Beware of H1N1 Scams – National Consumers League

With the increasing need for H1N1 flu vaccinations, the popularity of H1N1-related flu scams has also increased. More than 75 Web sites have been found selling fraudulent products claiming to diagnose, prevent, or treat H1N1, a reminder that we need to be careful to check that all products are Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved. The products you buy may not only be without any real medicinal value, but could also harm your health. It’s a good idea to talk with your health care practitioner if you have questions about medications to treat or prevent the flu.

The FDA recently issued an alert explaining the steps they are taking to prevent H1N1 fraud, providing more information regarding what to do if you think you are being scammed, which products are FDA-approved, and which products have already been identified as scams. The FDA sent letters to the companies caught selling fake products, warning them to stop selling the fraudulent products or face legal action. The Kentucky Pharmacists Association has also released information regarding a specific site selling fraudulent “swine flu treatments.”

If you think you or someone you know has fallen prey to an H1N1 scam, you should contact the FDA immediately. For more information on counterfeit drugs and how to buy drugs safely see NCL’s Fraud Center’s Web site

FDA to Demand Truth in Front-of-Package Nutrition Claims – National Consumers League

By Courtney Brein, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Last week, the FDA announced its intent to crack down on Front-of-Package labeling touting the nutritional benefits of food products, a trend that has spread across the aisles of grocery stores in recent months. While easy-to-read, concise nutrition information can make it easier for consumers to choose healthy products, these claims can also be misleading – sugar-laden, nutritionally bereft cereals such as Cookie Crisp, Cocoa Krispies, and Froot Loops are currently self-identifying as “Smart Choices.” Such information on the front of a package proves particularly problematic because, as FDA research found, when food items contain Front of Package Labeling, consumers are less likely to read the full Nutrition Facts label.

The trouble with the current, “anything goes,” state of Front-of-Package Labeling became apparent this summer, when a consortium of big-name food manufacturers – including ConAgra, General Mills, and Kraft Foods – launched their Smart Choices Program, which identifies “healthy” options with a green checkmark on the front. The problem with “Smart Choices?” Many of the choices are not, nutritionally speaking, “smart” – as consumers, nutrition experts, and several elected officials have noted.

In September, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D–CT) sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Hamburg urging that the Administration investigate the “Smart Choices” program. Earlier this month, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal launched his own investigation.

Last Tuesday, Commissioner Hamburg shared the steps that FDA is taking to make Front of Package labeling an accurate, useful tool for consumers:

  • FDA is examining existing Front-of-Package labels and identifying those that are false or misleading.
  • FDA is drafting a new regulation that will provide a single set of science- and nutrition-based criteria for all Front-of-Package labels.
  • FDA is launching a consumer research program to determine how consumers view these symbols and which provide the most useful nutritional information.
  • FDA will work with manufacturers, retailers, and other parties to determine if a single Front-of-Package labeling system could be used, as it is in the United Kingdom.

NCL believes that when sugary breakfast cereals such as Froot Loops can be – and are – advertised as healthy options for the consumer, the time has come to impose some consumer-friendly standards. The National Consumers League applauds the FDA for demanding better truth in advertising and pushing for more accurate nutrition information. NCL will continue to support the agency in this work.

Also, in May, the FDA sent a letter to General Mills warning the company about its use of drug-like claims on Cheerios boxes, after the National Consumers League alerted the agency of the practice.

SEC Chairman’s Announcement of a Review of Retirement Products Highlights Successful Solutions Forum on Fraud – National Consumers League

10/28 Update: Couldn’t attend? Read the transcript or watch the event at

By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Mary Schapiro headlined a stellar group of panelists at Thursday’s AARP Solutions Forum on Fraud, which was held in collaboration with NCL.  We were especially pleased to hear the Chairman say that the SEC will soon be focusing

SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro at the Oct. 22 AARP / NCL Fraud Forum.

its efforts on a review of dodgy retirement products being sold to seniors.

