Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog


Channel Description:

Consumer Reports

older | 1 | .... | 304 | 305 | (Page 306) | 307 | 308 | .... | 384 | newer

    0 0

    What the heck does "fresh" really mean?

    Store signs and product labels routinely toss around terms like “fresh,” “local,” “artisan,” and “seasonal.” But what do they actually mean? Frankly, not much. Everyone, it seems, has his or her own interpretation.

    “The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have standard definitions for any of those labels,” agency spokeswoman Wendy Wasserman told us. When it comes to “local,” she says, some retailers “consider mileage, others by region.  In fact, only the term “organic”—and, in some cases, the word “natural,” are formally defined. Below, experts give their definitions:

    ORGANIC This term has teeth. This one does have strict guidelines: The “organic” label certifies that farms and handling facilities comply with USDA regulations that ensure the food was produced with methods that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used. 

    NATURAL Meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients, according to the USDA says. However, the natural label does not regulate farm practices and does not apply to foods other than the three above. So stores and producers can use it to mean anything.

    Read more about how to pick the best produce and keep it fresh. 

    LOCAL Matt Seeley, a produce executive with Nunes Co., a West Coast grower and packer, says, the term is devoid of meaning. “One retailer might define it as products from their state, another might include bordering states as well, and a third, 300 miles from a distribution center. Still others might says anything we can get to our stores within 24 hours of harvest.” Whole Foods says, “we leave it up to our stores. Generally, though, we try to use state lines.” The only way to know for sure what local means is to ask your grocer.

    ARTISAN The word conjures images of handmade, small-batch, high-quality products. But then again, fast-food chains like Domino’s sell “artisan” pizza. According to The Hartman Group, a consumer research firm, "artisan" has been co-opted by the food industry and marketers to the point now that its distinction has been diluted. "When companies use 'artisan' they are attempting to create a shortcut to denote higher quality and premium, inverting the original meaning when it's put in the context of fast and mass-produced foods."

    SEASONAL “Grapes are in season now, but they’re from Chile,” says Kathy Means, vice president of industry relations for the Produce Marketing Association. “I define seasonal as what’s being grown on farms near me now.”

    FRESH According to the Food Marketing Institute, fresh means: Food that’s just picked, gathered, produced, live or unprocessed, and definitely not frozen. Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a food-industry consulting firm, narrowed it down a bit further as it pertains to prepared foods. “Dishes prepared during the day that they’re sold.” 

    STORE-MADE (OR HOUSE-MADE) While these terms have recently spawned disagreement, and even a lawsuit, Technomic’s Tristano sees no ambiguity. “Store made would refer to something made within the four walls of the operator’s location,” he says. “Not via off-site commissary.” Earlier this year, a group of New Jersey consumers sued several supermarkets, including Wegmans and Whole Foods, claiming the grocers misled consumers with advertising boasting that breads are “store-baked” or “made in house,” when in fact part of the process took place off site. Whole Foods, one defendant, refused to comment on the litigation. Says Jo Natale, Wegmans’ vice president of media relations for Wegmans, also named in the suit, says, “We haven’t deceived or mislead customers in any way."

    —Tod Marks

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Tempur-Pedic's latest mattresses have springs

    Tempur-Pedic made its name with memory-foam mattresses, tracing its roots “to NASA’s innovative technology to protect astronauts.” Then the manufacturer expanded beyond strictly memory foam when it debuted the Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Choice Supreme, a $3,200 adjustable-air bed with memory-foam layers that Consumer Reports has tested. Now the company has delivered another surprise with its Tempur-Flex line of foam mattresses with (drum roll, please) ... a layer of coil springs.

    The $2,600 Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Flex Supreme is one of 15 new mattresses we’re testing now. Final results will be available this summer. It’s the mid-priced model of three Tempur-Flex beds and the only one included in our current tests. The lower-priced Tempur-Flex Prima, $2,000, is not as thick and doesn’t include the washable, replaceable EasyRefresh Cover. The higher-end Tempur-Flex Elite, $3,200, is the thickest and comes with the cover. The layers of all three include one that “provides the responsive support your body needs.” In other words, coil springs.

    As Tempur-Pedic aims toward other segments of the mattress market, several relative newcomers are hoping to peel away some of Tempur-Pedic’s customer base. Here are a few other models we’re testing:

    Brooklyn Bedding 12" Cool Symphony, $1,250

    Brooklyn Bedding is following a marketing strategy we’ve already seen with the Tuft & Needle Ten and The Casper we tested: Sell just one or two models of exemplary foam mattresses and make shopping and support a seamless, risk-free experience. With Brooklyn Bedding, you get 120 nights to try out the combination latex/memory foam mattress—the company asks that you sample it for at least two weeks—and the company will pick up the mattress and give you a full refund (including shipping) if you're not satisfied.

    The Leesa Mattress Medium Firm, $890

    Leesa Mattress is similar to Brooklyn Bedding in that the purchase process is similarly risk-free and its selection, similarly singular. This 10-inch, three-layer foam mattress is fully made in America. It's built to order and shipped free in three to five business days. If you have a problem during the 100-night trial, the company will take it back with free shipping, claiming “no-hassle returns.” But Leesa encourages customers to try the mattress for at least 30 nights.

    Novaform 14" Serafina Pearl Gel (Costco), $800

    Recently, we were disappointed to learn that our top-rated foam mattress, the $650 Novaform Memory Foam Collection Serafina 14", was being discontinued. But Costco says that the Novaform 14" Serafina Pearl Gel is its replacement. A top layer of gel-infused foam is claimed to keep you at the optimal sleeping temperature, and as with most other foam beds we’ve tested, Costco claims the mattress minimizes the impact of your sleep partner’s movement. You can’t try a Costco mattress at the store; it’s delivered to your door in a box. But pickup and return are free if you don’t like it.

    Need a new mattress now?

    Consumer Reports' current mattress Ratings include more than 35 innerspring, foam, and adjustable-air beds, and our tough mattress tests evaluate mattresses for back and side support, durability, and other criteria. Check out our mattress buying guide before narrowing down your choices.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    New Vehicle Safety Improvement Act is poised to help car consumers

    On June 2nd, a congressional subcommittee held a hearing on the massive Takata airbag recall, underscoring the importance of a new safety bill introduced earlier this year and supported by Consumer Reports.

    The proposed legislation, dubbed the Vehicle Safety Improvement Act of 2015 (pdf), would, among other things:

    • Make it easier for consumers to access recall and car-safety information in government databases.
    • Broaden the requirement that manufacturers publicly disclose the incidence of serious or fatal injuries in vehicles they have made.
    • Beef up the vehicle recalls process.
    • Make it illegal for used-car dealers to sell cars on which recall repairs have not been performed.

    These reforms are in part precipitated by the tortuous, years-long process of addressing issues with Takata airbags. The pyrotechnic inflators in some Takata airbags, installed in millions of cars over the past 14 years, have sometimes exploded while the airbag deployed, shooting metal shards into the cabin. Five people are thought to have been killed in the U.S., and a larger but unknown number injured, by the rupture-prone inflators.

    Recalls of the inflators started with a small number of Honda automobiles in 2008, but since then the recall has been extended and enlarged at least 11 times, now covering well more than 30 million passenger vehicles made by 10 different automakers between 2001 and 2014.

