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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

The 'Teeth' of FDA's Food Safety Law

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law by President Obama in January, has been called “historic” because it puts the focus of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on prevention—working to ensure that unsafe foods are not distributed in the first place. 

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg says the law directs the agency to oversee food safety in a way that applies “the best available science and good common sense to prevent the problems that can make people sick.” 

What lends the new law additional importance is that it provides FDA with new enforcement and inspection authorities. 

“These new authorities are critical for the law’s success,” says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. “They give the food companies strong additional incentives for keeping their products safe, and that helps us achieve the new law’s goal, which is to protect consumers from unsafe food.” 

Foodborne outbreaks are a significant public health burden that increases the cost of the nation’s health care and, as Taylor has emphasized, many of them can be prevented. And keeping foodborne outbreaks from happening in the first place is what FDA intends to do by implementing the following key provisions:
 
Preventive Measures
• Expanded administrative detention:
The law gives FDA more authority to prevent the release into the marketplace of adulterated or misbranded food, including potentially harmful food.

Food adulteration can be caused by many factors, including bacterial or chemical contamination, filth or decomposition, the presence of an unsafe food additive, being prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions, and leaving valuable materials out of the product or substituting other, inferior materials.

Misbranding food can be caused by ways that include not declaring certain ingredients or major food allergens, and not complying with nutrition information content on labeling.

This tool allows FDA to effectively remove the food from distribution channels while the agency pursues legal or other enforcement actions. 

• Records inspection: The law expands FDA’s authority to gain access to records about potentially hazardous foods. In addition to examining the records tied to a particular food that could pose a health hazard, the agency can now inspect records related to any other food it believes is likely to be affected in a similar manner. 

• Authority to deny entry: Under FSMA, if a food producer in another country does not permit FDA to inspect its facility, FDA can refuse to allow food from that facility into the United States. 

Enforcement Measures 

The new law also strengthens FDA’s enforcement tools in the event that potentially unsafe food has already entered the marketplace. 

• Suspension of registration: The law authorizes FDA to suspend the registration of a facility under certain circumstances if the food it manufactured, processed, packed, received or held presents a serious health hazard. A facility with a suspended registration will not be able to legally offer food for sale in the United States until FDA lifts the suspension. 

• Mandatory recall: Before FSMA, FDA had to rely on a firm’s voluntary decision to remove food from the marketplace that could be hazardous to humans or animals. Under the new law, the agency can order a recall if the company does not cease distribution itself and recall its product. If there is reason to believe that the food is adulterated or misbranded and that use of the product could result in serious illness or death, FDA can order that distribution be halted and all implicated products recalled. Additionally, FDA has launched a new search engine where consumers can quickly and easily check on new and recent recalls.
FDA is also directed by the law to upgrade its ability to track both domestic and imported foods. To do this, FDA will establish pilot projects to test how to rapidly identify recipients of food—this is critical information FDA needs to rapidly find the source of a foodborne outbreak and to understand its scope. 

“Product tracing doesn't prevent an outbreak, as it’s more about response,” says Bill Correll at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “However, it can prevent further illnesses during an outbreak when FDA can determine the source, contain further exposure and get the product recalled and out of distribution and consumer households.” 

For more information visit www.fda.gov.
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8 Plumbing Tips to Prepare Your Home for the Dog Days of Summer

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

You probably noticed an increase in your water bill this month. During peak water use, usually in late July or early August, the average American uses about four times as much water than they do the rest of the year. From taking more frequent showers to watering the lawn to even washing additional loads of laundry—it all adds up. "Aside from watering your lawn later in the day, there are many other summer water-saving tips that many people don't think about," Minneapolis Roto-Rooter general manager John Senescall says. 

Fortunately, the plumbing experts at Roto-Rooter recommend a list of plumbing precautions to save your wallet from the summer heat, while saving energy and staying within the family budget. 