“America’s future retirees deserve products that they can understand and evaluate,” Schapiro said. “This means that complex fee arrangements or product descriptions should be discarded in favor of simple, clear disclosure. Our future retirees should have access to products that will help them meet their retirement goals without imposing inappropriate risks.”

The Forum brought together more than a dozen experts on fraud affecting the biggest investments that most consumes make:  their homes, their cars, and their retirement savings.

Marietta Rodriguez, Director of National Homeownership Programs at NeighborWorks announced that on Monday, October 23, her organization will be launching a new Web site designed to “empower homeowners to protect themselves against loan modification scams, fund trusted help and report illegal activity to authorities.”  The site will be available in FIVE languages to help those consumers whose first language is not English avoid falling victim to these scams.

On a panel examining the threat of used car scams, John Van Alst of the National Consumer Law Center (whose report on used car scams is required reading) examined issues such as “yo-yo sales,” excessive and discriminatory dealer mark-ups, and the need for state laws prohibiting “as is” auto sales.

Len Bach, a volunteer with the AARP Free Lunch Monitoring Program was one of the highlights of the third panel of the day, entitled “Fighting Investment Fraud: Fostering Compliance and Assuring Enforcement.”  Mr. Bach, who has attended nearly a dozen of these seminars in an effort to root out hucksters, urged seniors who attend these events to “take the meal and split,” rather than engage with the scammers in the “critical” second meeting.  While the tone of the free lunches is usually “laid back,” the hard sell from the scammers comes in the second meeting, often in the senior’s home, where the scammer tries to sell them on often-fraudulent investments.  Andres Castillo, also of AARP, discussed AARP research showing that contrary to how they are often advertised, 100% of the free lunch seminars involve a sales pitch.

The highlight of the day was Chairman Schapiro’s remarks.  Before an audience of approximately one hundred attendees, she discussed a range of issues pertaining to the SEC’s role in fighting fraud.  She reaffirmed the Commission’s commitment to rigorous enforcement against scammers, discussed the reforms the agency has taken in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal, and announced a new investor education Web site – – which launched on Thursday.  A full copy of the Chairman’s prepared remarks is available on the SEC Web site.  Video from the event will soon be available at

National Cyber Security Month: Protect yourself from e-ghosts and goblins – National Consumers League

October 22, 2009

Fake check scams, other frauds masquerading as legitimate offers preying on consumers in 2009

Contact: 202-835-3323,

WASHINGTON, DC — In observance of National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October, the National Consumers League (NCL) is cautioning consumers about the most-commonly reported scams preying on consumers, often disguised as legitimate offers, meant to dupe consumer victims and steal their money. NCL is the nation’s oldest consumer organization, and it collects reports of suspected and confirmed Internet and telemarketing fraud, identifies new scams and trends, and works with law enforcement to catch crooks at NCL’s Fraud Center.

NCL’s Fraud Center Top Ten Overall Scams

(Jan. 1-Sept. 30, 2009)

  1. Fake Check Scams
  1. Internet: General Merchandise
  1. Phony Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
  1. Phishing/Spoofing
  1. Nigerian Money Offers
  1. Business Opportunities/Franchises
  1. Advance Fee Loans/Credit Arrangers
  1. Internet Auctions
  1. Friendship/Sweetheart Swindles
  1. Lotteries/Lottery Ticket Buying Clubs

NCL tracks the frauds most commonly plaguing consumers, and in the first nine months of 2009, Fake Check Scams continue to top the list. This month, NCL’s Fraud Center is focusing its efforts on how consumers can protect themselves from the evolving tactics that are used for fake check scams, phishing and spoofing scams, pyramid schemes and other business opportunity scams, and other swindles.

“Whether it’s Halloween or any other time of year, consumers expect to be able to use their computers with confidence that they’re not going to be scammed,” said John Breyault, Director of NCL’s Fraud Center and Vice President for Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “But in order to do so, they must be informed about and protected against the sneak attacks fraudsters use to capture sensitive personal information. During National Cyber Security Awareness Month and year-round, consumers should endeavor to keep better control of their computers and their privacy.”