    The Vehicle Safety Improvement Act of 2015, authored by Representatives Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Frank Pallone of New Jersey, seeks to address a number of shortfalls in current law, enhance congressional oversight of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and make sure more safety information is available to consumers.

    Besides the bill’s sponsors and other Congressional representatives, numerous consumer-safety groups, including Consumer Reports, support the bill and laud its aims.

    "Recently, millions of U.S. cars have been recalled for safety defects. Yet it's perfectly legal for auto dealers to sell defective used cars to consumers before they are repaired. This dangerous gap in federal law is one of many addressed in the Vehicle Safety Improvement Act of 2015, which the House should take up without delay," said William Wallace, policy analyst at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

    Read "Everything you need to know about the Takata airbag recall."

    Another provision would close a gap in current law that permits used-car dealers to sell cars that are under recall but not repaired. New-car dealers are already legally obliged to have any necessary recall work done before they can sell a car. Used-car buyers should have the same protection.

    In the consumer information area, the Vehicle Safety Improvement Act would make it easier for car owners and others to keep abreast of safety problems identified in specific vehicles. Consumers would gain free access, for instance, to vehicle manufacturers’ communication to dealerships dealing with safety issues and repairs. Currently, NHTSA provides only cursory summaries of those Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs).

    The Act would also make NHTSA’s car-safety information, including recalls and safety complaints, easier to search. The existing search system is clumsy, confusing, and hard for an ordinary consumer to use.

    Broadening the reach of vehicle recalls, the Act would also set new standards for regional recalls, where consumers can get free recall repairs only if their car is registered in certain geographical areas. The Act would ultimately eliminate regional recalls but allows for recall repairs to be prioritized, where necessary, to ensure that repair resources such as new parts are supplied first to areas where the problem occurs most frequently.

    These steps, among others, are designed to create systems that are less reactive and more proactive in identifying safety defects before they reach epidemic proportions.  

    Recent major recalls have demonstrated numerous ways to improve how automakers and regulators identify safety issues and ensure they are fixed. The Vehicle Safety Improvement Act of 2015 incorporates many of these into one compelling proposal. Consumers Union encourages members of Congress to support the legislation and for House leadership to move the bill forward.

    Check for recalls on your car at ConsumerReports.org/carrecalls. TSBs can be found on the model pages.

    Learn more about car safety.

    Gordon Hard

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    2016 Nissan Maxima delivers the goods

    There’s a lot to like about Nissan’s redesigned flagship sedan, the Maxima, but whether it lives up to the “four-door sports car” image Nissan asserts for it may be asking too much.

    The styling is fresh inside and out, complete with Nissan’s signature flowing body creases, “boomerang” taillights, coupe-like silhouette, and an upscale cabin clad with double-stitched, padded trim on dash, doors, and seats. Power comes from Nissan’s excellent 3.5-liter V6, boosted here to 300-hp and running through a CVT transmission—a technology Nissan executes better than almost anyone else.

    The new Maxima offers five trim lines, all of which incorporate specific feature sets with no extra options available. Standard across the board are a backup camera and a navigation system with an eight-inch touch screen that responds to smartphone-style gesture commands like a swipe or pinch-to-zoom. Also standard is a remote-start function on the key fob. That lightweight transceiver fob, by the way, fits easily in a trouser pocket, unlike many on the market, which feel more like you’re packing a hand grenade in your pants.

    Prices range from about $33,000 for the base S to just under $40,000 for the upscale Platinum. Most Maxima buyers will probably choose the mid-trim SL for about $37,000, which has loads of gear, including heated leather seats and steering wheel, push-button start, panoramic moon roof, and a wide range of electronic collision-avoidance technologies.

    While the Maxima is larger inside and out than the midsized Altima, it’s not bigger by much. Most dimensions are pretty close to those of the roomy, midsized Honda Accord, which means the Maxima is appreciably more compact than other “flagship” sedans such as the Chevrolet Impala or Toyota Avalon.

    From a brief experience driving a rented press-fleet Platinum version, we can say the front cabin feels quite spacious and comfortable. One beef was the old-fashioned pedal-type parking brake, which robs some space you’d otherwise use for your left leg. Other modern $40,000 cars have an electronic parking brake operated from the center console.

    One sits quite low, which might comport with Nissan’s intent to create a sporty driving feel, but the low seating and coupe-like styling mean that climbing in and out takes some exertion, and the view out straight back and to the rear corners is a bit constricted, as well.

    Backseat space is quite good, but head room is somewhat skimpy there. It isn’t so generous up front, either. The center rear seat is a narrow high perch with barely enough head room for a half-grown child. Rear ingress and egress are a little tough, too, because the door opening is narrow and the floor sills are high and wide.  

    Something most drivers will like is the control layout, which is a model of simplicity. You can control basic audio functions, for instance, with convenient knobs on the radio faceplate, from a central control knob on the console, or redundant controls on the steering wheel. Touch-screen menu displays are also crisp, clear, and intuitive.

    The high-end Platinum has Nissan’s 360-degree camera system, which is a terrific parking aid. It incorporates moving-object detection (MOD) to warn you of cars, bikes, or other things approaching from any direction. Also included is a nifty safety system called Driver Attention Alert (DAA), which monitors steering movements and sounds a warning if steering gets erratic, such as when a driver becomes drowsy.

    No question, Nissan’s 300-hp V6 has plenty of oomph, but how that power is delivered to the wheels is compromised by the CVT transmission. This car may turn out to accelerate well by the stopwatch, but it doesn’t feel terribly responsive unless you mash the pedal. When the revs pile up above about 4,000 rpm, the sustained engine roar doesn’t sound very pleasant, either. That’s too bad because otherwise the cabin stays very quiet.

    Handling is fairly responsive, there’s not much body roll, and no one will complain about the steering efforts. Upping the ante at our track we found the tires grippy in corners. Overall, the car responds predictably with no nasty surprises.

    The ride stays fairly calm on decent roads, but it can feel a little jittery and stiff on less-than-perfect pavement.

    Overall, our early impressions suggest that the Maxima is a likeable car, with a well-furnished cabin, easy-to-use controls, and good ride and handling. But does it compete in “sportiness” with an Audi or BMW? Not so much, at least not in the Platinum version we sampled. Possibly the SR trim, with its stiffer suspension, paddle shifters, and other specialized gear, would edge a little closer to that goal.

    —Gordon Hard

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Beware these early warning signs of tire failure

     

    A vehicle's tires play a crucial role in a car's safety. As the only parts of the car that physically touch the ground, they are one of the key factors affecting a vehicle's handling and braking, and overall highway safety. What steps can you take to ensure that your tires stay in optimal condition? Performing regular checks is quick and easy, and a worthwhile investment of time in your and your family's safety.

    Visually inspect your tires on a regular basis. If you note any of the following early warning signs, have a professional inspection performed, check and correct items that may be causing the condition, or replace your tires.

