Unsanitary shipping pallets posing threats to food safety? – National Consumers League

By Courtney Brein, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

As the Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow at the National Consumers League, I work on a wide range of food safety and nutrition issues. While, on the food safety front, the topics on which I focus run the gamut, ultimately, they all share a common purpose: improving the safety of the food that American consumers purchase, serve, and eat.

Due in part to a string of recent foodborne illness outbreaks, and in part to an administration that has chosen to prioritize improving food safety, the environment is ripe for making significant changes to – and expansions upon – the mechanisms currently in place for protecting our food supply. More than a year ago, President Obama created a White House Food Safety Working Group co-chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The group has recommended a public health focused approach to food safety that prioritizes prevention and strengthens surveillance and enforcement, among other measures. On the Congressional front, FDA food safety modernization legislation passed in the House last summer and is slated to come to the Senate floor soon. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently set new performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and turkeys, in an effort to help prevent tens of thousands of illnesses every year. To help consumers stay up-to-date on recalls and other food safety issues, HHS and USDA launched www.foodsafety.gov last September. The list goes on.

Central to the creation of an effective food safety system is the assurance that measures are in place to protect products at every step of the way along the path from “farm to fork,” as the saying goes. While regulations and inspections help to ensure the safety of food grown on farms and produced in factories, and consumer education helps to reduce cross-contamination and unsafe cooking practices in the home, the area in between – the transportation of food from production to purchase point – remains largely overlooked and under-regulated.

Several months ago, NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg and I began to wonder what role, if any, the pallets used to transport food might potentially play in the contamination of the food supply. Our first tip-off was McNeil’s recall of Tylenol and several other products this past December and January. The company linked the moldy, musty odor – and the unpleasant side-effects it caused in many individuals who consumed the products – to the wood pallets that were stored in the area where these products were made. According to McNeil, when a chemical used to treat the pallets started to break down, another chemical called TBA formed in the air and contaminated the products. When we realized that these pallets were, at least generally speaking, the same as the ones stacked behind many grocery stores, we started to wonder why the shipping platforms that transport food were being stored outside, and if there were any regulations governing the use of pallets.

Our research revealed that pallets are, in fact, more or less overlooked in the regulatory sphere. We decided to conduct exploratory testing of the pallets used to transport food, to determine whether the issue warranted a call for FDA’s consideration. We’ve been at this a long time – NCL first drew attention to potentially harmful products in 1904, when NCL volunteers staffing a booth at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair demonstrated to fairgoers that canned green beans touted by food processors as a labor-saving home product were adulterated with green dye. More than 100 years later, we continue this work; this past December, the League called on the FDA to investigate a “sweetened dried cranberry” product that our commissioned lab tests found to be mostly sugar, and made of cranberry skins rather than whole cranberries as advertised.

For this investigation, we tested pallets in the Miami/Tampa area and in Houston. We located a highly regarded lab that gave us strict instructions on taking samples and shipping them back, which we followed to the letter. Many of the pallets I saw – and tested – were really dirty, sullied with items ranging from bird droppings to fish scales. They were stored outside, exposed to the elements, and easily accessible to rodents, insects, and birds. I became intimately familiar with these shipping platforms – both wood and plastic – and the precise, methodical way in which one takes samples to send to a lab. In all, we took samples from 35 plastic pallets and 35 wood pallets in each metropolitan area, totaling 140 samples. We had no idea what our results would be.

As it turned out, our findings were significant – and alarming. The lab found E. coli on 10 percent of the 70 wood pallets we tested, and on 1.4 percent of the 70 plastic pallets. The lab report also revealed the presence of Listeria on 2.9 percent of the wood pallets, half of which further tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. None of the plastic pallets tested positive for Listeria. High aerobic plate counts, which reflect unsanitary conditions of the pallets, were found on both types of pallets, with approximately one third of the wood pallets and one fifth of the plastic pallets showing the high counts.

While our exploratory testing included only a small number of pallets, we think it gives some indication that the sanitation and safety of the pallets used to transport food in the U.S. deserve a closer examination. This past Tuesday, therefore, the League sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, sharing our findings, urging the agency to do its own testing, and calling on FDA to set standards that will help to ensure that pallets are cleaned and stored properly, thus minimizing the possibility that they will be implicated in the spread of foodborne illness. Additionally, we videotaped our testing – check it out.

Safety precautions at Deepwater Horizon could have spared lives, environment – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

This has been a terrible season for American workers engaged in dangers jobs. Last month, 29 coalminers died when the Massey mine in West Virginia collapsed; and 11 oil rig workers died April 20 after the massive explosion in BP’s Deepwater Horizon operation. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 18 (“Deepwater Oil Rigs Lack Preparations for Disasters”) that many of the companies engaged in offshore drilling operations – a very lucrative business but one that is fraught with potentially catastrophic consequences when things go wrong – did not put in place, and weren’t required to put in place, safety measures when things do go wrong.