NCL has issued the Top 10 Scams for the first nine months of the year, as well as new tips for consumers this month to protect them from the e-ghosts and goblins that may be out to get them:

  • Avoid falling for a Fake Check Scam, in which con artists trick consumers into accepting phony checks or money orders and wiring some of the money in return. That there is no legitimate reason why anyone would give you a check or money order and ask you to wire money anywhere in return. No matter the details of the scheme—whether they’re trying to purchase something from you, asking for your help moving money around, or saying you’ve won a foreign lottery—it’s a scam.

  • Beware of Phishing Scams. Don’t click on links within emails that ask for your senstive personal information (Social Security Number, physical address, bank or credit card number, or date of birth).  Never enter your sensitive personal information in a pop-up screen.

  • Protect your computer with spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall, and keep them up-to-date.

  • Use only secured browsers when entering personal information online. Look for a lock symbol to appear at the bottom of the Web page, and for the URL in the browser window to change from “http” to “https” to ensure that the page you’re on is secure.

  • Don’t shop online or do online banking while using an unencrypted or open wireless network, like those provided for free at coffee shops or some airport hotspots. Secure your own wireless network at home by encrypting it with a password. This will keep out your neighbors, but more importantly, it will keep out hackers and thieves who look for open/unencrypted wireless network to capture others’ financial information.

  • Pay the safest way. When making purchases online, use a credit card instead of a debit card, wire transfer, check, or cash, as credit cards typically have $0 liability policies, which means the cardholder isn’t held liable for fraudulent purchases.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

‘Uzbek Cotton Is Mighty Rotten!!!’ – National Consumers League

By Reid Maki, CLC Coordinator & NCL Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards

Rally against forced child labor before the Uzbekistan Embassy in Washington, DC.

There are a lot of countries in the world with egregious forms of child labor but only one where that child labor is forced by the central government. That country is Uzbekistan, where the government requires school children to suspend their education, leave school, and harvest cotton for several weeks each year. The work is arduous and the pay is miniscule.

Decades ago, Uzbekistan had tractors to harvest the cotton but the tractors fell into disrepair and instead of buying new machinery the government decided that it could save money by conscripting children to do the work.

On Wednesday, about 50 advocates and supporters gathered outside the Uzbekistan Embassy in downtown Washington, D.C. for a rally to tell the government of Uzbekistan that it’s time to stop exploiting its children to harvest it’s cash crop. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), and the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) helped organize the event. The CLC, which has 22 members including the ILRF, is co-chaired by the AFT and the National Consumers League (NCL).

“Today, we are here to remind consumers that the cotton that goes into the clothes they wear may have been harvested by school children in Uzbekistan, where the government has replaced mechanical harvesters with the sometimes bloody fingers of small children and teenagers, who are forced to leave school and pick cotton,” noted NCL’s Sally Greenberg, also the co-chair of the CLC.

In a September LA Times editorial about Uzbekistan’s unacceptable use of children to harvest cotton, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) noted, “Consumers and companies in the West prop up this monstrous system by unwittingly purchasing cotton harvested by forced child labor. Supply chain analysts have determined that most Uzbek cotton is sold to countries in South Asia and Eastern Europe.”

Some of that may eventually end up in garments sold in the United States, Canada, and Europe, noted Greenberg, who acknowledged that some major companies—Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., Limited Brands Inc. and Nike Inc., among them—have taken steps to eliminate Uzbek cotton from their supply chains.

The rally was timed to coincide with the cotton harvest season in Uzbekistan and with an Uzbek cotton fair, where the majority of cotton contracts will be signed this year, Bama Athreya, executive director of the ILRF told reporter Liza Casabona. “We are taking this action today to send a message to all those buyers,” Athreya said.

Antonia Cortese, secretary-treasurer of AFT, reminded listeners that Uzbekistan is violating the International Labour Organization’s conventions against the worst forms of child labor even though it has agreed to honor them. Cortese noted that teachers are conscripted to harvest the cotton along with the children.