1. Check the temperature setting on your water heater. It should be set no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding and reduce energy use. Summer is a good time to turn the temperature down, especially when away on vacation.
2. Replacing an old shower head can save up to 7.5 gallons of water per minute without sacrificing water pressure. To clean mineral deposits from the showerhead, unscrew it, soak it in vinegar overnight and then gently scrub with a toothbrush to remove deposits.
3. Check washing machine hoses for rupture. Turn valves on and off to check for leaks.
4. Make sure that yard drains, gutters and downspouts are cleaned out, open and free of debris.
5. Check outdoor faucets and hose bibs to make sure water flows freely.
6. Beware of standing water. Excess water can result from leaky or broken pipes or a damaged sewer line. Standing water is not healthy for children or pets, and is a breeding ground for insects and germs. Inspect the yard for areas that are too wet and with unusual plant or grass growth.
7. Conserve water. Water your lawn before sun up or after sun down to reduce usage.
8. In humid weather, ductwork may sweat and cause condensation. This can cause a backup if the drains are not clear. If you have an attic installation, be sure to check for water in the drain pan, which could potentially ruin your ceiling.

For more information visit www.rotorooter.com.
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Word of the Day

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

Downpayment. Initial cash investment made as evidence of good faith when purchasing real estate. It is usually a percentage of the sale price.
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Question of the Day

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

Q: Can I refinance a home loan more than once?

A: You most certainly can. During the most recent refinancing boom, for example, many homeowners refinanced their home loans two or three times within relatively short periods of time because interest rates kept treading downward, making it extremely attractive to trade in one loan for another.

Just remember that refinancing is basically like applying for a mortgage all over again. Each time you refinance, you will still have to go through the application process, get a home appraisal, and likely incur closing costs. Also, if you have a pre-payment penalty clause in your present mortgage, you will have to pay that penalty if you refinance. So be certain that it is actually worth it for you to refinance.
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The Low-Down on Credit Insurance

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

I recently came across some great advice from Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler regarding costly and unneeded insurance being marketed to consumers who are borrowing money or making a purchase on credit. According to Gansler, this ”credit insurance” is notorious for being one of the most overpriced insurance products.

Credit insurance may be sold under the pretense of being mandatory, but rarely is. For instance, in Maryland and other states lenders cannot require the purchase of most types of credit insurance.

Lenders may require credit property insurance on loans secured by a piece of property, or a destructible possession, but a consumer is allowed to choose the insurance company.

There are three types of credit insurance:

1. Credit Life Insurance, which pays off an outstanding loan if a consumer dies;
2. Credit Disability Insurance, which makes payments on a loan if a consumer is disabled; and
3. Credit Involuntary Unemployment Benefit Insurance, which makes payments on a loan if a consumer is involuntarily unemployed.

If consumers wish to purchase insurance, Gansler says they should consider a few alternatives, including checking to see if their current homeowner’s or life insurance policy provides adequate coverage.

As with other forms of insurance, it is important for the consumer to check the policy closely before agreeing to its terms. Some good questions to ask include the length of any waiting period, limitations, cancellation terms, coverage length, financing and comparability to other similar policies.

U.S. Dept. of the Treasury reports that the cost of the Credit Life Insurance is often added to the principal amount of a loan. And lenders must disclose the terms and costs of obtaining the insurance since it can affect the terms of the loan.

Some policies may also combine Credit Life and Credit Disability (also called accident and health insurance) into one policy—and may contain provisions for cancellation of the policy. A bank cannot force you to buy credit insurance, but once you sign up for credit insurance on your loan, the cost of your coverage becomes part of your contract with the bank.

Then there is private mortgage insurance or PMI. If the borrower stops paying the loan, PMI is a policy that protects the lender by paying the costs of foreclosing on a house.

PMI usually is required if the down payment is less than 20 percent of the sale price, and while PMI protects the lender, it is typically paid monthly by you, the borrower.
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Water Damage 101

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

2011 is shaping up as a year of record severe weather events, with storms and flooding occurring across the country. Property owners faced with water damage often find themselves with a major water restoration job on their hands, but it can be made even worse if they are not aware of the kind of water they are dealing with. WaterDamageLocal.com has identified three different types of water that should be identified before any water clean up procedures begin.

