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Food waste disposers: A better choice for your scraps

While nobody ever wants to waste food, it’s inevitable that you’ll sometimes have a few scraps left over. So, what’s wrong with tossing them in the trash?

Think about what happens when you throw away trash. It could sit in a bag on your property and act as a tasty treat for critters. After that, it most likely gets trucked to a municipal waste area and dropped into a landfill. It still doesn’t go away. Food waste, according to the EPA, makes up more than 20 percent of trash sent to landfills and incinerators. As it breaks down in landfills, that food waste emits methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

Instead of throwing those scraps in the trash, put them down a food waste disposer. Food ground up and shredded by a food waste disposer ends up either at a wastewater treatment facility or your home’s septic system. Treatment plants with the capability can convert the methane gas into renewable energy, and the solid waste into fertilizer.

Cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Milwaukee and Tacoma, Wash. that have tracked the results of food waste disposer use in certain neighborhoods have reported reductions in food waste anywhere from 1.4 pounds to more than 4 pounds per household, per week. That also makes neighborhoods cleaner and can cut down on problems with rodents and other pests,

Now that you know some of the benefits, here’s some advice, courtesy of leading food waste disposer manufacturer InSinkErator, on how to best use your disposer:

Hold the shells: Food waste disposers have no taste for shellfish—not their shells, anyway. Never put clam shells, oyster shells, lobster shells or crab shells down a disposer.

Skip the fat: Never pour grease or fat down a food waste disposer or drain. You’ll risk clogging the pipes.

Use cold water: Always run cold water when you use your disposer. This allows the food residue to follow easily down the drain. Leave it on for 10-15 seconds after the waste is ground to ensure the best dispersal.  

Feed it in moderation: Food waste disposers are capable of handling most food waste, even chicken bones, celery and potato peels. However, you should avoid putting large amounts of food into the disposer at one time.

Keep it clean: Cleaning a disposer is easy. Try grinding several ice cubes, which will scour the grind chamber and shredder ring, and adding a quartered lemon to cover any odors.

Room air cleaners: Your ally against allergens

The spring and summer weather is always a welcome change. The allergies that come with the warmer temperatures, not so much. Depending on where you live, you might be dealing with any of a number of types of pollen, road dust or other allergies. The coughing and sniffles will put the brakes on even the most intense case of spring fever.

You might not be able to get rid of allergies completely, but a room air cleaner can help reduce certain allergens from the air in your home. Room air cleaners certified through AHAM’s certification program will display a label listing the room air cleaner’s efficiency in reducing three common household particulates from the air: tobacco smoke, dust and pollen. The numbers displayed on the label are known as the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR). The higher the CADR rate for each of the three particulates, the faster the air cleaner filters the air.

How it works: AHAM certified room air cleaners are tested in independent labs and exposed to specific quantities of smoke (the smallest particulate), Arizona road dust (which has fine particles that will eventually settle) and paper mulberry pollen (chosen for its similarity in size to common allergy-triggering pollens).  Before the air cleaner is activated, the amount of contaminants in the room is measured.   The air cleaners are then run for a specific period, and the amount of particles that have been removed from the air are measured. Testers take into account the amount that is likely to have settled on the floor of the walls of the room (known as the “natural rate of decay”).

Based on the results, testers are able to determine how effective the room air cleaner will be in cleaning a room of a certain size.

What it means for you: Before you shop, know the size of the room or rooms where the room air cleaner will primarily be used. Shop carefully for one that’s appropriate for that room size.  We recommend following the “two-thirds” rule when it comes to the first rating: Choose a unit with a tobacco smoke CADR at least 2/3 your room’s area.”

Like some vacuums, many air cleaners use HEPA filters to remove allergens from the air. It’s important to change the air cleaner’s filter regularly. The air cleaner’s use and care manual will recommend how often the filter needs to be changed, but it also may depend on the air quality where you live. A dusty environment may require you to change the filter more frequently. However, the filter may last longer if the room air cleaner is being operated in an area relatively free of smoke and other pollutants.

The room air cleaner isn’t the only appliance that can help you kick allergies this spring. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, air conditioners, dehumidifiers and washing machines can be valuable allies as well.

History comes clean: Laundry through the centuries

More than three decades ago and fresh off retiring from his career teaching electrical engineering, Lee Maxwell and his wife climbed into their new motor home and headed east toward Maine for a vacation. Halfway through Iowa, they decided to stop for lunch and came across a farm auction. An antique washing machine was up for bid. Maxwell, now 87, raised his hand and made the purchase that would chart his course for the next 30 years.