Among the supporters at the rally was a young Uzbeki man who carried a hand-written sign that said, “I was a slave.” As a college student in Uzbekistan, he and his classmates had been forced to enter the fields. He spoke passionately about his memories of harvesting cotton, remembering clearly the painful fingertips from getting pricked as he picked the cotton. He said he’d heard about the rally while driving that morning and decided he had to take a stand against his government’s repressive policies. His sister who joined him initially became afraid of reprisals from the Uzbek government and retreated to the car, he explained.

Cortese and Greenberg tried to deliver hundreds of postcards of concern to the Embassy staff but no one would answer the door. The protest, which lasted about an hour, also featured speeches from and the AFL-CIO and the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society.

If you’re interested, you may want to check out the following links:

The 22 members of the Child Labor Coalition have named the elimination of child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest as one of its priority areas for the year.

NCL Continues Fight for Gift Card Users’ Rights – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

Last November, the National Consumers League released its “Gift Card Holder’s Bill of Rights,” along with Consumer Action and the Montgomery County (Maryland) Office of Consumer Protection.  In that document, we enumerated ten pro-consumer steps that issuers of prepaid gift cards should take to help consumers during the holiday season.

We were pleased when in May of this year, President Obama signed into law the Credit CARD Act of 2009.  That Act, among its many pro-consumer provisions, included a number of new limits on gift cards.  Those limits included:

  • Outlawing dormancy fees, inactivity charges or fees, or service fees unless the card has not been in use for 12 months since the date of purchase or the last time funds were reloaded onto the card.
  • Preventing one that one such fee to be charged in a single month.
  • Increasing disclosure requirements related to fees
  • Prohibiting the sale of gift cards with expiration dates less than five years after the sale of the card or the date on which the card was last reloaded with funds

These provisions are set to take effect on February 22, 2010.

Last week, American Express, the largest issuer of the so-called “open loop” gift cards (also known an “universal” or “general purpose” cards — which can be used at any retailer that accepts credit cards), announced that the company would immediately eliminate all monthly fees on gift cards, including those that consumers have already purchased.

The American Express announcement was welcome news, addressing several of the provisions in our “Gift Card Holder’s Bill of Rights.”

On Wednesday, NCL testified at a hearing of the District of Columbia City Council on legislation proposed by Councilmember Mary Cheh that would strengthen gift card holder’s protections even further than the federal Credit CARD Act.  NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg recommended that the legislation implement a number of the “Gift Card Holder’s Bill of Rights” provisions, including:

  • Capping the up-front fee on the sale of gift cards at $5 or 10% of the cards value, whichever is less
  • Prohibiting any expiration dates on gift cards
  • Making cards with less than $5 in value remaining redeemable for cash, without a fee
  • Applying the unused funds from cards that accrues to state governments under unclaimed property laws to benefit consumers
  • Protecting consumers from card issuer bankruptcy by segregating the funds from the sale of cards into separate trust accounts

We urged the District to take these pro-consumer steps, which would place it at the vanguard of states seeking to enact robust consumer protection laws in the gift card market.

NCL full testimony is available by clicking here.

Challenging Times for USPS – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Last week I had the opportunity to hear the Postmaster General speak at the National Press Club here in Washington, DC. John Potter took the time at the luncheon address to lay out the challenges facing the United States Postal Service (USPS) and offer possible solutions. NCL has a long history of working with USPS to disseminate information to consumers about changes in postal service and or new services being offered. Postal service remains very important to consumers today, despite the alternative ways of communicating.

