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Vacuum away indoor and outdoor allergens

Autumn leaves

Allergies tend to grab our attention when the seasons change and symptoms rear their ugly heads. In the fall, tree pollen tends to get the blame for our respiratory misery. Other common allergens like dust mites can cause trouble all year long. Regardless of whether your allergy symptoms are seasonal, regular and proper vacuuming should be part of your allergy prevention strategy.

We have one piece of advice allergy sufferers might love: If possible, somebody who doesn’t have allergies should do the vacuuming. But these tips will help cut down on the amount of allergens in your home no matter who is behind the vacuum.

Use an effective filter: HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters remove more than 99 percent of allergens with particles larger than .3 microns. They can be helpful in removing common allergens like dust mites and pollen. Micro-lined, two-ply vacuum cleaner bags will help prevent those dust particles from blowing back into the air.

Vacuum more than just the floor: Vacuum upholstered furniture, mattresses and drapes regularly. All can harbor allergens.

Don’t forget about the hard surfaces: Use a stick vacuum to remove pollen and dust mites that might have settled onto hard, non-carpeted surfaces.

Other appliances can help, too: Pollen comes out in the wash, and washing your clothes in hot water can remove dust mites. Your dehumidifier, air conditioner and room air cleaner can also help you get the upper hand on both outdoor and indoor allergens.

Storm preparation: How to keep frozen and refrigerated food safe

If you’re preparing for a major storm like Hurricane Irma, stocking up on enough food and water should be part of your plan. And it’s also essential to have a plan to keep your food safe to eat during and in the wake of the storm, especially if you lose power.

Eating food that hasn’t been stored properly can lead to a number of foodborne illnesses. Those can be serious under normal circumstances, but the potential lack of access to medical care during a severe storm makes avoiding illness even more important. Additionally, many foodborne illnesses can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. The condition can quickly become life threatening if you don’t have access to sufficient water.

Hurricane season lasts into November, and winter storms blow in soon after. Be prepared to keep your food safe during any serious storm with these important safety tips from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Use a thermometer: Monitor the temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer. Refrigerators should be kept at between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, freezers at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature in the freezer is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the food is safe to eat or refreeze. Any perishable foods that have been refrigerated and kept at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours should be thrown away. Hint: Look for a thermometer that sends the temperature directly to your mobile device or can be monitored remotely. Otherwise, don’t open the door to check the temperature until the power is back on.
  • Make and store ice: If your freezer can make ice, make as much as you can starting days before the storm is set to arrive. You can use the ice to help keep the food cool if you lose power, or use it in a cooler. You may also freeze containers of water. The ice will help keep food in the freezer cold, and you may also drink the water when it melts if your water supply is cut off. Tip: Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator cold for extended periods. Fifty pounds of dry ice keeps an 18-cubic-foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days, according to FDA.
  • Move food to the freezer: Leftovers, milk, fresh meat and other foods that can be frozen should be moved from the refrigerator to the freezer. They’ll last longer if the power goes out.
  • Keep coolers handy (and the ice to fill them): Food will stay safe in refrigerators for about four hours after a power outage. Move them to ice-filled coolers if the power is off or is expected to be off for longer.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed: Only open them when necessary when a power outage is a possibility, even if you haven’t lost power. This will help keep the temperatures in both down.
  • Keep the freezer full: A full freezer will keep food frozen for about 48 hours if it isn’t opened. That time is cut in half, to 24 hours, if the freezer is only half-full.

What to keep, what to toss

The CDC offers these tips to help you decide what is safe to eat and what should be discarded:

  • Any food that has come into contact with flood or storm water should be thrown away. This includes containers with screw caps, snap lids, crimped caps,twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods.
  • Throw away any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  • Thawed food that still contains ice crystals may be eaten or refrozen.
  • Throw away any canned foods that are bulging, opened or damaged. Cans that have come into contact with flood or storm water should be washed in a solution of 1 cup bleach and 5 gallons of water.
  • Never use potentially contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash your hands, wash or prepare food or prepare baby formula.

Never rely on a food’s smell or taste to determine whether it’s safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.

Appliances break down barriers to healthy eating

What’s the biggest barrier to healthier eating? Certainly, willpower and determination are factors. But according to Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian practicing in Virginia, the biggest challenge for many is planning.

“The biggest barrier to getting a healthier meal on the table is the

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thinking ahead,” Maples said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ll get to the end of the day and think ‘What is for dinner?’”