Not only are workers dead, but the Deepwater Horizon disaster has thousands of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day. It’s hard to know where to start when tallying up the disastrous consequences of this environmental and workplace catastrophe caused by lax regulation and careless management at BP.

One place is increasing the deterrents against such indefensible corporate behavior by removing the $75 million cap on liability for companies involved in oil spills. There should be no cap at all. NCL signed a letter with other consumer groups asking to remove it. The Obama Administration has also pledged to tighten up what appears to have been a dangerously cozy relationship between regulators and the oil industry. This includes the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service, resulting in permits being given to companies to drill without those companies having to go through the usual process of documenting how they intended to ensure both worker and environmental safety.

Numerous congressional hearings are scheduled on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the coming weeks. And Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and will preside at several of the hearings, has said there will be no more permits issued for offshore drilling until the proper safety measures are in place. It’s sad that it takes a tragedy like this – and 11 innocent workers’ lives – to get regulators and companies to do what they should have done all along: put in place basic safety precaution that would have prevented this catastrophe.

NCL calls on FDA to regulate industry after tests reveal hidden pathogens on pallets used to transport food – National Consumers League

May 26, 2010

Contact: 202-835-3323, 
Washington, DC – In the wake of the recent recall of E. coli-tainted romaine lettuce, the nation’s oldest consumer organization, the National Consumers League (NCL), is urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set minimum sanitary and safety standards for the “unregulated but crucial” pallets that are used to transport food throughout the United States.

The move by NCL comes following recent exploratory tests conducted by the organization on pallets to determine whether they are potential carriers of pathogens, as concerns grow about the link between pallets and contamination of food and pharmaceuticals. The consumer group tested pallets for foodborne pathogens, including E. coli and Listeria. The findings were alarming: 10 percent of the wood pallets tested had E. coli present (though not the most virulent strain, E. coli O157:H7). In a letter to the FDA, NCL described the results of its exploratory testing of wood and plastic pallets used to transport food in the greater Houston, Texas and Miami/Tampa, Florida, areas. Testing was conducted in late April and included 70 wood pallets and 70 plastic pallets in total. NCL shipped the samples overnight to an independent microbiology lab that provides testing services for a wide array of commercial, industrial, regulatory, and law enforcement clients.

[Read NCL’s letter to FDA]

[View positive samples from testing]

“We believe it is essential to ensure that pathogens are not introduced at any step along the food transport system, from farm to fork. Our testing of pallets has shown that these relatively unregulated but crucial parts of the food transportation system can and do harbor dangerous pathogens that could potentially contaminate the food supply,” said Sally Greenberg, the League’s Executive Director.

In addition to the presence of E. coli, 2.9 percent of the wood pallets tested positive for Listeria, and half of these, when further tested, contained Listeria monocytogenes, one of the most virulent foodborne pathogens. This strain of Listeria is linked to a 20 to 30 percent rate of clinical infections resulting in death and causes approximately 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths in the United States every year. Listeriosis is more likely to cause death than any other foodborne bacterial pathogen. Of the 70 plastic pallets tested, 1 – or 1.4 percent – came back positive for E. coli. None of the other plastic pallets tested positive for pathogens.

Finally, high aerobic plate counts, which reflect unsanitary conditions of the pallets, were found on approximately one third of the wood pallets and one fifth of the plastic pallets.

As the recent outbreak of E. coli underscores, the threat of foodborne illness remains a serious concern in the United States.

“Looking at the safety of pallets is crucial. Even if farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers were all to follow food safety plans and practices to the letter, the introduction of dangerous pathogens into the food supply during transport could negate these efforts…With approximately two billion pallets currently in circulation in the United States, the presence of dangerous pathogens on even a small percentage of those pallets presents a potential threat to the safety of the food supply,” wrote Greenberg in her letter to the FDA.

Several different aspects of pallet use and storage present potential food safety concerns. If a pallet is absorptive – i.e., has the capacity to absorb water and harbor bacteria – or difficult or impossible to fully clean, it could contaminate food products like fresh produce or meat. A pallet that carries raw seafood on ice to a given destination, then heads of lettuce or apples to the next, could potentially contaminate that produce and lead to foodborne illness. In a just-issued report prepared for the FDA, Eastern Research Group, Inc. highlights the use of “good quality pallets” as a preventive measure. The agency has said it will use the report to inform the development of new rules to increase the safety of food during transport.