I learned a lot of new information about USPS a few weeks back when I met at their L’Enfant Plaza headquarters:

  • For one, they don’t receive taxpayer subsidies. The Postal Service is a self-funded government entity and gets no financial assistance from Congress. I had thought USPS was supported in part by our taxes. It is not, but it also under Congressional mandate to provide a lot of specific services. So it suffers from a kind of Catch-22 – it gets no financial support from Congress but has to do what Congress mandates.
  • I also learned that with 650,000 workers, the Postal Service is America’s third-largest employer, after Wal-Mart and the Defense Department. It has the nation’s biggest vehicle fleet — and high gas prices cost it $500 million last year.
  • I didn’t know you could get your passport renewed through the Post Office.
  • I learned that USPS has a recycling program, providing bags that seal up and can be mailed, allowing consumers to send – free of charge – small electronics to a site that will dispose of any harmful chemicals and recycle the parts. USPS is a leader in green technology and sustainability. Earlier this month, USPS won the first Environmental Achievement of the Year award presented by Postal Technology International magazine, thanks to several sustainable initiatives including a recycling program, green facilities, and a fuel-efficient vehicle program. The Postal Service’s mail recycling program is currently in 16,000 Post Offices and has diverted an estimated 24,000 tons of recyclable paper from landfills. The Postal Service is also transitioning to fuel-efficient vehicles, with a goal to reduce its petroleum use by 20 percent by 2015.

But USPS is also facing steep reductions in the number of pieces of mail it handles because of email, fax, and other technologies. The Postal Service predicts that mail volume will plunge to 180 billion pieces by the end of fiscal year 2009, from 212 billion pieces as recently as 2007. That means reduced revenue.

On the table for reducing the deficits USPS faces is ending Saturday delivery and closing a number of the smaller post offices. USPS estimates that ending Saturday deliveries could result in annual savings of $3.5 billion. The requirement for six-day delivery service was mandated by Congress in 1983 when technology and consumer access were much different than they are today. Among the other strategies for reducing USPS’ deficit are these:

  • New processes for evaluating and adjusting city delivery routes
  • Reduction of employee work hours and overtime by pursuing even greater efficiencies throughout the organization
  • Halting construction of new postal facilities and directing funds to the sites with the most critical needs (i.e., buildings badly damaged or destroyed by natural disasters)
  • Improved fleet management and delivery routing to reduce fuel usage
  • Expanded energy efficiency to reduce energy use throughout Postal Service facilities
  • Reductions in employee travel budgets through the use of Web and video technology to conduct meetings and conferences
  • Renegotiations of supplier contracts to reflect reduced needs

A February 2009 USA TODAY/Gallup Poll indicated that most consumers support cutting back mail services — closing post offices, trimming deliveries from six days a week to five — rather than raising stamp prices or using taxpayers’ money for a bailout.

I appreciated the Postmaster General’s remarks, which were upbeat and positive but grounded in the real financial challenges USPS faces. He also spoke highly of the postal workers and the positive relationships the Post Office maintains with the unions. The Postal Service is very important to American consumers. NCL looks forward to working with USPS as it confronts some very difficult challenges that lie ahead.

Former Child Farmworker Advocating for Change – National Consumers League

By Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition Coordinator

Norma Flores (left) speaks with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis at the 2009 Trumpeter Awards Dinner.

At the National Consumers League‘s (NCL) annual Trumpeter awards dinner earlier this month, I watched a young women with a surprising background mesmerize nearly 500 people with her story. We heard terrific speeches by award recipients U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, CBS News’ Steve Kroft, and California Business Reporter Lynn Jimenez, but the most surprising speech to me was from Norma Flores Lopez, who spoke about her childhood harvesting fruits and vegetables in American fields.

Norma, who is now in her mid-20s, was one of the hundreds of thousands of farmworker children who toil daily in American fields to feed us consumers. She began working with her four sisters in the fields when she was only 12 because of loopholes in United States child labor law that allow children working in agriculture to work at younger ages than children in other industries.

“I can still remember waking up at four in the morning, sitting at the edge of my bed, lacing up my muddy boots, grabbing my hoe and walking towards the old school bus waiting for us in the [migrant] camp parking lot,” said Norma. Because of the heavy morning dews, she often started work in a raincoat. A few hours later, the blazing sun made her sweat like crazy.