Maxwell and his wife returned from that first trip with 13 washing machines, an interest Maxwell attributes to a “mechanical fascination” with the appliances. He began scouring antique shops and auctions for more models and added a trailer to his motor home to transport his haul. His collection has since grown to more than 1,400, which Maxwell displays at Lee Maxwell’s Washing Machine Museum in Eaton, Colorado.

“They turned out to be quite odd things, and something you’d hardly ever see, even though there were plenty around,” Maxwell said during a recent phone interview. “I’d bring them home and tear them apart, clean them up and put them back together. It started in my garage. It moved to the barn and now, over the years, I’ve had to build buildings for the darn things.”

The oddball museum has become a regular stop for tour buses and people looking for a tour of Maxwell’s collection, which he books by appointment only.

After decades of collecting, it is only natural that Maxwell would become a historian both of the machines themselves and of society’s laundry habits. He has even written a book on washing machine history, “Save Women’s Lives: History of Washing Machines.”

“I’ve collected old advertisements and patents,” Maxwell said. “I’ve downloaded 23,000 patents for washing machines, dating from the 1700s to about 1960.”

Most of us are used to simply dropping the clothes in the washer, turning it on, and returning when the cycle finished. You might not even recognize many of the items as a “washer,” like the washing bat, which Maxwell says is still the most common “washing machine” in use in the world today.

Then there was the dolly stomp. “You stomp up and down on those pegs, wrap the clothes around them and drag them back and forth through the water,” Maxwell says. “They started clear back when clothes were invented and were very common tools up until the 1920s. In Europe, they were used later than that.”

There’s a chance you might recognize the “vacuum stomp,” which can still be purchased new today. They were typically used for smaller loads.

At one point in the 1800s, Maxwell says, more than a thousand companies in North America made washing machines. That’s also about the time electric machines started showing up, but customers had to purchase the electric motor separately and attach it to a manually operated machine. Around 1907, The Nineteen Hundred Corporation began shipping a machine with a motor already attached.

“That’s a historic moment in washing machine development,” Maxwell says. “Prior to that, machines were mostly hand-operated. You had some animal and water-powered machines prior to that. But this was the first time the company thought to make it a little easier to do the wash. The company, Nineteen Hundred, changed its name around 1951 to a name you probably recognize: Whirlpool.

Laundry has changed over time as well. Clothes are a lot cleaner than they used to be, and laundry—once an occasional community event in some places—is done more frequently.

“I can remember my grandfather wearing his overalls until they literally stood up,” Maxwell says. “Washing was washing. Today, we don’t really ‘wash,’ we kind of refresh. Your shirt doesn’t get that dirty.”

Laundry appliances have also changed how homes are designed. “Old houses never had a room dedicated for washing machines,” Maxwell says. “The washing was done outside, on the back porch, or more recently in the basement. It was only with the advent of the automatic washing machine, right after World War II, that folks started thinking about incorporating the washing machine into part of the kitchen, or another part of the house.”

These days, Maxwell’s mission is to preserve his collection and the museum’s legacy. “Someday, I’m going to find a home for these 1,400 washing machines,” he says. “My collection is the only comprehensive collection of washing machines there is. I need to find a home for it.”

Sous vide cooking raises its profile

Over the past few years, appliance manufacturers have made sous vide cooking, once the exclusive domain of high-end restaurants, available to anyone who wants to add the unique technique to their cooking repertoire. Sous vide involves sealing food in a plastic bag and cooking it in heated water. This allows the food to be cooked at a constant, precise temperature.

While sous vide is beloved among steak aficionados for its ability to produce precisely cooked cuts, it can be used on all types of foods, including other meats, vegetables, seafood, eggs and desserts.

We caught up with Derek Gaughan, who runs the product-review and recipe website Sous Vide Guy, for a talk on the growth in sous vide cooking, its benefits and how home cooks can get started.

“The process has been around for quite a long time, but for the longest time it was expensive to create and use,” Gaughan said. “Since about 2012, competition has been increasing, with more manufacturers coming out with products, prices going down, and features increasing.”

These days, sous vide cooking at home is most likely to involve one of two appliances: an immersion circulator that keeps water at a precise temperature, or an all-in-one sous vide machine that holds both the water and the food.

“The all-in-one machines take up a little more space, but you have everything you need,” Gaughan said. “The immersion circulators can fit right in a drawer.” However, you’ll also need a container for the water if you opt to use an immersion circulator. Gaughan recommends polycarbonate containers. When choosing a container, keep the size of the meals you’ll be preparing in mind.