Furthermore, regardless of the materials from which it is made, any pallet that is not properly cleaned between trips increases the likelihood of cross-contamination. Storing a pallet outside, in unsanitary areas, in places accessible to vermin, or near potential contaminants increases the chances that the pallet could harbor dangerous pathogens. In conducting our testing, we observed that wood pallets – which we found to have a higher incidence of pathogens – are more often stored outside and exposed to weather, rodents, bird droppings, and insects. Among additional considerations is the use of damaged wood pallets; splinters or sharp points can damage the packaging of products, creating an entryway for pathogens from which sealed products would otherwise be protected.

NCL’s findings build on the growing concern about the potential dangers of unregulated pallets to consumers. In January of this year, McNeil Consumer Healthcare issued a recall of several of its over-the-counter products reported to have a moldy odor and that, in some individuals, were thought to have caused gastrointestinal distress. In a press release dated January 15, the company stated: “McNeil Consumer Healthcare has determined that the reported uncharacteristic smell is caused by the presence of trace amounts of a chemical called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA). This can result from the breakdown of a chemical that is sometimes applied to wood that is used to build wood pallets that transport and store product packaging materials.” The FDA issued the same statement on its Web site.

NCL is urging the FDA to do its own testing and set standards that will help to ensure that pallets are cleaned and stored properly, thus minimizing the possibility that they will be implicated in the spread of foodborne illness.


About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Financial reform bill a major turning point for consumers – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

This week marked a historic turning point in the fight for financial reform. A bill passed by the Senate will help protect consumers from usury by banks, payday lenders, and car dealer financing schemes that rip off hardworking Americans. The Senate now joins the House in having passed this landmark legislation – now the bills will need to be reconciled in conference and sent to the President. A big shout-out goes to Americans for Financial Reform – a vibrant coalition of consumer, labor, and civil rights groups – for helping get the Senate bill over the finish line

What’s in the bill for consumers? Well, everything really; this is a bill that came out of the consumer movement. The idea of a regulatory body to protect consumers from harmful financial products emanated from Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, who made an interesting point – when you buy a toaster you’re not expected to look at the wiring diagram in the product manual to see if it’s safe. The same should be true of a financial product. It should be safe and transparent for consumer. But today it is not, whether it’s a credit card, a mortgage, or a payday loan, consumers rarely know or understand what lurks inside the 30-page agreement they are signing.

The Senate bill creates a new federal regulatory agency, housed within the Federal Reserve but independent, to write and enforce rules protecting consumers of financial products like checking accounts, mortgages, and payday loans and auto loans. The Senate version also allows state regulators – notably the Attorneys General in the states – to enforce these protections – instead of preempting them from doing so, as Congress has been inclined to do to many times in the past (thereby destroying yet another line of defense for consumers).

The Senate bill includes auto dealers, but the House bill unfortunately exempts them from oversight and coverage under the bill. This is a serious mistake; dealer-financed auto loans are notorious for ripping off middle and lower income consumers, including young enlisted men and women and their families. Too many dealers have been willing to play games with buyers, insisting they can’t find them a lower interest loan, telling them their financing fell through at a lower rate but they can find them a loan a few percentage points higher – then the dealer pockets the difference when the unwitting consumer pays more. This is an industry that cries out for regulatory oversight. NCL hopes in the days to come that the Senate won’t be forced to capitulate to the auto dealers’ lobbing juggernaut.

There are many other important provisions in the bill, including regulation of derivatives, curbs on financial institution borrowing and spending to avoid the “too big to fail” scenarios we’ve seen all too much, and investor protections. Hats off to Americans for Financial Reform and the Senators who supported these landmark reforms. NCL is proud to be part of this coalition.

Human Rights Watch releases long awaited report on child labor – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The National Consumers League welcomes Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) long-awaited report Fields of Peril – Child Labor in US Agriculture. HRW is a longtime and invaluable partner with NCL and the Child Labor Coalition in pressing for protections for farmworker kids in the United States.

HRW’s report is an update from its 2000 “Fingers to the Bone: United States Failure to Protect Child Farmworkers,” and the conclusions from the 2009 report are all the more sobering because, as HRW concluded, “Shockingly, we found that conditions for child farmworkers in the United States remain virtually as they were a decade ago.”

NCL co-chairs the Child Labor Coalition with the American Federation of Teachers. The CLC is the only coalition of its kind in the US that brings together organizations dedicated to eradicating child labor, both in the US and abroad. Our domestic priority, led by our child labor director Reid Maki, is the adoption of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment or CARE Act, which will give the same child labor protections to farmworker kids that all other kids enjoy.