“I hated it,” said Norma. “I hated to work in the fields.  I hated getting sweaty and dirty. I hated getting blisters and cuts and sunburns. I hated finishing my row of work only to see there was no water to drink at the end. I hated to have to walk half a mile to go to a dirty portable toilet. I hated how the work affected me outside of the fields. I hated having to enroll in school late every year, to have to make up months of assignments and have to fight to get my school credits. More than anything, I hated knowing my parents needed me out there to make ends meet, because it meant I couldn’t say no. Even though I was only a kid, I knew I didn’t belong there. I knew I could do more than hoe weeds for 70 hours a week.”

“Child labor in agriculture wears you down emotionally and physically, and is one of the most dangerous occupations,” added Norma, who now works on the Children in the Fields Campaign for the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs based in Washington, DC. NCL and the Child Labor Coalition, which NCL co-chairs, are partners on the campaign, which seeks to remove the loopholes that allow children like Norma and her sisters to work at very young ages in the fields.

An estimated 400,000 children help harvest our food. Norma is aware she is one of the lucky survivors of the years of hard work. She worked hard to get into a prestigious high school in Texas, did well, and went on to graduate from college. Many farmworker kids are not so lucky. Advocates believe the school dropout rate for migrant children is between 50 and 80 percent.

Norma worries about the kids left to work with their families, and she urged her attentive audience to help pass the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, a bill introduced by Representative Lucille Royball-Allard of California this September. The CARE Act will address the inequities and harsh conditions faced by children currently employed in agriculture in the United States by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to remove the exemptions that allow children in agriculture to work at younger ages than other industries — unless they are working on their family’s farm, noted Norma. It will also increase the penalties for violators of the child labor laws and require greater data collection from the Department of Labor.

With Secretary of Labor Solis listening on, Norma thanked the cabinet member for her co-sponsorship of an earlier version of CARE when she was in Congress, as well as her work on behalf of farmworkers.

“Although I am married now and working in DC, thousands of miles away from the fields I grew up working in, I am still very connected to the migrant farmworker community, said Norma. “My parents are currently working in Iowa’s corn fields, and my two younger sisters continue to help them by working by their sides. I continue to see the problems that have plagued the farmworker communities—from the housing conditions, to the working conditions, to the plight of child labor in agriculture.”

“Changes need to be made now to ensure all children have a healthy childhood and access to quality education,” Norma urged.

Anyone interested in being placed on a listserve to get updates about the Children in the Fields Campaign and the progress of the CARE Act should email NCL at Honored With Consumer Education Leadership Award – National Consumers League's Ben Popken and Meghann Marco, recipients of this year's Parker Award.

By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

Last Thursday, NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg and I traveled to the Riverside Church in New York City for the 27th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Reception.  The event, organized by the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc. in collaboration with the Telecommunications Research and Action Center (TRAC), which is now part of NCL, honors those individuals and organizations that have promoted the public interest in telecommunications and broadcasting.

We were excited this year to honor Ben Popken and Meghann Marco, the co-executive editors of, the Internet’s preeminent consumer blog.  Consumerist, now owned by Consumers Union, is one of the top 25 blogs on the Internet, and its 375,000 daily visitors outnumber the daily circulation of the Denver Post, Newsday, and the Boston Globe.

Sally Greenberg’s remarks put the impact of the Consumerist best when she said:

“The Consumer Education Leadership Award, was created out of the belief that media advocacy and an informed and educated public go hand in hand. … Consumerist has been a catalyst for pro-consumer changes.  Ben Popken and Meghann Marco” represent the ever evolving nature of consumer journalism.  Through their contributions as Co-Executive Editors at The Consumerist blog, they have given consumers a powerful new voice.  We honor Ben and Meghann for helping consumers tilt the balance of power in the marketplace back in their favor.”

Ben and Meghann summed up what Consumerist has meant to the wider world of consumer journalism in their remarks:

“We see Consumerist’s role as bringing the awesome power of the internet to bear on important consumer issues of the day and expose them to the spotlight of the over 2 million people who read us each month. We seek to create awareness, by unorthodox means if necessary.”

