast food and full service restaurants By Kristen Dalli of ConsumerAffairs December 14, 2018 One of the keys to maintaining a healthy weight is portion control. Scaling back on how much of certain foods were eating can be incredibly beneficial -- especially as consumers look to avoid adding weight over the holiday season. However, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Tufts University, restaurants -- both fast food and full service -- may be the biggest offenders of violating healthy portion sizes around the world. The researchers found that restaurants are serving dishes well past the recommended calorie intake for one meal. Fast food has been widely cited as an easy target for diet change because of its high calorie content; however, previous work by our team in the U.S. identified restaurant meals in general as an important target for interventions to address obesity, said researcher Dr. Susan B. Roberts. Eating out is now common around the world, but it is important to keep in mind that it is easy to overeat when a large restaurant meal is likely to be only one of several meals and snacks consumed that day. Adding up the calories To see the effect of portion size on a global scale, the researchers narrowed their study down to five countries: India, Ghana, Brazil, Finland, and China. Over 100 restaurants were chosen at random in the five countries, and the researchers looked at the calorie information of the dishes that restaurant-goers ordered most often and compared the results with the United States. Though many consumers often place blame on fast food establishments, dishes at full-service restaurants were actually found to be higher in calories. The average plate at a full-service menu racked up over 1,300 calories, while fast food meals typically ran just over 800 calories. However, portion size was an issue at all restaurants involved in the study. Over 70 percent of all fast food meals and nearly 95 percent of all full service meals had over 600 calories, while three percent of the restaurants involved in the study had meals that were over 2,000 calories. Current average portion sizes are high in relation to calorie requirements and recommendations globally, Dr. Roberts said. As three meals and one or more snacks in between is common, including in the countries we studied, large restaurant portions should be examined further for their potential role in the global obesity epidemic. Controlling portions Several recent reports have found that portion control really is key to a healthy diet, and experts are encouraging the food industry to start putting less on consumers plates. A recent study found that cutting down on portion sizes was an effective way for consumers to make healthier choices in the future. The present findings indicate that if portion sizes of commercially available foods were reduced, these smaller, more appropriate portion sizes may recalibrate perceptions of what constitutes a normal amount of food to eat and, in doing so, decrease how much consumers choose to eat, said Dr. Eric Robinson. Earlier this year, chain restaurants with more than 20 stores were required to post their calorie information on menus and menu boards. The initiative was part of the Affordable Care Act, and the goal was to reduce obesity and encourage consumers to make healthier choices when ordering out. A study from later in the year found that relocating calorie information on the menu could have the greatest effect on consumers ordering habits. When the calories were displayed prominently on the menu, making it the first thing consumers saw, they were more likely to order something with fewer calories. […]

  • What phone apps say they do isn’t always true
    by Gary Guthrie on December 14, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Battery drainers, click frauders, and data scrapers continue their evil ways By Gary Guthrie of ConsumerAffairs December 14, 2018 If this holiday season is anything like 2017s, more than 400 million folks will be unwrapping phones. And whats the first thing that people do with a new phone? Download apps! As consumers have come to find out over 2018s spate of personal data breaches, one cant be too careful. For every Cambridge Analytica insurgence, there are a dozen more click fraud apps out there lying in wait. Those apps pretend to be run-of-the-mill programs like, say, a game, but the purpose of those apps is to trick the user into downloading pop-up ads and, oftentimes, nefarious malware that will wreak all kinds of havoc. Functionality, battery draining, and more Sophos, a British security software company, found 22 apps in the Google Play Store that cause problems such as functionality issues, draining a phones battery, harming a smartphone by allowing pop-up ads, or trying to find a way to thieve and sell your personal data. If those researchers are correct in their estimates, there are more than 2 million phones giving those apps the freedom to do their dirty deeds. Heres a list of those problematic apps discovered by Sophos: Sparkle FlashLight Snake Attack Math Solver ShapeSorter Magnifeye Join Up Zombie Killer Space Rocket Neon Pong Just Flashlight Table Soccer Cliff Diver Box Stack Jelly Slice AK Blackjack Color Tiles Animal Match Roulette Mania HexaFall HexaBlocks PairZapf If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, well Just because an app says its function is one thing, that doesnt really mean it is. Some apps operate under the smokescreen of, say, a game you can play; but in reality, they can contain code that instructs the app to retrieve other files. Case in point is the Sparkle Flashlight app. That particular sneaky app was downloaded more than a million times before Google Play detectives deleted it on November 25. Nonetheless, if the app wasnt deleted from a users phone, it still had the power to collect and share user data. Doesnt Apple and Google have your back? There are more than 60,000 new apps added to the Apple and Google app stores every month. Try as they may, its a Herculean task to pore through the code of every single app. "Although both Google and Apple offer a closed ecosystem for app distribution, and actively scan newly uploaded apps for snippets of code known to be malicious, their methods are not perfect," wrote Sophos' Chen Yu in the company's latest threat report. Malicious app developers have been gaming the system for years, and their malicious apps do appear in the Google Play Market and Apple App Store, Yu said. Warning signs to look out for Internet talk show guru Kim Komando lists five things to be on the lookout for regarding apps: Surge in data usage, unexplained charges, sudden pop-ups, battery drain, and unwanted apps. To be safe, we're constantly warning you to not download apps from third-party stores. With stringent safety protocols, it's more secure to get apps from the Google Play Store, wrote Komando. […]