HRW interviewed 59 children in 14 states. What they found is that children who work picking crops toil in the fields at far younger ages, for far longer hours, and under far more hazardous conditions than all other working children. As the report notes, this means:

an end to childhood, long hours at exploitative wages, and risk to their health and sometimes their lives. Although their families’ financial need helps push children into the fields – poverty among farmworkers is more than double that of all wage and salary employees– the long hours and demands of farmwork result in high-drop-out rates from school. Without a diploma, child workers are left with few options besides a lifetime of farmwork and the poverty that accompanies it.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which regulates child labor, children in agriculture receive much less protection than children working in other jobs. Under the law, on small farms with parental permission, outside of school hours, there is no minimum age for workers. Children ages 12 and 13 can work for any size farm with their parents’ consent outside of school hours; children 14 and 15 can work on any size farm without parental consent outside of school hours; there are no restrictions on employing children ages 16 and older, including in hazardous agricultural occupations.

By comparison, kids doing nonagricultural work are prohibited from almost all jobs—except for baby sitting, delivering newspapers, and a few other rare exceptions—when they are under age 14, and children ages 14 and 15 may work only in certain jobs designated by the Secretary of Labor and only for limited hours outside of school. Children in nonagricultural jobs are also prohibited from performing hazardous work before age 18.

The condition of farmworker kids in the United States is a national disgrace. These kids don’t get the education they need to break out of this cycle of poverty. But their situation is not really so different from the condition of children working in factories, mines or bakeries in America at the turn of the 20th Century. Florence Kelley, in heading the NCL’s work back then, would have made the same arguments to authorities and poor  families that we are making today – get these kids out of the fields and into schools and they won’t end up as their parents are: still poor and without other employment options.  And while we are at it, let’s pay farmworkers a decent wage, ensure clean water and toilet facilities close to their worksite, and give them access to housing that is more than a shack with an outdoor toilet.

We are indebted to our colleagues at HRW, Jo Becker and Zama Coursen-Neff, for this excellent new report, which should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers and legislators across the United States.

Even educational programs deceive consumers, and even consumer advocates are taken in – National Consumers League

By Courtney Brein, NCL Food Safety and Nutrition fello

I love the issues on which I focus as the Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow, and I really enjoy working at NCL, but I also eventually plan to return to school to pursue a higher degree. With my future plans in mind, I decided that it made sense to take the requisite standardized test this spring, which would enable me to apply to graduate school at any point in the next five years (after that point, scores expire). A month or so ago, I began spending a few hours each weekend doing practice problems, figuring that this method of preparation, which I have employed to ready myself for past standardized tests, would be sufficient. Hoping to experience a more realistic version of the test than the paper and pencil problems from my test prep book allow, I located a free online practice test, to be administered during a live, web-based “classroom” session provided by a certain not-to-be-mentioned test prep company (two syllables, starts with a “k,” ends with an “n”).

Several Saturdays ago, I logged into the webpage previously provided by the test prep company, listened to the instructor’s shpiel, and took the practice test. The actual test is computer adaptive, meaning that the test-taker receives harder or easier questions depending on whether she answered the previous question correctly; this test, however, was not. During the 25-minute talk, through which the attendees had to sit following the practice exam in order to receive our scores, the instructor assured us that – even though the test we took was not computer adaptive – it was an extremely accurate predictor of the score we would each have received, had we taken the real test that day. He repeated this several times, both before and after the scores were released. Not surprisingly, much of the talk focused on the various test-prep courses offered by the not-to-be-mentioned company, and how these courses would improve each of our scores.

When I viewed my score, I was alarmed. I had not scored nearly as well as my practice problem results and pencil-and-paper diagnostic test suggested that I would. What was I to do? Based on this exam, I would do not receive the score I wanted – and felt I needed – if I were to take the real test without a meaningful, strategic study plan. As the instructor droned on about the various course offerings provided by K—-n, and the fact that each option guaranteed students a higher score, it seemed to me that I had no other option than to enroll. The following morning, I signed up for K—n’s online course – the cheapest offering, but one that still cost a pretty penny.

Lo and behold, when I took the computer adaptive diagnostic exam – my first step as an enrollee in the expensive prep course – that determines the official score that K—-n uses as a baseline in demonstrating a student’s improvement between enrollment and test day, I did not score as I had the previous evening. This time I scored much higher, achieving the target score I had originally set for myself, a score I would be more than happy to submit to graduate programs.

Given the significant discrepancy between my two scores, I cannot help but believe that the following took place: To entice me to purchase its products, K—-n provided me (and thousands of other prospective students) with a free exam designed to suggest that I (and thousands of other prospective students) would perform at a level below that of competitive applicants, were I to take the test without further preparation. Yet, according to a more representative version of the exam – available only after purchasing course materials – I would actually score toward the upper end of the range achieved by successful applicants to my desired program.