    • Cracking or cuts in the sidewalls.
    • Uneven tread wear. This can be caused by improper inflation, misaligned wheels, damaged tires, or by problems with suspension parts.
    • Excessively worn tread. Most modern tires have tread-wear indicator bars running across the tread, which signal the minimum allowable tread depth of 1/16-inch. When the tread wears down to these bars, it's time for new tires. Inexpensive tread-wear gauges are available at auto-parts and tire stores.
    • Alternatively, you can use a Lincoln-head penny as a tread-wear indicator. Insert the penny into a tire groove with Lincoln's head toward the tire. If you can see the top of Abe's head, the tread is too worn.
    • Bulges or blisters. If you see a bulge or blister on the sidewall, replace the tire at once. These signal potential weak spots that could lead to tire failure.
    • Excessive vibration. Tire vibration may be a sign a wheel is misaligned, unbalanced, or bent. It could also signify internal tire damage. Don't ignore vibration: Have the vehicle serviced at once.

    Surveys have shown that as many as half the cars on the road may be riding on one or more underinflated tires. Part of the problem is that tires lose air through the rubber and at interfaces with the wheel and valve, sometimes so slowly that many people don't realize it has happened. Seasonal temperature changes may also cause the tire pressure to drop.

    Because the sidewall flexes more at lower tire pressures, underinflation compromises the driving control that a tire is designed to provide. Even a small pressure loss—such as 4 psi—can affect a car's handling, making it harder to control. It can also make the ride softer and the car wallow. In addition, underinflated tires lower a vehicle's fuel economy, which can cost you more money at the pump.

    A sidewall that flexes too much can also cause heat to build up excessively, which can shorten a tire's life and possibly lead to a tread separation or blowout.

    For additional information on the effects of underinflated tires see our report on tire safety.

    • Don't judge the pressure by eyeballing a tire. Modern radial tires bulge slightly, making them look a little underinflated, even when they're not.
    • At least once a month, use a tire gauge to check the pressure in all four tires and the spare. A tire-pressure gauge is available for as little as $3 to $5 at auto-parts stores.
    • Set the tires to the automaker's recommended tire pressure. This is printed on a placard in the car, either on a doorjamb, the fuel-filler door, or on the inside of the glove-compartment lid. Don't go by the "maximum inflation pressure" imprinted on the tire. If your car has a limited-service spare, also check that it's inflated to the pressure specified on the placard—usually 60 psi.
    • Measure the pressure with the tires cold, before they've been driven more than a mile or two. As the vehicle is driven, the tires heat up and the pressure rises, which makes it more difficult to set them to the correct cold-tire pressure.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    2016 Mitsubishi Outlander focuses on price and features over refinement

    How good does a car need to be to appeal to buyers? That's the question posed by the Mitsubishi Outlander small SUV, newly updated for 2016. While it’s quieter now and feels more solid, the freshening goes only so far.  

    Mitsubishi seems to be turning into the Walmart of car companies. Price and practicality are the main attractions, while shoppers seeking higher levels of quality and design shop elsewhere. Forget about exciting rally-bred Evos or slinky Eclipse coupes. Those days are long gone, hastened by the brand's near-collapse in America. This is an automaker that once predicted it would sell a half-million vehicles a year here; last year it barely topped 75,000.

    Now, the Outlander serves as Mitsubishi’s unlikely flagship here. Unfortunately, when this generation was introduced for 2013, not only did it score near the bottom of Consumer Reports' ratings, but it was also panned by most critics and even Mitsubishi officials admitted that it wasn't ready for the U.S. market.

    Enter the 2016 Outlander, which received many changes to address myriad shortcomings. Many changes attempt to make the Outlander look less proletarian, with more chrome trim and the addition of soft-touch materials throughout the cabin.

    Other updates aim to be deeper. The biggest improvement is the addition of sound-deadening measures to subdue the previously offensive levels of interior noise. But they only go so far, as the standard 166-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine still creates plenty of racket when it struggles to motivate the Outlander. Even though the continuously variable transmission was also revised for 2016, this CVT reminds us why we often dislike this technology. Pressing the accelerator makes the car surge unevenly, like its horsepower is trapped in a clogged garden hose.

    Suspension changes were made to address complaints about handling. However, the Outlander still feels rather ungainly to drive, with none of the agility that was once possessed by its predecessor. The ride is less stiff, and the car is quieter.

    Inside, the Outlander received a bunch of updates, but they come across as half-hearted. The second row seat is less Rube Goldberg-esque to fold out of the way for cargo, but it still requires too many steps to perform. You still can’t get a power driver’s seat unless you choose the leather option, and adjustable lumbar isn’t even offered.

    In the key area of entertainment, the revised touch-screen audio system is easier to use, but it still suffers from tiny on-screen fonts that look like they were typed onto the screen.

    Maybe some of these objections are eased by the Outlander’s attractive pricing. Starting at $26,995 (without destination), the high-trim SEL AWD that we tried includes leather, automatic climate control, a power driver's seat, touch-screen radio, and heated front seats. That's not a lot of money for a feature-laden, leather-clad small SUV.

    Practicality also proves to be an Outlander strong point. It is the only small SUV with a standard third-row seat—a huge selling point for big families on a budget. Maybe the cabin feels behind the times, but it has plenty of space. And although the boxy body lacks style, it makes for easy visibility.

    The Outlander earns a string of "Good" scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), including the difficult front small overlap test. Mitsubishi is one of the few manufacturers to still offer a long powertrain warranty (10-years/100,000 miles). Finally, the Outlander has been very reliable in Consumer Reports surveys.

    Do these virtues redeem the Outlander? Not really. Given what it takes to make the honor roll in a small SUV marketplace full of overachievers, the Outlander settles for a "Participant" ribbon. That might be enough for buyers who just want a reliable and safe new car, with a good warranty, for a decent price. But most shoppers can do better—and want to do better—than settling for mediocrity.

    Tom Mutchler

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Showtime streaming service will launch in July

    If you've wanted to watch Showtime series such as "Ray Donovan" and "Masters of Sex" but haven't wanted to shell out for a pay-TV service, you're in luck. Showtime says its streaming-only service will launch in July at a cost of $11 per month, or $4 per month cheaper than the rival HBO Now service.

    Like HBO Now, the Internet-based Showtime service will initially be available exclusively on Apple devices, so you'll need an iPad, iPhone, or Apple TV to watch the content. Showtime said the service will be available on other platforms soon. And like its premium-channel rival, Showtime will offer a free 30-day trial to new customers who sign up the first month it's offered.

    In a promotion on its website, Showtime says that the service will let you stream current and older Showtime original series, as well as movies, live sports, exclusive documentaries, and comedy specials, both live and on demand.

    Showtime is owned by CBS, which has been among the more aggressive networks looking for new ways to provide content to its viewers. With CBS All Access, a $6-per-month online service that debuted last fall, CBS became the first major broadcast network to offer a comprehensive Internet-based service untethered from a pay TV subscription.

    More companies are now offering alternatives to traditional pay TV services, including Dish Network's Sling TV to Cablevision's Optimum cord-cutting plan.

    —James K. Willcox

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Below-normal hurricane season predicted for 2015

    For the third year in a row, weather forecasters are predicting a quieter hurricane season with fewer storms than normal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting six to 11 named storms from the beginning of June to the end of November with the possibility of three to six becoming hurricanes. But “six to 11 named storms is still a fair amount, so be prepared,” cautions Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead hurricane forecaster.

    Factored into the forecast is the presence of El Niño in the Pacific, which NOAA says results in cooler than average ocean temperatures that tend to dampen the formation of hurricanes in the Atlantic. But using the hashtag #ItOnlyTakesOne, the National Hurricane Center is cautioning residents of hurricane-prone areas to remain vigilant. “A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, referring to the 1992 season in which there were only seven named storms but the first, Hurricane Andrew, developed into a category 5 hurricane that devastated South Florida.

