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Microwave Oven Safety

Microwave ovens for home use took off in the early '70s and since have become an essential part of the American kitchen. Unfortunately, microwave-cooking technology was in its infancy then. Significant improvements in convenience and safety have been made in the last ten years.

A microwave oven uses radio waves which pass through matter causing friction and, in turn, heat. This can be compared to heat that is created by rapidly rubbing hands together.

If your microwave oven is more than fifteen years old it should be checked for output efficiency and radiation leakage. You can make a simple output test by placing an 8-ounce cup of water in the microwave and turning it on high for three minutes. By then the water should reach a rolling boil. If not, the unit should be checked out. This is a general test that is used for domestic ovens with an average of 600 to 1000 watts. Lower wattage units will require more time to reach a rolling boil.

Testing for radiation leakage is something that is best left to a professional appliance repair technician. Although there are do-it-yourself testing kits available in electronic stores, the instruments are not nearly as reliable as the equipment that a professional repair technician uses. It's all right to save a few bucks here and there when playing Mr. Fix-it with other household appliances, but under no circumstances should a do-it-yourselfer try to repair a microwave oven. In addition, repairs attempted by anyone other than an authorized service technician will usually void the warranty.

The leakage-testing device that the pros use is certified, has a serial number and has a calibration date. Also, the pro will investigate other aspects of operation to determine if a unit is safe, and whether it should be repaired or discarded. The investment of about $40 for a professional test is worth the peace of mind to know the device isn't a health hazard. The fee can be as little as $10 if you bring the appliance into an authorized service center.

There are a some tell-tale signs of an ailing microwave oven: A flashing LED display is a sure sign that the unit needs attention. Unusual noises during operation, poor heating and electrical arcing in the oven cavity are other conditions that signal the need for a service check.

Poor heating could be the result of an overworked electrical circuit. Operating a microwave on a circuit that is serving other appliances will not only diminish its effectiveness, but could ultimately result in an electrical fire. If the lights dim when the microwave is in use, an electrician should be consulted. When remodeling, a separate electrical circuit should be provided for the microwave oven.

Electrical arcing within the oven cavity often is the result of a dirty oven interior. Food particles left in the oven over long periods of time will eventually turn to carbon and cause arcing which in turn can etch the interior surface of the oven and even compromise the seal around the door. Always wipe up spills promptly and keep the interior of the oven and the area surrounding the door clean. To avoid messy explosions, puncture tomatoes, potatoes, apples and plastic bags containing food, among other things, before cooking.

Another cause for arcing is metal in the oven. Microwaves cannot penetrate metal. Do not place anything made partly or entirely of metal in a microwave oven. This includes pots and pans, metal handles on glass cookware, aluminum foil, meat thermometers and even wire ties.

One of the biggest problems with microwave ovens is hot and cold spots the result of uneven cooking. This deficiency is the rule, not the exception, in older models. The problem has been offset in part by turntable models that provide more even heating. The problem with a turntable version, however, is that it reduces the effective cooking area by about 40 percent. In contrast to the older units, modern units have a "stir system" which consists of a fan-like device called an "antenna" that causes energy to be more evenly distributed throughout the oven and results in more even heating.

Never use a microwave oven for anything other that what it was designed for cooking and heating. Using it to dry clothing or pets could yield devastating results. Also, never run the appliance when empty, and always be sure there is plenty of ventilation around the unit to avoid overheating that can cause serious damage.

When You're Not Home For The Holidays ...

November and December are traditionally busy months for travel, much because of holiday gatherings in faraway places. In addition, retirees find themselves seeking a warmer climate to ease their aching bones.

Whether leaving your home for a long Thanksgiving weekend or for an extended season of sunshine, there are steps that you can take that will minimize the risk of damage to your home when you're not there.

All those little hoses and lines -- in the kitchen, bathroom, or utility room -- that bring water to your sinks, toilet, and washing machine are potential floods in the rooms they serve. They spell disaster if you're out for the day -- and a catastrophe if you're gone for weeks or months.

Turn off the water supply valves to each water-fueled fixture in the home. This provides iron-clad flood insurance (at least for these items) for as long as you intend to be away, up to and including a year long around-the-world cruise.

Check the rubber hoses leading to your washing machine periodically and especially before leaving on a trip. If they feel brittle, it's time for replacement. Even when you're home, you should always keep these hoses fresh to prevent problems. You can reduce risk even further by upgrading hoses with an outer covering of braided stainless steel.

The same thinking goes for the small water leads to your kitchen and bathroom sinks and toilets. Over a period of time, these small lines (often only lightweight metals) can corrode due to natural electrolysis and may develop pinhole-size leaks that can wet down a room in minutes.

Obviously, these water leads need frequent inspection to spot potential problems -- and like their washing machine cousins, they too can be easily and inexpensively replaced or upgraded (again with stainless steel braid covered lines) for greater peace of mind.

--If it uses water, turn off the supply.

--If it uses electricity, unplug it.

--If it uses energy, turn it down, turn it up or turn it off.

--If it burns fuel, remove the ignition source.

--Turn down the furnace -- or turn up the air conditioner thermostat.

--Lower the water heater temperature setting.

--Turn off all washing machine water hoses and sink/toilet water leads.

--Unplug all electronics and appliances. Resetting clocks is easier than replacement or a possible malfunction that results in a fire.

What about having your home broken into while you are away? According to law enforcement statistics, more than 50 percent of all break-ins are simply crimes of opportunity. These are situations where intruders are virtually invited in by unlocked windows and doors.

Some homeowners often make things even more inviting by providing shrubbery to conceal actions.