In the end, of course, the fault lies with me. I took the instructor’s insistence about the accuracy of the free diagnostic test at face value, trusting that a company with the goal of educating youths and young adults would not engage in deceptive practices just to earn a buck (or, in this case, many, many bucks). In this situation, however, I faced an enormous information imbalance, skewed in the direction of the test prep company. They had access to computer adaptive exams; I did not. They knew the accuracy (or lack thereof) of their free diagnostic test; I did not. They had hundreds of thousands of success stories on which to draw; I had no reason to assume they’d deceived any prospective students before, and therefore operated under the assumption that I could trust the diagnostic score they’d generated for me.
This experience taught me a lesson that one can never learn too many times as a consumer advocate, or as a consumer in the marketplace. There nearly always exists an imbalance of information between company and consumer; the company knows everything (or almost everything) about its product or services, while the consumer knows only what the company chooses to tell her and what she can find out on her own. While K—-n’s deceptive behavior is not acceptable, consumer deception is not unique to K—-n, or really all that surprising. As a consumer, it is my job – and yours – to remain alert, inquisitive, and slightly dubious in the marketplace; to “trust but verify”; and to do my due diligence before making a significant purchase.

So, if it does nothing for my exam score, at least my overpriced, unnecessary K—-n test prep course will have taught me something. In the meantime, I’ll work my way through the practice materials, mostly because I paid for them.

Traveling youth crews top 2010 Five Worst Jobs list – National Consumers League

May 17, 2010

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

WASHINGTON, DC –Many teenagers around the country are about to begin the search for that elusive summer job. With economic times and a teen unemployment rate nearing 30 percent, the National Consumers League (NCL) fears that teens may be tempted to take jobs that may endanger their health. In its new report, the Five Worst Teen Jobs of 2010, NCL warns teens and parents which jobs are best avoided. Based on statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a teen American worker dies from a workplace injury every eleven days, and nearly 150,000 youth sustain work-related injuries and illnesses each year—that’s more than 400 injured teen workers per day.

The National Consumers League (NCL), which coordinates the Child Labor Coalition, has issued this year’s Five Worst Teen Jobs report to remind teens and parents to think about hidden dangers that many jobs hold. “Some jobs—construction, for example—have obvious dangers, while others like retail may pose hidden dangers when teens are asked to work alone at night and may be vulnerable to robberies and assaults,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director for Social Responsibility and Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition. “It’s absolutely critical that parents talk with their kids about possible work dangers and empower them to ask their supervisors questions about their safety at work.”

In 2008—the last year for which there are complete records—an estimated 2.3 million adolescents aged 16 to 17 years worked in the United States, and that figure does not include hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers who work at ages younger than 16 because of loopholes in our child labor laws.

“Each year, the National Consumers League issues our Five Worst Teen Jobs report to remind teens and their parents to choose summer jobs wisely,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director and co-chair of the NCL-coordinated Child Labor Coalition. “Summer jobs play an important role in a child’s development and maturity and teach young workers new skills and responsibilities, but parents and teens should carefully consider the safety of each job. Even good-intentioned employers and federal child labor laws do not always protect young workers from dangerous tasks.”

NCL’s Five Worst Teen Jobs of 2010 (read full report)

  1. Traveling Youth Sales Crews
  1. Construction and Height Work
  1. Outside Helper: Landscaping, Grounds Keeping and Lawn Service
  1. Agriculture: Harvesting Crops
  1. Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATV’s

NCL compiles the Five Worst Teen Jobs each year using government statistics and reports, including monitoring reports from state labor officials and news accounts of injuries and deaths. Statistics and examples of injuries for each job on the list are detailed in a report available here.


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 www.nclnet.org.

Consumer groups advocating for import safety – National Consumers League

by Sally Greenbreg, NCL Executive Director

Too often in the past, when products imported into the United States by foreign manufacturers proved dangerous to American consumers, these consumers found themselves without a remedy. The Chinese drywall product disaster is a case in point: hundreds of thousands of homes across the United States were built with Chinese drywall that has disintegrated and given off dangerous chemical fumes, forcing homeowners to abandon their homes.

Last month, eight consumer groups, including NCL, signed a letter in support of the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act, HR 4678, sponsored by Rep Betty Sutton (D-OH). The bill will help consumers harmed by unsafe foreign products get redress for their injuries. Foreign manufacturers will have to post a bond to cover liability should their products prove dangerous and will be required to name an agent in the United States to take service of process.

Allergies 1: Mimi 0 – how I’m preparing for next year’s re-match – National Consumers League

By Mimi Johnson, NCL’s Director, Health Policy

It seems this year, there’s little I can do to beat the tree pollen. Allergy sufferers everywhere are plagued with itchy eyes, stuffy noses, and tight chests. According to experts, the wet season and early, warm spring led to a breeding ground for allergens.