Whether you’re preparing fresh meals or storing them to eat later, your appliances can help you get on the path toward healthy eating. We recently spoke with Maples and another registered dietitian, Marina Chaparro of Nutrichicos in Miami—both spokespeople for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—to get their thoughts on the role appliances can play in healthy eating. Here’s what they had to say.

Think in advance: Dinnertime comes quickly, and you can anticipate those days when you’ll be short on time for planning by having go-to meals that can be prepared quickly. “You need to have at least three on hand that you can get on the table quickly,” Maples said.

Having healthy meals at the ready means you’ll need appropriate containers to make storage in your refrigerator or freezer easy and help control portion size. “Loading up on the right containers will help you have better habits,” Chaparro said. Containers that are divided into sections will make you put some thought into what you’re storing and eating. “It forces you to have three or four different foods with small portions. It’s great to take leftovers to work. It divides it nicely, so you’re forced to include different food groups.”

Blend in the goodness: A blender is a great tool for both adults and children who might not get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Chaparro has been pleasantly surprised by a recent small-size blender purchase, which she initially bought to puree fruits and vegetables for her 11-month-old daughter. “I love it, because it’s really small. You can use it to cook up some fast recipes like salsas or smoothies.”

If you’re using a standard blender, consider the size, Maples said. “That controls how much you put in. Don’t make too much or not enough.” Chia or flax seeds can add texture to a blended drink. “It can be as simple as some chocolate milk and a frozen banana,” Maples said.

Sometimes, texture can put family members off from eating certain vegetables. An immersion blender can help. “My favorite small appliance is an immersion blender,” Maples said. “I would use an immersion blender to smooth out the texture. I can add more vegetables and don’t have to be limited to a jar of sauce.” The immersion blender can also add a richer texture to cream-based dishes, but allow you to still take advantage of alternative ingredients, like low-fat milk. “One of my kids liked stew a lot, and that’s where my immersion blender came in. I could throw in extra vegetables.”

Tastier veggies: Vegetables can sometimes be tough to sell for picky eaters. Your oven can make them tastier. “Many people may not know how to make vegetables flavorful,” Chaparro said. “If you use the oven—roasting or baking at 400 degrees for short periods of time—it caramelizes.” Add olive oil and fresh herbs for more flavor. “I find that people who don’t traditionally like vegetables will eat vegetables if they’re roasted. It’s just a different flavor dimension and brings out some of the sweetness in the vegetables.” Maples encourages people who don’t want to take the time to chop the vegetables to buy a food processor for easier vegetable prep.

Try an air fryer: While she doesn’t currently own one, Chaparro said she’s interested in giving an air fryer a try. “It cooks food by using really hot air and leaves it crispy on the outside,” she said. “Some people like their chicken nuggets or french fries. You still get a comparable texture.”

Don’t forget the freezer: Use your freezer to preserve portions for quick meal and ingredient options later. “When my bananas are getting overly ripe, I’ll peel them and freeze them,” Maples said. “They’re great in a smoothie, or I can make banana bread.” She uses an ice tray to freeze fresh herbs in water. “You can pop them out and put them in a freezer bag.”

Keeping a healthy kitchen

Organization and preparation are essential to healthy eating, Chaparro said. “We might just think it’s about food and choosing healthy things, but it’s about creating that environment. Put the healthy things at eye level, especially the fresh fruits and veggies.” Make sure you have the right prep tools as well. Chaparro has her favorites, including a mandolin slicer that she uses to make zucchini, sweet potato chips and beet chips, and a noodle slicer, which she uses to substitute vegetables for traditional pastas.

Keeping healthy options in sight and within reach can even encourage family members to drink enough water, Maples said. That’s why she’s a fan of refrigerator water dispensers. “It makes it accessible,” she said. “If you have ice and there, it’s great and cheaper than using bottled water.” (Note: Make sure you’re changing the filter regularly, and that the replacement is not counterfeit!)

If you’re hungry after reading all of this, try this citrus and herb poached salmon recipe from recipe developer and “real foods advocate” Alyssa Brantley at EverydayMaven, who says her essential appliances for a healthy kitchen are a “good food processor, a good blender and either a slow cooker or electric pressure cooker.”

AHAM will dive deeper into the connection between healthy eating and appliances during our June 29 #AHAMHealth Twitter chat. Join appliance manufacturers, nutrition professionals and others from 2-3 p.m. and tweet using the hashtag #AHAMHealth. See you there!

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.