A few simple guidelines can make your home as tight as the proverbial bug in a rug, affording you greater safety while you are home and when you're away:

Check all windows and door locks, upgrading where possible. Then use these simple protections.

--Add a heavy-duty security storm door to outside doors and toughen up sliding patio doors with pin-locks and crossbars to deter forced opening.

--Trim back any shrubbery and bushes near windows and doors that might provide cover for a burglar's work-in-process.

--Add outdoor security lighting with a motion detector on/off control.

--Add metal security bars over windows and doors in high-risk areas, such as basement windows. Make sure that these bars have quick-release safety latches for those inside.

--Never hide a house key in an obvious location. Even amateurs know most favorites, like under mats, in flower pots, and inside fake rocks.

--Close drapes and shades when you're out.

--Always watch for unusual activity and new faces near your home. Even first time burglars-in-training know it's better to hit an empty house than to break in and possibly contend with a gun-toting, professional wrestler-sized, teamster-tough, angered homeowner.

What do the thieves look for? First and foremost is a home that is dark, quiet, and appears to be unoccupied at the moment.

The best way to fool them is to make it look like you're home. Use the following tips to scare them off:

--Use timers in different rooms to turn lights on and off.

--Have others turn the TV or radio on and off at normal hours as well.

--Leave a car parked in the driveway.

--Have a friend or neighbor pick up mail and newspapers until you return. As an alternative, stop all mail and newspaper deliveries until you return.

--Never, ever change the message on your answering machine to proudly announce something like "The Wilson's are off to Hawaii. See ya'll in three weeks! Aloha!" You may as well be there to help crooks load their truck with your belongings.

--Arrange to have the lawn mowed. In winter, keep snow on front porches, sidewalks, and driveways shoveled.

In addition, consider the following before leaving on an extended trip:

--Hide all valuables in unlikely places, like the freezer or empty boxes and cans in kitchen cabinets.

--Make sure a neighbor has your itinerary and phone numbers to contact you in the event of an emergency.

The Many Uses of Baking Soda

Baking soda is one of the most versatile cleaning agents we know of. It is highly absorbent making it an excellent deodorizer. Best of all, it's non-toxic. As a matter of fact, if the thought of your next cleaning project gives you indigestion, half a teaspoon of baking soda stirred into a glass of water if you can stand the salty taste works as well as some over-the-counter drugs sold strictly for that purpose. Check with your doctor before using this remedy.

With all of the cleaners that are available on the market today it's hard to tell which one is best for what cleaning project. Some general purpose cleaners contain detergents and-or bleach, others use sodium carbonate and bleach, while others have an oxalic acid or muriatic acid base. The wide range of chemicals used in general purpose cleaners makes reading the label a must, not only to prevent damage to what's being cleaned, but for safety as well. (Some are poisonous and-or not biodegradable).

We suggest common household food products for cleaning because they are inexpensive, readily available, safe, and work as well or better than many off-the-shelf cleaners. In addition to baking soda, vinegar, salt, food-grade citric acid, juice from a fresh lemon, ice cubes, and mayonnaise, are food products that you can use for cleaning.

Vinegar and water is great for cleaning glazed tile and dark tile grout as well. Food-grade citric acid is super for dissolving mineral salt that builds up in water heater tanks. Lemon juice works well in cleaning oil and grease from plastic laminated counters; a 50-50 solution of salt and vinegar makes a terrific copper cleaner; ice cubes are the best first-step in getting wax crayon stains off kids clothing; mayonnaise and a nylon scrubbing pad work wonders on white-rings on wood furniture; and baking soda, which this week's column concentrates on, should be renamed "baking, deodorizing, fire-extinguishing and washing soda."

Baking soda will put out a grease fire, clean scorched food from cookware, absorb odors from the refrigerator, clean and deodorize drains, soften and deodorize laundry, and will also remove stains from porcelain, enamelware, glass, plastic, carpets and rugs.

Keep an open box of baking soda in a cabinet near your cooking area. You can't buy a less expensive grease-fire extinguisher.

For burned-on food, mix up a paste of baking soda and water. Actually, dry baking soda can be used in lieu of scouring cleanser and best of all, it's non-abrasive.

Coffee pot stained? Tomato sauce remnants left in a plastic storage container? A paste of baking soda and water will do the trick. Keep a box of baking soda in the refrigerator to reduce odors. Once a week pour a handful down the drain and rinse with hot water. Your drain will stay clean and smell fresh.

Price of fabric softeners got you down? Use half a cup of baking soda in the rinse cycle.

To remove stains from carpets and rugs follow this procedure: While the stain is wet, use baking soda to absorb the excess. Then, cover the stain that's left with another application of baking soda, let it sit overnight and vacuum it the next day.

KAREL’S KORNER: Posture and Core Strength

The stresses induced on our spines vary depending on our body position.  People are often surprised to learn that sitting actually places more stress on spinal structures than does standing.

A postural exercise program which includes special and partially emphasized isometric contractions can be a tremendous help.  Certain muscle groups such as the hip flexors, iliacus, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, quadratus lumborum and the deep spinal rotators, the multifidus, can be worked in a proper sequence to allow for neurological adaptation.  The body will than be most likely to seek a more neutral spine position when seated, thus, decreasing the amount of stress on the spine.

The simple awareness of spinal musculature will also help develop a deeper understanding of the importance of specific training.  Proper spinal stabilization and mobility training will allow the load to pass through the joints without causing a lot of shearing.  This type of stress over time can develop into Degenerative Joint Disease.

All of us, including myself, want to remain active in our later years.  Activity has a direct correlation to maintaining proper muscle mass.

For more fitness tips and to order a copy of my ‘Living Proof’ DVD, go to www.overthehillfitness.com.

Live long and prosper!