Aside from keeping windows closed, keeping the house – and myself – clean of pollen, and trying to avoid the outdoors in the early hours of the day, I’ve also tried a variety of treatments. With allergies, symptoms – and pollen – vary throughout the season. While it’s important to follow a treatment plan and take medications as prescribed, it can be a real challenge during allergy season as symptoms, treatments, weather, and pollen counts are often changing.

One thing I’ve learned this allergy season, however, is the value of keeping a diary of my trials and tribulations. I’ve documented – on a somewhat daily basis – how my medication regimen and the weather are making me feel. This “diary” proved to be very useful when meeting with my doctor at a recent appointment.

Though there is little to do but ride it out and try to minimize the symptoms with a variety of over-the-counter and prescription products, next winter I can work together with my doctor to develop a regimen … well in advance of the first trace of pollen!

Whether you’re sick with allergies or the flu, or you’re caring for someone else who is feeling under the weather, you can help improve your immediate and longer-term care by keeping track of the symptoms, reactions to medication, and your thoughts along the way.

Teens, avoid these jobs in 2010 – National Consumers League

It’s that time of the year. Teenagers are starting to think about their summer jobs. Where will they work? What kind of work will they do? What will it pay?

2010’s Five Worst Teen Jobs 

  1. Traveling Youth Sales Crews
  2. Construction and Height Work
  3. Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping and Lawn Service
  4. Agriculture: Harvesting Crops
  5. Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATV’s

In 2008, approximately 2.3 million adolescents aged 15 to 17 years worked in the U.S. Unfortunately, the global recession has impacted teen hiring here in the U.S. and jobs are particularly hard to come by for teens these days. According to the New York Times in April 2010, the U.S. economy lost 8.2 million jobs in the previous two years and the teen unemployment rate had risen 26 percent, compared to 9.7 percent for the nation at large. Increasingly, teens are competing with more experienced adults for jobs. The National Consumer League (NCL) worries that the difficulty in finding jobs will lead teens to take jobs that are too dangerous for them.

Jobs for teens are an important part of youth development, providing both needed income and teaching valuable work skills, but we urge teenage workers to ask an important question: Will the job I take be a safe one? The wrong choice could harm you or even kill you.

Each day in America, 14 workers die. In 2008, 34 workers under 18 died in the workplace.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to accidents both in normal life and at work. Accidents are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 19. In fact, more youth between 10 and 19 die from injuries than die from all other causes combined.

The last six months have seen a number of gruesome news stories about teen work deaths:

  • A 14-year-old in Poquoson, Virginia who was working for a lawn care company was killed instantly when he was pulled into a wood chipper last November;
  • A 17-year-old doughnut shop worker fell into a normally-covered cesspool and drowned in Smithtown, New York this March (authorities believe the cover got knocked off during snow plowing); and
  • The body of 18-year-old Jennifer Hammond—last seen six years earlier selling magazines door-to-door—was discovered in Saratoga County, New York. Hammond was the apparent victim of a homicide.

Could these deaths have been prevented? Two of the jobs mentioned above are on our list of “Worst Jobs for Teens” that we recommend teenagers avoid. The 14-year-old killed by the wood chipper, Frank Gornik, was too young to be legally working with potentially deadly equipment like a wood chipper. Better knowledge of the law, which requires a worker to be 18 to work with a wood chipper, may have prevented his death.

 Deaths from Driving

The most common way for a teen worker to die is in a traffic accident. According to one recent study on unintentional injuries, seven in 10 accidental deaths result from car crashes. In 2008 data from the federal government, 43 of 97 deaths of workers under 19 came in transportation accidents.

We encourage young workers to look for jobs in which they do not drive, are not regularly driven by others or are not driven great distances. When in a car, young workers should wear their seat belt. They should ask that their driver not be distracted by using a cell phone, eating, or other disruptions. They should insist that they drive at safe speeds. According to several studies, the perception that driving in rural areas is safe is very misleading. Rural crashes are more frequent and more severe on a per capita or per mile basis. One report estimated that some rural counties are 100 times more dangerous than many urban counties.

Restaurants, Grocery Stores & Retail Stores

In terms of raw numbers, retail establishments, restaurants, and grocery stores are three of the largest employers of teen workers.

Many teens work in restaurants are at risk of burns and other kitchen-related injuries. In some states, restaurants rank first in the number of youth work injuries, although the injuries are often less severe than in many of the occupations cited in this report. Fryers, meat slicers, knives, compactors, and wet, greasy floors can all combine to form a dangerous work environment.

