Once a month or so I try to answer questions sent to my "Ask Elisabeth" mailbox. As always, I appreciate all who wrote in, and I've chosen to answer the questions that have the most universal appeal. ~EL
Q: A grasshopper was in the bagged spinach and carrot mix after cooking and serving. My 13-year-old grandaughter bit into this and was hysterical and actually was turning blue from fright. This package advertised it was thoroughly washed. It is getting so that nothing is safe. Is there anything that can be done to prevent this from happening to others?
~PS: Glen Mills, PA
A: Unfortunately, studies have shown you can't necessarily trust that pre-bagged produce will be clean -even if it's advertised as washed. I recommend giving it another rinse yourself. If that takes all the convenience out of it for you, then you might want to go back to buying fresh lettuce etc., which is cheaper anyway!
Q: In early 2005 I procrastinated and wound up not filing my IRS return for 2004. The same was going to happen for 2005, but I got an extension. I have most of the materials to give to my accountant to do the 2005 return. IRS just sent
a letter asking about my failure to file for 2004. Should I contact IRS myself
regarding 2004 or let the accountant handle both years, seeing as he will probably get 2005 done before 2004? Also, what kind of penalties can I expect for 2004?
~AD: Palm Bay, FL
A: You're playing with fire, my friend. You never, ever want to do anything that attracts the IRS's attention! That's one way to get yourself audited. And when you're audited, you have to pay for accountants and attorneys to defend you -even if you're innocent! So, please, since you have a procrastination problem, hire the accountant to file for both years. I don't know what your penalties would be, but I bet the accountant's fee is less!
Q: Recently our air conditioning unit broke down. Temperatures in our home reached 90-95 degrees for 6 days. We are concerned about whether or not our canned foods are edible. We do not want to become ill from eating canned foods that have gone bad because of the high temperatures.
~GB: Sterling, VA
A: Here's what the US Department of Agriculture has to say about safe canned food storage:
"Store canned foods and other shelf stable products in a cool, dry place. Never put them above the stove, under the sink, in a damp garage or basement, or any place exposed to high or low temperature extremes. Store high acid foods such as tomatoes and other fruit up to 18 months; low acid foods such as meat and vegetables, 2 to 5 years.
Canned meat and poultry will keep at best quality 2 to 5 years if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, dry place. While extremely rare, a toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum is the worst danger in canned goods. NEVER USE food from containers that show possible "botulism" warnings: leaking, bulging, or badly dented cans; cracked jars or jars with loose or bulging lids; canned food with a foul odor; or any container that spurts liquid when opening. DON'T TASTE SUCH FOOD! Even a minuscule amount of botulinum toxin can be deadly."
Q: Last year I called a roofing company. My mother used this company for years with no problem. They replaced my roof over my home. Since they were here, I decided to replace the roof over my porch also. Now the roof over my porch is leaking from the air conditioner onto my front porch. I called them numerous times. They left messages on my answering machine that they were here, but the roof is still leaking. I have a 10-year guarantee for both roofs,but they have not done anything to correct this problem. What can I do?
A: I hope these are licensed contractors that you hired. Knowing your mother used the company for years is a great start, but you need to check the company's license and complaint record before you sign up for major work like this. Now that it's done, you still need to find out if the company is licensed. If so, file a complaint with the government agency that issues the license. If the company is not licensed, file complaints with your local BBB, and county and state consumer protection offices. Send a certified copy of each complaint letter to the company so they know you're serious and often that is enough to get them to fix the problem.
We like to travel and have a Delta Skymiles AMEX, on which we pay the full balance each month. But some places don't accept AMEX. What VISA card would you recommend?
~EW: Sevierville, TN
I'm a fellow traveler, so I applaud your efforts to get the most mileage (literally!) out of your credit cards. As a journalist, I can't recommend individual companies' products. But I can tell you that there ARE Visa cards out there with just as many perks and pluses as Amex cards. That was not always the case, but in the last couple of years both Visa and Mastercard have really enhanced their programs to compete. When you're shopping around, look for a card that awards you points you can use on MULTIPLE different airlines. Some even have NO blackout dates! Also be on the look out for a card company that will let you buy miles for a small fee or will advance you the miles if you don't have quite enough for a trip you want to take. Bon Voyage!
I purchased a stove recently. I also ordered accessories with it. When the stove was delivered, I found that the accessories did not fit. Two weeks later a factory rep came to the house and informed us that they did not make the accessories
for the stove we ordered. We then asked the retailer to exchange the stove for one that would use the accessories we ordered. The retailer told us that we used the stove so they would not exchange it. If we had been told that the accessories would not fit the stove we ordered we would have ordered the other stove. If you can not help with this problem could you direct me to someone who can?
~AS: Glenside, PA
A: The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers mediates disputes about appliances. www.aham.org or 202-872-5955. If it turns out that your dispute is with the local store that sold you the stove, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and your county and state consumer protection offices. Again, make sure the company knows you are taking this step. Hopefully they will respond by solving your problem to protect their reputation.
My niece purchased sunglasses not even a week ago. The next day the color was starting to fade. She went back to where she purchased them and complained about what happened and requested a refund. The clerk said "we can't not offer a refund because they are not in the original condition". So I went there and I requested a refund, but the store manager said it was a "factory defect" so no refund. I'm more concerned about justice. If you have any ideas, please advise me.
~DC: Los Angeles, CA
A: Guess what? The sunglass store is breaking the law! Even if the product you buy doesn't come with a written warranty, you are still covered by some unwritten warranties guaranteed by the federal government. The first is called an "implied warranty of merchantability" which basically means that a product must do what it's supposed to do. In other words, a blender must blend and a car must drive and sunglasses must block out the sun. If the item you buy turns out to be defective, even if the seller has a "no returns" policy, you may be able to return it anyway. There's also an unwritten warranty called a "warranty of fitness for a particular purpose," like when a salesperson says a sleeping bag is suitable for zero degree weather. These unwritten warranties apply unless the product is marked "as is" when you buy it.