    New to hurricane forecasts this year is a graphic for storm surge watches and warnings that will highlight coastal areas at risk of life-threatening flooding associated with tropical storms. “Storm surge has the potential to cause the largest loss of life in hurricanes,”  states the National Hurricane Center on its website. “Water, not wind, has accounted for nearly 90 percent of all tropical cyclone deaths in the U.S. [since 1963].”

    Of course, it doesn’t take a hurricane to knock out your power or knock down your trees, as victims of tornadoes, Nor’easters and other weather events well know. Anyone who lived through such hurricanes as Katrina and Sandy likely remembers getting along for days or weeks without electricity, which is why interest in generators has surged. And that’s why Consumer Reports has stepped up its tests of portable and stationary generators and recommends two dozen of the 45 we’ve put through their paces.

    Portable generators

    The portable generators in our tests range in price from $480 to $4,000 and have run-times ranging from 7 to 19 hours on a full tank of fuel. Of the 17 recommended portable generators, six are CR Best Buys, which offer both performance and value. Here are the top three portables:

    Stationary generators

    Stationary generators have the advantage of switching on when your power goes off eliminating the hassle of refueling and offering hundreds of hours of uninterrupted run-time. Of the 10 stationary generators in our tests, seven are recommended and there’s one CR Best Buy. They range in price from $1,800 for a smaller model to $4,300 for a larger one. Here are the top three stationary generators:

    For more choices, see our full generator Ratings and recommendations.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    New UHD TVs that you'll want in your home

    Ever since CES back in January, we've been looking forward to bringing the hot new 2015 sets into our TV labs for a thorough evaluation. Now, after spending five weeks with 30 of them, we've identified a few clear winners. Since all these highlighted sets are either flagship or near-flagship models, the prices aren't for the faint of heart. But if you want to own the best—and have the budget to afford it—check out these three TVs, which represent the current state of the art in TV performance and technology.  

    Just remember that it's still early in the year; as a result, this first group of sets is concentrated on a relatively small number of brands compared to what we'll eventually have in our TV Ratings, which are available to subscribers. In the coming weeks we'll add more models from a wider assortment of brands, and by the end of the year we'll have performed in-depth reviews of about 250 models.

    In the meantime, check out these three sets that impressed

    —James K. Willcox

    Samsung UN65JS9500, UHD LED/LCD TV, $5,000

    Models from both Samsung and LG are among the early arrivals in the market, and those we tested did well in general. The top spot in our Ratings so far is taken by Samsung's 65-inch UHD set, the UN65JS9500, from its flagship SUHD series of 4K sets. This set is pricey—we paid $6,000 for it, though we've seen the price slip to $5,000 at several retailers over the past two weeks. (That's why it pays to get a price-match guarantee from a retailer when you buy a TV right after it's released.) But it is among the best TVs we've tested, with excellent high-definition picture quality, excellent UHD performance, and excellent sound quality. It also has very good 3D, a plus if you care for that feature, and its full-array LED backlight with local dimming helps produce excellent black levels for an LCD set. Our only complaint, really, was the limited viewing angle, not all that uncommon with LCD TVs.

    The set, which features a curved screen, has tons of features, including the ability to display high dynamic range (HDR) content when it becomes available. And like other Samsung SUHD models, it has quantum dot (nano-crystal) technology, plus 10-bit color, for reproducing wider color gamut content when that becomes available. The TV has Samsung's new Tizen smart TV platform, which uses an array of tiles across the bottom of the screen to access content and apps on a single screen. The set's connections and the TV's processor are housed in a separate external One Connect box that in future years can be replaced to upgrade the TV to newer specs and features.

    Find the best HDTVs and UHD TVs for your needs and budget with our TV buying guide and Ratings.

    LG 55EG9600, UHD OLED TV, $5,500

    We're huge fans of OLED TV technology, and this model clearly shows why, though a few flaws dragged down its overall score a bit. Still, this 55-inch 3D-capable model, the first 4K OLED we've tested, delivers excellent high-definition picture quality, very good UHD performance, and the benchmark-setting black levels we've come to expect from OLED TVs. Like all OLED sets, it has a nearly unlimited viewing angle. The TV has a curved screen and the company's webOS smart TV platform that lets you access content via a row of graphic tiles arrayed across the lower part of the screen. It has three HDMI input and comes with LG's point-and-click Magic Remote control. We'll soon be posting a full First Look at this set. None of its shortcomings were severe enough when watching normal content to change our opinion that it's one of the best TVs we've tested. And we give LG credit for being the only company pushing OLED TV technology this year.

    Samsung UN65JS9000, UHD LED/LCD TV, $3,500

    Just edging out LG's 65UF9500 flagship LED LCD UHD TV for 2015, this 65-inch JS9000-series Ultra HD LCD TV from Samsung—a step below the flagship JS9500 SUHD sets—is an excellent TV with a lot of features. Its price, now $3,500, is $1,500 less than what we paid for it. The TV, which has a curved screen, delivers excellent high-definition picture quality and UHD performance and very good sound, though its 3D performance was only good. Beyond the sound and 3D scores, the main differences compared to the JS9500 sets are that it has an edge, rather than full-array, LED backlight with local dimming and a slightly different version of  high dynamic range (HDR) technology. Also, it lacks a built-in camera, though it can accept an optional one. Like the flagship sets, this model has a curved screen, quantum dot (nano-crystal) technology for reproducing wider color gamut content when it becomes available, Samsung's new Tizen smart TV platform, and the separate One Connect box.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    When to toss the case for your contact lenses

    If your contact lenses case is cracked or otherwise damaged, replace it immediately. Otherwise, if you’ve had the case more than three months, it’s time for a new one. Lens cases can harbor germs and timely replacement lowers the risk of eye problems.

    Replacing the case regularly could help protect your eyes from keratitis, a painful condition that leads to about 1 million doctor visits every year. Keratitis can cause ulcers on the cornea or even vision loss, and can occur when your cornea is injured and becomes vulnerable to infection from a virus or bacteria, fungi, or parasites in water.

    To protect your lenses—and your eyes—change your contact lenses on schedule. (Tip: Write the date on the bottom with a marker.) And never wear them in the shower or pool, or overnight.  

    The American Academy of Ophthamology also recommends the following safety measures:

    • Before handling your contacts always wash your hands with soap and water.
    • Do not rinse lenses with water or store them in water. Always use the storage method and cleaning solution recommended by your eye-care professional.
    • After putting lenses in, rinse the case with fresh solution (do not use water), and leave the case open so that it air dries.

    Wear glasses? See our advice on how to get a great looking pair of cheap glasses and our guide to eyeglass stores.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

    0 0

    All-new 2016 BMW X1 crossover changes its formula

    Where the outgoing X1 compact crossover currently draws from the laudable, previous-generation rear-drive 3 Series for its chief mechanicals, the new 2016 version shares some of its architecture with the Mini Cooper, also a BMW product.

    The key here is the front-drive layout enabling significantly more room inside for both passengers and cargo, aided in part by the transverse engine configuration. Addressing a sore point with the current X1, rear leg room increases between 1.5 and 2.5 inches. BMW claims cargo space is up 15 percent, and a bin in front of the shifter finally gives drivers a place to put their cell phones. The 40/20/40-split rear seat can slide fore and aft, and  can be folded at the touch of a button.  