At times, teenagers work in what is typically a safe environment but do unsafe tasks. For example, grocery stores employ a lot of teen workers and for the most part they provide a safe work environment. However, when workers are rushing or are improperly trained accidents can happen. Workers under 18 are allowed to load trash compactors—found in most grocery stores—but they are prohibited from operating them because of a number of gruesome accidents that have occurred to users in the past. Safety specialists worry that improperly trained youth will not obey the law. Similarly, minors—unless they are working in agriculture–are not allowed to drive a forklift, but young people will sometimes get behind the wheel anyway.

Last year, a woman, barely 18, working in a grocery in Indiana, lost her hand trying to clean a grinder in a grocery store. In April, a New York supermarket was cited for illegally employing a 17-year-old to slice deli meat in violation of child labor hazardous orders.

Retail stores may seem like a safe environment but teens can get hurt lifting boxes, cutting boxes open, crushing boxes, and falling from ladders.

Mall and grocery parking lots are often the site of car accidents and can also be dangerous for young workers.

Nearly all work places hold some danger. Our goal is not to paralyze teen workers with fear but to get them and employers to minimize the risks involved. 

Workplace Violence

Restaurants and retail establishments also hold risks of workplace violence. According to 2008 federal data, 17 workers between the ages of 16 and 19 died from workplace violence.

In January, an Illinois teenager was beaten and sexually assaulted after being abducted from the sandwich shop where she worked alone at night. In some inner cities, young fast-food workers have reported routinely having to deal with gang members who come in to harass and rob them.

Teen workers should not be asked to work alone at night. Employers should discuss security procedures with employees in detail. The Illinois teen who was abducted had become aware that a suspicious person was watching her but did not call the police. She texted her concerns to her boyfriend who rushed to the workplace. He arrived too late to prevent the abduction

Causes of Injuries

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the causes of workplace injuries typically fall into these seven categories:

  • Unsafe equipment;
  • Stressful Conditions;
  • Inadequate safety training;
  • Inadequate supervision;
  • Dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for youth;
  • Trying to hurry; and
  • Alcohol and drug use.

The most common causes of death for the 97 young workers (under 19) who died in 2008:

  1. transportation accidents;
  2. contact with objects and equipment;
  3. violent acts;
  4. exposure to harmful substances or environments,
  5. falls;
  6. getting caught in or crushed by collapsing materials; and
  7. drowning or submersion.

Of those 97 youth deaths, in 34 cases the worker was under 18. Of those 34 deaths, 23 involved 16- and 17-year-olds and 11—or 32 percent—involved workers under 16. If parents are thinking that employers would only permit older teens to do dangerous tasks and that younger teens are safer, the statistics do not support that logic.

Males are much more at risk than females. Only one in every 14 adult workers who died at work was a women. Of the 5,071 workers who died in 2008, 1.9 percent were 19 or under.

Many youth involved in workplace accidents are fortunate enough to escape death but receive serious injuries. In 2007, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that there were 48,600 work-related injuries and illnesses among youth 15 to 17 years of age that were treated I hospital emergency departments. NIOSH believes that two out of three injury victims do not go to the emergency room and that the real number of injured workers is about 146,000—or 406 every day.

The National Consumers League issues the 2010 Five Worst Teen jobs to remind teens and their parents to help youth workers to choose their summer jobs wisely. Summer jobs can contribute a lot to a child’s development and maturity and teach new skills and responsibilities but the safety of each job must be a consideration.

Many teens lack the experience and sense of caution needed to protect themselves from workplace jobs. In government speak, “young workers have unique and substantial risks for work-related injuries…because of their biologic, social, and economic characteristics.” They are reluctant to refuse to do tasks because they are dangerous or to ask for safety information.

We ask parents to be involved in their teen’s job hunting and decision making, helping them to select safe employment. An important first step in the process is for parents and teens to acquaint themselves with the laws that protect working teens. Read what a teen worker can and cannot do at www.youthrules.dol.gov. The site provides information for young workers in each of the fifty states.

Other practical advice for parents:

Be involved
Before the job search begins, make decisions with your teen about appropriate employment. Set limits on how many hours per week he or she may work. Make sure your child knows you are interested in his or her part-time job.

Check it out
Meet your teen’s supervisor, request a tour of the facilities, and inquire about the company’s safety record. Ask about safety training, duties, and equipment. Don’t assume the job is safe. Every workplace has hazards.

Talk, talk, talk – and listen, too
Ask questions about your teen’s job. Ask teachers to give you a heads-up if grades begin to slip. Frequently ask your teen what she or he did at work and discuss any problems or concerns.

Watch for signs
Is the job taking a toll on your teen emotionally or physically? How is your child’s performance at school? If there’s a loss of interest in or energy for school or social activities, the job may be too demanding.