Water damage may be the result of weather, flooding, or mechanical failures such as burst pipes or sewage backflow. Whenever it occurs, the primary response should be to shut the water off at the source. This not only prevents any more water from coming in, but it also allows the property owner to determine exactly what kind of water they are dealing with. 

The categories of water are as follows:
Category 1 Water – Often referred to as Clean Water, this self-explanatory category consists of water that is clean at the source and contains no contaminants or other harmful materials. This may be from overflowing tubs or sinks, water supply lines, or appliance malfunctions. This water is safe to work with, although it should be noted that clean water may in fact become contaminated if left standing for too long, or if it comes into contact with contaminated materials. 

Category 2 Water – Often referred to as Grey Water, this is water that may contain some harmful elements. If ingested by humans or animals, it could cause some health problems. This could come from toilet bowls with urine, sump pump failures, or water discharge from dishwashers or washing machines. 

Category 3 Water – Often referred to as Black Water, if you haven't already guessed, this is the gross stuff—water that is highly contaminated at the source, containing sewage, bacteria, chemicals, or fungi that can be harmful, even fatal, if ingested by humans. Examples include sewage, toilet backflows from beyond the trap, and all flooding from seawater, surface waters, rivers, streams, etc. Black water should be solely treated by a qualified water restoration professional. 

Water restoration methods may vary depending on the type of water involved. Many smaller leaks or spills involving Clean Water may be successfully remediated by the property owner, while spills involving Grey or Black may require professional treatment. 

Also, the given state may not remain static. Clean Water may become Grey and Grey Water may become Black if not treated promptly. Typically, there is a window of about 72 hours before categorical shifts occur.
Black Water should always be treated by a licensed, IICRC certified water damage restoration professional. Due to the amount of viruses and bacteria found in such water, as well as the fact that dangerous black or toxic mold may develop within 48 hours, the health risks are simply too great for the average homeowner. 

For more information, visit www.WaterDamageLocal.com.
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4 Ways to Dominate at a Foreclosure Auction

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

Property investors are beating bushes and shaking trees to ferret out the best deals, according to, Jason Hartman, CEO of Open Door Auctions. Hartman is offering consumers four solid ways to score that prime property at a foreclosure auction. 

First, Hartman advises taking a look at the numbers. Buying properties at auction is hot right now and judging by the continued rate of foreclosures hitting the market, it won’t be letting up any time soon. Take a look at these numbers:
• lenders filed 3.8 million foreclosure notices in 2010
• that is 2% more than in 2009
• that is 23% more than in 2008
• 2011 is expected to be even worse, according to RealtyTrac 

Don’t let anyone tell you that foreclosures are on the decline because they’re not. For the savvy investor, there is still money to made buying properties at foreclosure auctions. Here’s Hartman's strategy for success when bidding at a foreclosure sale: 

1. Quantify – Before you even think about showing up and bidding at a foreclosure auction, do your homework. You have to be able to affix solid numbers to a variety of factors related to the property. Hold it up against comparable houses in the neighborhood in terms of value. Inspect the house thoroughly and know how much repairs are going to cost. Are there any weird things going on in the neighborhood that could affect your ability to rent the house? Like a hog farm going in upwind across the street? Or maybe a race track around the block that revs the engines late at night on the weekends? To put it plainly, don’t even think about bidding on the place unless you have quantified anything that could eventually be adverse to your profits. 

2. Start Small – Foreclosures auctions are not for the faint of heart. It will be mainly experienced, professional investors doing the bidding. For a rookie investor, it’s a good idea not to jump into a bid-calling, whistle-blowing, finger-signaling war with a bunch of veterans on the courthouse steps. Before you know it, they will have bid you up far past the level you wanted to go, and then jump out, leaving you holding the bag. Get your feet wet in the foreclosure auction arena by attending a small auction as an observer only. Perhaps the biggest mistake a new investor could make at a public house sale is to start bidding at the first auction you attend. By all means, attend the auction but keep your hands firmly in your pockets. 