Food is cooked in a sealed plastic bag, which allows it to hold on to its natural juices and flavor. While many opt to add a vacuum sealer to their sous vide toolbox, Gaughan says a heavy-duty sealable freezer bag will do the trick.

So what’s a good food to start with for those looking to dive into the sous vide pool? “You have to start with steak,” Gaughan said. “When you cut into the steak, it’s the same color throughout. My particular favorite is tri-tip. It’s usually cheaper per pound because it’s a tougher cut, but sous vide makes it more tender.”

The rise in popularity of sous vide has given way to new appliance features, including Bluetooth connectivity. “You can start cooking, turn on the device and monitor the temperature from your phone, look up recipes, or instantly set the temperature according to the recipe,” Gaughan said. “Some people fill their water bath full of ice in the morning, then turn their device on through WiFi when they’re about to leave work.” Other sous vide devices are now integrating voice controls, Gaughan said.

What’s the best way to get started? “Grab a cookbook,” Gaughan said. “When you first get a sous vide device, it’s odd, because you’ve never cooked something by just placing it in water. Read up on it before you do it. Read about the pasteurization temperatures. It’s a lot easier than you think.”

The Sous Vide Guy’s recipe for corned beef is a great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Have you tried sous vide cooking? Let us know your favorite dishes to prepare.

Counterfeit water filters: Your health and property on the line

Not all replacement refrigerator water filters are created equal, even those that may appear from the outside to be exactly alike. Unfortunately, many counterfeit and deceptively labeled water filters manage to find their way into the U.S. It’s a stretch at best to call these knock-offs “filters,” and the tests show it. If you’re wondering what’s inside the phony filters, it varies. Some contain no more than shredded newspaper.

 

As part of AHAM’s Filter It Out campaign, experts conducted tests of legitimate replacement water filters versus a counterfeit. This photo hows the results of the testing, which was performed by NSF International.

Why it matters: The blue dye present in the water after it was run through the counterfeit filter represents the contaminants that would have made it into your body had the counterfeit been installed in your refrigerator. Those could have included lead, mercury, herbicides, pesticides, asbestos and pharmaceuticals. As if the risks to your health weren’t enough to worry about, the filter, since it wasn’t designed to fit your refrigerator, could also cause leaks, which can lead to serious and expensive property damage.

The good news is that since many of the counterfeits are sold online by independent sellers, you can reduce the likelihood a counterfeit water filter will end up in your refrigerator by purchasing your replacements from reputable sources. And remember to replace your filter every six months with a model from a manufacturer who will stand behind its products.

A spring cleaning appliance checklist

It’s tough to imagine tackling the various spring cleaning projects around your home without essential cleaning appliances like vacuums, washers and dryers. In fact, some of your appliances are so essential to keeping your home clean that it’s easy to forget that cleaning your appliances should also be part of the annual springtime ritual of scrubbing, polishing and purging. These regular maintenance steps are also essential for keeping your appliances in top shape. Here’s a quick checklist of spring cleaning tasks that will keep your home sparkling and your appliances in top shape:

  • Refrigerator coils: The dust, dirt and debris that builds up on your refrigerator coils can make the appliance use more energy to keep what’s inside cool. A coil brush and vacuum will help you with the coil cleaning and removing other dirt that has accumulated behind or under your refrigerator.
  • Clothes dryer: Your interior venting system, or the material that leads from your dryer to your dryer vent, should be cleaned once a year by a qualified service technician. Blockages can lead to longer drying times. Also, check behind your dryer and remove any trapped lint and debris, and remove lint from in and around the drum.
  • Oven and range: Spills and built-up residue can hinder your oven’s performance and affect the flavor of the foods you cook. Refer to your oven’s use and care manual for specific cleaning instructions, but warm soap and water or vinegar and water are unlikely to damage any finish.
  • Vacuum: Replace bags and filters and check your vacuum’s use and care manual for guidance on belt replacement.
  • Water filter: Replace your refrigerator water filter every six months, or on the schedule recommended by your refrigerator’s use and care manual. It’s extremely important to purchase replacements only from reputable sources to reduce the chances you’ll end up with a counterfeit model.
  • Indoor air: April showers may bring May flowers, but with those flowers, buds and blossoms come less welcome allergies. The EPA estimates that indoor air may contain double to five times as many pollutants as the air outside. Room air cleaners, vacuums and washing bedding in hot water can help you fight the main indoor allergens: pollen, mold and mildew, animal dander and tobacco smoke.