    The optional Technology Package upgrades the base 6.5-inch screen to a tablet-scale 8.8-inch center display, where the navigation system can provide lane guidance. Directions can also be shown in an optional head-up display. The Premium package brings a dual-pane moonroof that is larger than the one offered on the outgoing model.

    BMW asserts that the new suspension design will bring a more comfortable ride and improved handling—always good things.

    Initially, the X1 will be offered only in xDrive 2.8i form, with a 228-hp turbo four cylinder and all-wheel drive. All X1s get an eight-speed automatic transmission, with paddle shifters on the M Sport package. Front-drive versions will arrive some time after the initial launch in the fall.

    Eric Evarts

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Apple recalls Beats Pill XL speaker for fire hazard

    Apple has just issued a recall for its Beats by Dr. Dre Pill XL wireless speaker. According to the company and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the battery may overheat, posing a fire hazard. There have been eight reported incidents of speakers overheating, including one case in which a consumer's finger was burned.

    Apple bought Beats in spring 2014. About 222,000 of the speakers have been sold in the United States. In a statement published on its website, the Consumer Product Safety Commission statement recommends that “Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled product and contact Apple for a $325 Apple Store credit or electronic payment. Apple will provide a postage paid box for consumers to send their Pill XL speaker to Apple.”

    —Terry Sullivan

    UPDATE—We have changed our rating on this product to "Don't Buy—Safety Risk". Since the Beats Pill XL has been recalled, it shouldn't be available in retail stores, but we advise that consumers not purchase any leftover inventory they may find.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Toxic chemicals found in child car seats

    The very seats designed to provide safety for small children have been found to be at risk for containing toxic chemicals, according to an updated study released today by Healthystuff.org. Still, despite the concerns raised by this study, using a properly installed child safety seat is the best way to transport a child by car. We’ll explain…

    None of the seats evaluated by the Michigan-based Ecology Center in this study were found to be free of potentially harmful chemicals. In fact, 11 out of 15 seats contained halogenated flame retardants. The disconcerting chemicals are often added as flame retardants to the seats to meet federally mandated flammability requirements of the vehicle interior. What’s important to know, however, is that those same foams are key to absorbing energy in a crash and protecting your child from injury.

    The concerns stem from the detection of chemicals like bromine and chlorine, which are used in some flame retardants. Such halogenated flame retardants have been linked to a variety of health issues. In addition, many are considered persistent (they don’t break down to something safer over time) and bioaccumulative (they build up in your system).

    One such chemical, a carcinogen known as chlorinated tris, was found in two seats. It was removed from children’s pajamas many years ago. Though it is prohibited in many states, it is still in use elsewhere. This and other flame retardants can be released from the foams and fabrics of products through regular use. They settle into the air and, in particular, the dust in the vehicle.

    Though chemicals like bromine and chlorine detected as indicators of the flame retardants are a concern, perhaps even more troubling was the presence of heavy metals like lead and chromium in a small number of the tested child seats. Those present more clearly documented health risks, and are limited by Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards for use in other child products. Children may also be exposed to similar flame retardants and chemicals in furniture, carpets, and other child products.  

    See our expert car seat buying advice and test findings.

    Although the study’s results were troubling, the accompanying report notes that things may be improving. Results indicate a slight overall decline in one type of flame retardant when compared to tests of seats in previous years and additional regulations may be limiting their use worldwide. Child seat manufacturers, such as Britax and Clek, have also moved to use less-hazardous flame retardants, though even those may still present some health risks according to the study. These companies have also worked to put important internal specifications in place that limit other dangerous chemicals from being used; make use of the flame retardants only where specifically needed; and require suppliers to disclose all formulations.

    Studies are also being conducted into whether or not the flame retardants are necessary at all for a vehicle interior. Consumer Reports has supported the reduction of chemical flame retardants in other consumer products. Perhaps more importantly, we support work for finding new methods for limiting fire with physical barriers and materials. We have also worked with organizations like the CPSC in placing limits on the harmful metals.  

    What can you do?

    • Continue to use your child restraint. The risk of your child being hurt in a crash is far more prevalent than the known issues surrounding the chemical exposure.   
    • For a number of other safety reasons related to your child’s development, ability to breathe, and overall safety, as well as limiting their exposure to such chemicals, you should avoid using your child seat for extended periods that don’t include travel. Your child’s car seat shouldn’t be used as an alternative location for long periods of sleeping, eating, or playing.
    • Take some time to periodically vacuum not only the seat, but also your vehicle’s interior. This will help limit the amount of dust, which is where chemicals released from the seat or vehicle’s interior may settle.

    Learn about keeping children safe on the road in our guide to kids and car safety.

    Jennifer Stockburger & Urvashi Rangan

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Persil tops Tide in laundry detergent tests

    Tide has been at the top of Consumer Reports' laundry detergent Ratings more than any other brand. Its success has helped Procter & Gamble dominate the U.S. laundry detergent market, with 60 percent of sales and 85 percent of profits, according to the Wall Street Journal. And so it was big news when Walmart announced earlier this year that it had struck an exclusive partnership with Persil, a premium detergent that's popular in Europe but unknown to most Americans. Judging from our latest laundry detergent tests, that's about to change.

    Persil ProClean Power Liquid 2-in-1 is our new top-rated detergent, beating out the previously number one Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release by a decent margin, though both products are excellent overall. They cost the same, too—25 cents per load—which puts them firmly in the premium detergent category. Several products in our Ratings cost as little as 5 or 6 cents per load, though cleaning performance tends to suffer when you spend that little.       

    The Persil and Tide detergents were equally effective at tackling grass, ring-around-the-collar, chocolate, and tea stains. Where Persil separated itself was on blood stains, where it scored an excellent compared to Tide’s very good. We also tested a pair of other Persil products: Persil ProClean Power Liquid and Persil ProClean Power Pearls. Neither detergent makes our selective recommended list, though they performed very well overall, besting another newcomer to the detergent aisle, Tide’s HE Turbo Clean

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Brinkmann gas grill passes safety test

    Grilling your dinner is one of the pleasures of summer. Sure, you want a grill that preheats quickly and does well on low and high heat but you also want a grill that’s safe to use. In testing more than 100 gas grills to find the best and worst performers, Consumer Reports’ grill experts also puts every grill through safety checks. And when the Brinkmann 810-6230-S gas grill failed our drop-lid test, posing a safety risk, we judged it a “Don’t buy” in late April.

    Shortly thereafter Home Depot stopped sales of the grill, Brinkmann then offered a fix to consumers who had already bought the grill, and replaced a part on all in-stock grills in Home Depot’s stores and distribution channels. We bought this revamped grill and it passed our drop-lid test, eliminating the safety risk and the “Don’t buy" designation.

    Brinkmann 810-6230-S is now recommended

    Ninety-nine percent of Brinkmann 810-6230-S gas grills are sold at Home Depot, according to Brandon Gleaton, vice president of Brinkmann sales.  After we designated this grill a “Don't buy,” Gleaton said they’d replace the crossover channels on all grills in Home Depot locations and their distribution channels to fix the safety problem we found. Our testers found that it does. Revamped grills have a green sticker on the box that says, “Includes new crossover channel.” Grills manufactured after our results were made known to Brinkmann include the fix and those boxes bear a yellow sticker with the same message, says Gleaton.