3. Certified Check – One way to prove to everyone that you don’t have a clue about auctions is to show up without a certified check, usually for at least $5,000, depending upon the size of the properties being sold. You need to have this check to show the auction company you’re not just a tire kicker and have the legitimate intent to buy a property—if you’re bidding. Don’t forget to include the “buyer’s premium” in your calculations which is a commission that often must be paid to the company conducting the sale. 

4. Get the Best Deal – When it comes time to dive into bidding, here are a few things you should know in order to walk away a winner. The first few properties often go for less because bidders are trying to get a feel of the sale’s pulse. This gives you a chance to jump in a scoop up a property or two while everyone else is getting limbered up. And don’t forget, during the homework phase, not to obsess on a single property. You’ll have plenty of time to scope out more than one and you should do your due diligence on several. Give yourself an edge during the actual bidding by not joining in on a flurry of bids. This only serves to help drive the price higher. Instead, wait until the chaos has died down to make your offer. 

If you’re at an auction and notice a group of well-dressed men clustered around the auctioneer, don’t assume they represent the lender and are there to outbid everyone. There’s a good chance they might actually turn out to be clever bidders who arrived early dressed for the part, seeking to intimidate others from bidding against their supposedly “deep pockets.” You should pull out your best business suit and try this tactic. It might help dampen the bidding enthusiasm for a piece of real estate you covet. Remember, all is fair in love, war and foreclosure auctions. 

For more information, visit http://opendoorauctions.com/.
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Home Maintenance Tips for Fall

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

Fall is the time to get your home ready for the coming winter, which can be the most grueling season for your home. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) suggests you perform a variety of tasks which will help you to avoid the most common— and costly—problems before they occur. Some of these tasks are: 

• Ensure leaves and other debris are removed from eaves and downspouts for proper drainage from the roof. Ensure that downspouts direct water away from the house foundation.
• If you have a gas, oil, or other non-electric heating system, have it serviced by a qualified company—every two years for a gas furnace and every year for an oil furnace or in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Have the chimneys or combustion vents checked for nests or other obstructions before turning on your heating system.
• If you have a furnace, check and clean or replace filters on a monthly basis during the heating season.
• Gently vacuum in and around hot water baseboard and electric baseboard heaters to remove dust. Remove the grilles on forced-air heating systems and vacuum inside the ducts. Ensure airflow dampers are open.
• If you have a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), ensure the air intake grille—located on the outside of the house—is clean, the filters and core within the unit are clean, the condensate drains properly (test by pouring water into the drain pan under the core and watching the flow through the drain tube), and the HRV is turned on and is set at the right speed.
• If you have a well, test the water quality.
• If you have a sump pump, ensure it is operating properly, with no obstructions or leaks in the drain line.
• If you have a septic tank, have it checked to determine if it needs to be emptied before the winter starts.
• Remove and store window screens, install storm windows, and ensure all windows, doors and skylights shut tightly, including the door between your house and garage; repair or replace weather stripping, as needed.
• Ensure that the ground around your home slopes away from the foundation wall to decrease the likelihood of water draining into the basement.
• Cover the outside of the air conditioner, and drain and store outdoor hoses. Close the valve to the outdoor hose connection and drain the faucet.
• Winterize landscaping by storing outdoor furniture, preparing gardens and, if necessary, protecting young trees or bushes. 

For more information visit www.cmhc.ca.
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Word of the Day

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

Due-on-sale. Clause in a note or mortgage giving the lender the right to call the entire loan balance due if the property is sold or otherwise conveyed.
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Question of the Day

August 11, 2011 6:59 pm

Q: Is it possible to refinance following a bankruptcy?

A:
It can be difficult to do after a bankruptcy, unless you are willing to pay very high interest rates and fees. However, if you are contemplating bankruptcy, first talk with your lender and explain your situation. If your mortgage payments are current, the lender may be accommodating and refinance your loan, thereby helping to ease your financial burden.
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