“The playing field is leveling. Consumers are forcing transparency on companies simply by connecting with each other. When consumers can easily compare notes, patterns emerge, which can then be acted on. These conversations are the first steps towards real change. In our 25 new stories each day, it is our privilege to try to help facilitate these discussions.”

The nation faces a critical moment. Consumers are strapped and seeking solutions. Desperate times invent desperate measures. In this environment, scams can take out super bowl ads and hide behind the skirt of their fine print, simply because they have the cash to burn.”

To view a complete video of Ben and Meghann’s acceptance speech, click here.

We were also excited that long-time NCL Board Member and TRAC Founder Sam Simon received the Donald C. McGannon Award at the Parker event.  The McGannon Award recognizes those who have played a significant role in advancing the role of minorities in the communications and broadcasting industries.

Making Sense of Food Scares – National Consumers League

By Courtney Brein, NCL Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

While the recent outbreaks of foodborne illness from contaminated peanuts, cookie dough, and spinach have increased concern about the failings of the food safety system in the United States, two high-profile news articles published this week have shed light on the extent of the problem, calling into question the safety of a much broader range of foods that Americans routinely purchase and consume.

The New York Times exposé of the flaws in the beef inspection system published this past Sunday highlights the problematic nature of USDA’s responsibility to both the industry’s interests and the public’s health. Due to resistance from the meat industry, the agency does not require meat processors to test the trimmings that they receive from suppliers and use to manufacture ground beef. While a few big ground beef producers, such as Costco, test their meat for E. coli before grinding it, most do not, testing only the final product. This practice both decreases the likelihood of detection and increases the difficulty of finding the source of contamination should an outbreak occur, due to the industry practice of combining meat from multiple sources in the creation of ground beef. While most individuals who consume ground beef do so without ever becoming ill, for those unlucky enough to eat a hamburger tainted with E. coli, the experience can be deadly.

Following on the heels of the Times article, the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report on Tuesday that names the 10 riskiest foods regulated by the FDA. This group contains healthy products most Americans eat on a regular basis, such as eggs, tuna, potatoes, cheese, berries, and leafy greens. Combined, these items have caused tens of thousands of reported cases of illness, in addition to many of the countless cases that go unreported each year.

These articles reveal very real problems with the food safety system in the United States.

So, what is the consumer to do?

It is imperative that consumers push for more comprehensive USDA testing requirements and contact their senators to urge them to vote for improved FDA oversight of the food safety system. The National Consumers League, as a member of the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, has joined other consumer groups, public health organizations, and victims’ groups in calling for the passage of legislation reforming the FDA side of the food safety system by the end of this year – a message we brought to senators and their staff members yesterday, during our Food Safety Action Day.

In the meantime, however, consumers should take measures to improve food safety in their homes. The following practices can help individuals to protect themselves and their families from foodborne illness:

  • Instead of buying ground beef, purchase a piece of meat and have your local butcher or grocery store grind it for you
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing or consuming food
  • Use a meat thermometer, and ensure that meat is cooked to the following temperatures:
  • Ground Beef: 160°F. Many people assume that when a hamburger turns brown in the middle, it is done, but this is not the case. 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown before reaching an internal temperature of 160°F. Always use a meat thermometer!
  • Steaks and Roasts: 145°F
  • Fish: 145°F
  • Pork: 160°F
  • Egg Dishes: 160°F
  • Chicken Breasts: 165°F
  • Whole Poultry: 165°F
  • Avoid cross-contamination between cooked and raw food in the refrigerator:
  • Store food in clean, non-toxic, washable containers
  • Properly cover all food
  • Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods
  • Follow other smart kitchen practices:
  • After preparing raw foods for cooking, thoroughly wash hands, utensils, cutting boards, countertops, and any other equipment you have used
  • Sanitize cutting boards with a solution of two teaspoons bleach per quart of water
  • Equipment used to prepare raw foods that will not be cooked should be washing thoroughly both before and after use
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold; do not consume any foods that have been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours
  • If you have any doubts about raw foods, such as fruits and vegetables, boil them, cook them, peel them, or choose not to eat them