    Now that the safety risk is gone the Brinkmann 810-6230-S moves from the bottom of our Ratings of small gas grills and joins our list of recommended grills. The $130 Brinkmann preheated quickly and evenly and was superb in high and low-temperature evenness. Indirect cooking and temperature range were good and convenience was fair. Overall this grill scored 71 out of 100.  

    What about grills sold elsewhere?

    This grill is also sold at Albertsons and Hy-Vee and Gleaton said he is working with them to find out if they want Brinkmann to fix their units. If so, the cartons will bear the green or yellow stickers. Otherwise, if you buy this grill at one of these stores, call Brinkmann’s customer service at 800-527-0717 and ask for a new crossover channel, the part that fixes the grill’s safety problem.

    Shopping for a grill?

    Your timing is right on. Summer sales, especially summer holiday sales, are a great way to save. We tested well over 100 gas grills, ranging from $115 to $2,600, so take a look at our gas grill Ratings and to help you decide, use the selector that filters by brand, size, and price. Our buying guide offers tips on features. Any questions, e-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org. We’re here to help.

    —Kimberly Janeway

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    The cost of trading in a car? $1,000 or more

    It’s always been tricky to negotiate the best deal if you’re buying a new vehicle while trading in a car at the same time. That’s partly because the deal involves two separate negotiations with neither vehicle having a fixed price when you walk in the door.

    It’s always been a given that you won’t get top dollar for your trade-in. The dealer who buys your car needs to resell it at a profit. But not only will you get less for your old car than you might through a private sale, there’s a good chance you’ll also pay substantially more for the new one. (Learn more about trading in a car.) 

    That was the key finding of a recent study of close to 170,000 new-car transactions in southern California. The researchers found that new-car shoppers who were trading in a car wound up paying, on average, $990 more for the new car than customers who had no trade-in.

    How could that be? Jorge Silva-Risso, a business-school professor at the University of California, Riverside and a co-author of the study, explained in an email that car dealers know more than most of their customers do. The term for that in economics is “information asymmetry.” In all kinds of price negotiations, the person with the most information has the edge.

    The study also indicated that shoppers trading in a car for a newer version of the same car spent $1,204 more. But based on our experience, it is common for a shopper buying the same model to upgrade equipment or choose a higher trim level. So brand-loyal customers may not be financially penalized as much as the study may suggest.

    Visit our new-car buying guide for more advice and money-saving tips.

    What should you do if you have a trade-in?

    Level the playing field by gathering the most information you can. You want to find out how low a dealer will go on the new models. The easiest way to do that is to make dealers compete against each other instead of you. This can be done online, and it is made easy using services like Consumer Reports’ Build & Buy program. There is also great data readily available on local transaction prices, available on the ConsumerReports.org model pages and through TrueCar.com.

    The better informed you are, the better your chances of success. And in your negotiations, it’s probably a good idea not to tell the car dealership that you’re just dying to be rid of the car you’re trading in.

    Gordon Hard  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Why you should worry about antibiotic-resistant superbugs

    Representatives of some 150 organizations, including Consumer Reports, gathered at the White House on June 2, 2015 for a forum on how to rein in the rampant and potentially deadly overuse of antibiotics, from doctor's offices to farms. Consumer Reports President and CEO Marta Tellado reports back from the event.  

    Q. Why should consumers care about antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

    A. This is the public health crisis of our generation. What we know is that the more antibiotics we use, the more we lose the ability of those drugs to fight bacteria. And what we know right now is that we’re breeding superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. We have two million people that are affected by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and 23,000 people die as result of the declining efficacy of these vital drugs.

    Q. What did the White House Forum accomplish?

    A. I was encouraged by some of the calls for more transparency around data and infection rates, especially in hospitals and nursing homes. I think consumers really need to know what those infection rates are. And so that was a very positive development.

    Q. What should consumers do if they’re concerned about this problem?

    A. Well, I think you have to have a conversation with your physician when you’re prescribed antibiotics. Also, be cautious. A lot of antibiotics are prescribed for the common cold and sore throats and ear infections, which are viral, and antibiotics aren’t useful for those kinds of infections.

    Q. What is Consumer Reports doing about this important issue?

    A. Well, we’re going to launch a three-part investigative series in Consumer Reports magazine that really looks at the overuse of antibiotics and the misuse of antibiotics. And that has spurred a rise in infection rates in hospitals. And we’re also going to look at the use of antibiotics in the meat supply.

    Click on the player below to hear Consumer Reports President and CEO Marta Tellado talk about the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

    Read about Consumer Reports' participation at the June 2, 2015, White House Forum on antibiotics. See our complete guide to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and join our fight to stop the spread of superbugs.  

    Follow @ConsumerReports fight to stop the spread of superbugs on Twitter and Facebook. #SlamSuperbugs

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

    0 0

    Prevent food poisoning from listeria bacteria

    Ice cream lovers were shocked this spring when Blue Bell Creameries halted sales after an investigation by federal and state health officials revealed that its products were the cause of a deadly outbreak of food poisoning caused by listeria bacteria. But perhaps the most shocking thing is that Blue Bell products weren’t the only foods where listeria was a concern this year. Although no illnesses were connected to them, a wave of listeria-related recalls involving hummus, apple slices, frozen ravioli, and more occurred before and after the Blue Bell outbreak.

    Not everyone who eats listeria-contaminated food gets sick, but when listeriosis (the name for the infection caused by listeria bacteria) hits, it hits hard. The Q&A below will tell you what you need to know about this potentially lethal form of bacteria, and what you can do to protect yourself and prevent food poisoning.

    Q. What is listeria and how does it get into food?

    A. Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium found in soil, water, and decaying vegetation. Animals may carry it without appearing ill, and when those animals are processed for food, the resulting meat or dairy products can become contaminated.

    Cross contamination from equipment or workers and poor hygiene are potential routes for listeria transmission. While federal health officials haven’t determined exactly how listeria wound up in Blue Bell products, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released reports from inspections it conducted from mid-March to early May at the company’s production facilities.

    Inspectors observed several problems, including inadequate cleaning and sanitizing procedures for equipment and food contact surfaces at the Brenham, Texas, plant, where condensate from equipment overhead was seen dripping directly into containers of ice cream.

    They also noted employees’ failure to thoroughly wash their hands at plants in Oklahoma and Alabama, where they also observed an employee’s apparently soiled shirt come into direct contact with the interior of a container that was being filled with ingredients for a batch of Bride’s Cake ice cream.

    As with salmonella and E. coli, pasteurization and cooking foods to the proper temperature kills listeria, but freezing doesn’t. So if food has been tainted with listeria (or another bacteria) before being frozen, the bacteria will survive, though they won’t increase in number. Once that food is defrosted, though, it’s subject to bacterial growth.

    But listeria is different from other bacteria in one important way: it can continue to grow at refrigerator temperatures and can multiply rapidly, spreading from one food to another. Listeria also can live for years on equipment in places food is prepared, including food processing plants, grocery stores, and delis.

    Q. What foods are most often contaminated with listeria?

    A. Ready-to-eat refrigerated foods, smoked seafood, pates, and meat spreads are a few of the high-risk foods. Deli meats and hot dogs can also be risky, unless they are cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. Blue-veined and other soft cheeses including feta, brie and Camembert, queso fresco, queso blanco, and Panela are potential sources, too. The risk is greatest if these cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk also have caused listeria infections, most likely due to contamination during the cheese-making process.

    Fresh produce also has been the source of listeria outbreaks. For example, raw bean sprouts were resposible for a 2014 listeria outbreak that killed two and sickened three people. (Sprouts require warm and humid growing conditions, which also are ideal for listeria growth, and rinsing sprouts doesn’t remove the bacteria.) In 2011, listeria-tainted whole cantaloupes from a single Colorado farm caused the deadliest U.S. foodborne disease outbreak in nearly 90 years, sickening 147 people in 28 states and killing 33. A federal investigation found unsanitary conditions at the farm’s processing facility, which was likely the reason the fruit was contaminated.

    Q. What are the odds of being infected with listeria, and how serious are the health risks?

    A. Listeria is responsible for about 1,600 cases of foodborne illness a year. That’s a lot less than other types of bacteria—for instance, salmonella sickens about 1 million people, and norovirus affects about 5 million. Yet listeria is the third-leading cause of death from foodborne illness, according to the CDC. The majority of people who get sick from listeria end up being hospitalized, and the bug kills one out of five people it infects. The Blue Bell outbreak, for example, caused 10 illnesses, three of which were fatal.

    Some groups of people should avoid high-risk foods because they are more likely to suffer from listeriosis and become severely ill. This includes people age 65 or older, who represent nearly 60 percent of cases. Also at higher risk are people of any age with weakened immune systems (including those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation) or conditions such as diabetes, alcoholism, and liver or kidney disease. In these groups, listeria often causes life-threatening bloodstream infections or meningitis.

    Pregnant women are about 10 times more likely than the general population to be infected. Though the women themselves may experience only flu-like symptoms, listeria infections during pregnancy can cause miscarriages, stillbirths or lethal illnesses in newborns.

    Hispanic pregnant women are about twice as likely as other pregnant women to get listeriosis. The CDC says this is probably because soft cheeses like queso fresco are a big part of their diets. Queso fresco caused an outbreak of listeriosis in California in 1985 that sickened 142 people, causing 20 miscarriages as well as killing 10 newborns and 18 adults. Most of the victims were pregnant Latinas or their infants.

    People who aren’t in any of these high-risk groups usually experience only mild gastrointestinal symptoms, or none at all, after eating listeria-contaminated foods, but some do suffer from the bug’s more severe health effects. For instance, among the 34 hospitalized victims of a 2014 outbreak linked to pre-packaged caramel apples sold at supermarkets in several states were three otherwise healthy children between the ages of five and 15 who developed meningitis.

    Consult our food safety and sustainbility guide for more information on protecting yourself from foodborne illness and the results of our tests on pork, shrimp, chicken, and turkey

    Q. What listeria symptoms would I have if I got food poisoning from eating contaminated food?

    A. People infected with listeria bacteria typically develop a fever along with muscle aches, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms, and headache. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, they may also experience additional symptoms such as a stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.

    Symptoms can appear within a few days of eating contaminated food. But they sometimes take up to two months to develop, which can make it difficult to identify the source of the infection. Doctors use blood or spinal fluid tests to diagnose listeriosis, and they treat it with antibiotics, often given intravenously.

    Q. What other types of food have been recalled recently due to contamination with listeria bacteria?

    A. A variety of foods were recalled this year because testing showed that listeria could be present, even though no illnesses had been linked to these products at the time they were recalled—nor has the CDC reported anyone being sickened by them to date. They include: Greystone Foods’ Today Harvest Field Peas with Snaps, Silver Queen Corn, and Broccoli Florets; Goodseed and Henry’s Farm branded sprouts; Hyvee Pasta salad; Jamba At-Home Smoothie Kits; Jeni’s Splendid frozen desserts; Rising Moon Organics Frozen Ravioli; Sabra Classic Hummus; Subway and Sun Rich packaged apple slices.

    Listeria contamination of a food used as an ingredient in other products can trigger multiple recalls. In March of this year, Coastal Green Vegetable Co.—a California supplier of organic spinach—announced a recall due to possible listeria contamination. A cascade of related recalls of frozen organic spinach quickly followed: Cadia Organic Cut Spinach, Wild Harvest Organic Cut Leaf Spinach and house brands sold by Meijer, and Wegmans. There also were recalls of other frozen products, such as La Terra Fina Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan Dip & Spread, and a variety of frozen meals from Amy’s Kitchen, including Amy’s Vegetable Lasagna and Amy’s Spinach Pizza. The companies said they had been informed by their organic spinach suppliers that they had received the potentially contaminated product, though they did not name the supplier. No illnesses were reported to date in relation to any of these recalls.

    Q. When companies recall listeria-contaminated foods, what do they do to make sure future products are safe?

    A. Identifying the source of the bacteria and eliminating it is essential and can require steps ranging from setting up new sanitizing systems in production facilities to establishing new listeria testing requirements.

    For example, Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream announced in late December 2014 that it was recalling all of its products produced during that year because they had been linked to two cases of listerosis. The company then shut down its plant for a month to fully sanitize it. It also implemented new safety programs that required bacterial testing results from all of its suppliers, as well as third-party testing of its production facility and of all batches of ice cream prior to shipping, which was able to resume in late January.

    When Blue Bell recalled all of its ice cream products in late April, it also halted production at its four plants to carry out an intensive cleaning program, which included major repairs and sanitizing equipment. But in a May 15 press release announcing layoffs at the company, Blue Bell said that the process of cleaning and improving its plants will take longer than anticipated. It also said it had no timeline for when it would begin producing ice cream again, and that when production does resume, it will be limited and phased in over time.

    Q. How can I make sure the food I eat is safe?

    A. While it’s largely up to food producers and retailers to make sure the foods you’re buying aren’t contaminated with listeria, taking the steps below will help cut your risks of infection:

    • Rinse raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water—using a clean vegetable brush scrub on those with thicker skins—before cutting or eating. That even applies to foods with inedible peels like cantaloupe, to avoid spreading bacteria from the outside of the fruit to the flesh when you peel or cut it.

    • Keep your fridge below 40° F (our experts recommend 37° F) and your freezer no higher than 0° F. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check those temperatures regularly. Even small increases in temperature cause any listeria bacteria present to multiply much more quickly, according to Ben Chapman, associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University. For example, 100 listeria cells (the term used for measuring the amount of bacteria present) in a food can grow into 1,000 cells in about eight days in a refrigerator set at 41° F. At 45° F, it would only take four days for 100 cells to become 1,000 cells.

    • Limit storage time for refrigerated foods, especially opened ready-to-eat foods like deli salads and cut produce. Eat deli-sliced meats, or packaged-luncheon meats that have been opened, within three to five days. Hot dogs, once their packaging is opened, should be used within a week.

    • Store leftovers no longer than 3 to 4 days in covered containers that are shallow to promote rapid, even cooling. Reheat them to 165° F and bring soups or sauces to a boil before eating.

    • Wash your hands before and after handling food. Clean up all food spills in the fridge immediately and thoroughly clean your fridge regularly to avoid spreading any of the bacteria from one food to another.

    Finally, even though the odds of getting listeriosis are low for most people, the health risks it poses are so serious that it’s worth keeping tabs on the latest listeria-related recalls on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. You can also sign up on the site to get safety alerts when recalls are announced—an especially good idea for anyone in high-risk groups.  

    —Andrea Rock

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

    0 0

    Netflix vs. Amazon Prime video streaming

    When you subscribe to one of the leading video-streaming services—Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix—you’re buying something of a pig in a poke. Both services display their movies and television shows on a cluttered buffet table of screens, making it difficult to get a good overview of their selections. And both keep the actual number of films available a closely guarded secret, making it even more difficult to judge which service has the greatest choice. But we did some digging to get the information you need to decide which service is best for you.

    —Jeff Blyskal (@JeffBlyskal on Twitter)

    Behind the numbers

    This review is based on an evaluation by the Consumer Reports Money team, using a 1-to-5 scale, where 1 is the lowest possible score and 5 is the highest. Individual scores are averaged within category, and the category scores are averaged to produce the overall score. The scores here are not Ratings

    Amazon Prime Netflix
    1 2

    It’s so difficult to browse for movies on Amazon and Netflix that we turned to InstantWatcher.com, a site plugged into the databases of both providers. We found that Amazon Prime offered more than 17,000 standard- and high-definition movies and TV series, significantly more than Netflix, which had more than 9,000 when we counted.

    But Netflix pulled ahead overall by offering more than 7,000 HD videos vs. just over 1,000 for Amazon Prime. Amazon claims that it has “tens of thousands” of titles, but it counts every TV show episode as a separate title; InstantWatcher.com counts all episodes in a TV series as one title, which we think is more accurate and honest.

    Amazon Prime Netflix
    5 2

    Netflix provides some popular original series, including “Marco Polo,” “House of Cards,” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Amazon Prime offers some original shows, too, along with editor recommendations.

    But because it’s part of a massive retailing operation, Amazon throws in free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases, as well as free music streaming of more than 1 million songs and free, unlimited photo storage.

    Amazon Prime Netflix
    2.5 5

    Our survey found Netflix considerably ahead. More devices were Netflix-ready; 88 percent of 130 Consumer Reports tested and recommended TVs, Blu-ray players, and stand-alone streaming devices (such as Roku and the Amazon Fire Stick) had its app installed. Amazon’s service was built into only 68 percent of those models.

    Consumers also seemed to find it easier to stream from Netflix. Its streaming comprised 35 percent of all peak-time U.S. and Canadian Internet traffic, according to Sandvine, a company that tracks such usage, vs. Amazon Instant Video’s 3 percent.

    Amazon Prime Netflix
    5 5

    The average Netflix user watches five TV shows and three movies per week, according to the firm GfK Research. If you paid $2 per show or movie à la carte, you would end up paying more than $800 over the course of a year. On our scoring scale, you get a deal with both streaming services: Netflix costs $108 per year (for a standard plan), and Amazon Prime is just a little less, $99 per year.

    Amazon Prime Netflix
    3.4 3.5

    If your primary interest is watching high-definition movies and TV series, Netflix should be your first choice. If you’d rather have greater choice but in standard definition, and you swoon at the thought of goodies such as free shipping, music downloads, and photo storage, Amazon Prime may be a better bet. But all things considered, the two are pretty equal

    Looking for a new TV? Read, "Are Netlfix-recommended TV's better than regular smart TVs?"

    This article also appeared in the May 2015 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Land Rover Discovery Sport proves less than royal

    The new Land Rover Discovery Sport is the latest member of the exclusive luxury compact SUV club, hoping to sit at the same table as the established Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK, and others. It should be a sure bet: small SUVs are hot, luxury brands are hot, and arguably no SUV brand has more snob-appeal than Land Rover.  

    Unlike the similar-sized Range Rover Evoque, with which the Discovery Sport shares most underpinnings and about the same footprint, the Disco looks like a small Range Rover rather than a pair of wrap-around sunglasses on wheels.

    Despite the upper-class pose, though, driving this car is like opening a jar of Macadamia nuts and finding Cheetos inside. Nothing wrong with Cheetos, but it’s not what we thought we were buying.

    The version we’re testing is a mid-trim Discovery Sport HSE. The base vehicle, which includes standard all-wheel drive, starts at $37,070. But when all was said and done, our car tipped the scales at $49,805 including shipping.

    That price is probably a couple thousand more than most people will pay because we bought an early “launch edition” and got saddled with a bunch of extras we wouldn’t have chosen voluntarily: black-painted trim bits ($900); aluminum-coloring for the paddle shifters, aluminum-trimmed door-sills, and other cosmetics ($980); and a special color, “Yulong White,” which looks like any other metallic white car paint but cost an additional $950.

    In the end, our nearly $50,000 brought the usual welcoming committee of premium-car comfort and convenience items, such as heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, push-button start, powered tailgate, surround-view camera, navigation, and a large color touch-screen infotainment system. We also got a big panoramic sunroof, although it’s fixed in place and doesn’t open.  

    Electronic crash-avoidance systems included lane-departure and forward-collision warning with autonomous braking. Oddly, though, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, a $1,900 option, was absent from our car.

    The single engine choice is a 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from Ford, channeling its power through a nine-speed automatic. The all-wheel drive, coupled with Land Rover's Terrain Response system, provides some off-road capability. It has selectable settings for sand, mud, and snow, but the Disco Sport lacks the low-range gearing that larger Rovers have.

    So what’s not to like? Let’s start with power delivery. The nine-speed transmission is neither smooth nor responsive. It tries to calculate which gear it’s supposed to be in, but too often guesses wrong. Combined with the engine’s turbo lag, thrust is unpredictable. It often feels flat-footed and unresponsive on the highway, but elsewhere, it can dredge up a burst of power you didn’t really want.

    Then there’s the fuel-saving start/stop feature that shuts off the engine at idle. Nothing wrong with saving fuel, but if the air conditioning shuts down with the engine, as it does here, we’ll pass. Once it decides it’s time to wake up, the engine can restart with such a bump you might think you’ve been rear-ended.

    The steering wheel is nice to grasp, but the steering itself feels disconnected, as if the column were linked to the drive wheels with ropes. Throw in fairly pronounced body lean in corners, and you get the impression this SUV just doesn’t like to be rushed.

    Neither are you apt to forget the stiff ride. On any but the freshest-laid blacktop, the chassis introduces every bump and pebble by its first name. One of our drivers commented that it felt as if the tires were filled with concrete.

    The cockpit affords a pretty good view out, at least to the front and sides. If the view straight back is not so great, it's a fault endemic to the small-SUV species. The steering wheel has generous adjustments for reach and rake, but it’s a manual system: Most $50,000 cars give you powered adjustments for the wheel. Thankfully, the cabin stays fairly quiet most of the time.

    Land Rover and its sister brand Jaguar have recently adopted a new touch-screen infotainment system controlled by a software package called InControl, which is a good deal better than the woefully slow-responding and complicated multiple-menu challenge of previous generations. Nevertheless, the InControl here, at least on short acquaintance, still seems pretty slow to respond to finger taps.

    Overall, we were expecting a lunch-sized portion of Beef Wellington, but the Discovery Sport experience is more like an undercooked serving of bangers and mash.

    Gordon Hard

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

older | 1 | .... | 304 | 305 | (Page 306) | 307 | 308 | .... | 384 | newer