Our tips for teen workers follow:

Know the Legal Limits
To protect young workers like you, state and federal laws limit the hours you can work and the kinds of work you can do. For state and federal child labor laws, visit Youth Rules.

Play it Safe
Always follow safety training. Working safely and carefully may slow you down, but ignoring safe work procedures is a fast track to injury. There are hazards in every workplace — recognizing and dealing with them correctly may save your life.

Ask Questions
Ask for workplace training — like how to deal with irate customers or how to perform a new task or use a new machine. Tell your supervisor, parent, or other adult if you feel threatened, harassed, or endangered at work.

Make Sure the Job Fits
If you can only work certain days or hours, if you don’t want to work alone, or if there are certain tasks you don’t want to perform, make sure your employer understands and agrees before you accept the job.

Don’t Flirt with Danger
Be aware of your environment at all times. It’s easy to get careless after a while when your tasks have become predictable and routine. But remember, you’re not indestructible. Injuries often occur when employees are careless or goofing off.

Trust Your Instincts
Following directions and having respect for supervisors are key to building a great work ethic. However, if someone asks you to do something that feels unsafe or makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. Many young workers are injured — or worse — doing work that their boss asked them to do.

One safety expert suggests that if a job requires safety equipment other than a hard hat, goggles, or gloves, it’s not appropriate for minors. 

Five Worst Teen Jobs 

Many specific jobs pose potential dangers to young workers. The five jobs named on NCL’s list of “five worst teen jobs” have proven to be especially dangerous based on anecdotal evidence and federal statistics.

Traveling Youth Crews Performing Door-to-Door Sales

The startling discovery of the remains of a long-missing 18-year-old girl, Jennifer Hammond, in October 2009, served as a painful reminder that traveling door-to-door sales jobs are very dangerous. A Littleton, Colorado native, Hammond, had last been seen six years earlier in a mobile home park in Milton, New York. She failed to show up at a designated pickup spot two hours later. Six years later, a hunter found her remains in a forest in Saratoga County, New York.

Parents should not allow their children to take a traveling sales job. The dangers are too great. Without parental supervision, teens are at too great a risk of being victimized. Traveling sales crew workers are typically asked to go to the doors of strangers and sometimes enter their homes—a very dangerous thing for a young person to do.

Frequent crime reports involving traveling sales crews suggests that the environment they present is not a safe one for teen workers. And with 44 percent of young worker fatalities coming from vehicle accidents, NCL urges teens not to accept any job that involves driving long distances or for long periods of time.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned consumers in May 2009 that deceptive sales practices are common in door-to-door sales—the group had received 1,100 complaints in the prior year. “Experience tells us that customers aren’t the only victims of [these scams],” said Michael Coil, President of the Better Business bureau of Northern Indiana, “the young salespeople are also potentially being taken advantage of by their employers and forced to work long hours, endure substandard living conditions and have their wages withheld from them.”

Unfortunately, young sales people are also vulnerable to violence acts by crew leaders. The New York Times reported in October 2009, that “two young people working as itinerant magazine salesmen” in Lakewood, Washington were beaten with baseball bats and golf clubs after they told their bosses they wanted to quit. The victims, whose names and ages were not identified in the article, were hospitalized and their six assailants arrested.

“The industry’s out of control as far as violence,” Earline Williams, the founder of Parent Watch, one of the groups that follows the industry told the Orlando Sentinel in a December 2009 article that reported the beating of Brian Emery, a sales crew member called “The Kid” by his colleagues [Emery’s age was not reported]. New to traveling sales, Emery, told deputies that his team members gave him $12 to buy beer but became enraged when he bought the wrong brand. Two men were charged with beating Emery, one of whom broke a beer bottle across his face in the incident which took place in Osceola County, Florida.

In May 2008, police in Spokane, Washington investigated a 16-year-old’s claim that she was held as a captive worker by a door-to-door sales company. She escaped after the sales crew leaders beat up her boyfriend because he wasn’t selling enough magazines.

Many youth desperate for work are lured in with promises that they will earn good money, travel the country, and meet fun people selling door-to-door. One young man was told that the experience would be like MTV’s Road Rules.

The reality is often far different. Many salesmen work six days a week and 10 to 14 hours a day. Unscrupulous traveling sales companies charge young workers for expenses like rent and food that requires them to turn over all the money they ostensibly make from selling magazines or goods. When they try to quit or leave the crew, they are told they can’t. Disreputable companies have been known to seize young workers’ money, phone cards, and IDs and restrict their ability to call their parents. Drug use and underage drinking are not uncommon. A New York Times report in 2007 found that crew members often make little money after expenses are deducted. On some crews, lowest sellers are forced to fight each other or punished by being made to sleep on the floor.

Few of the magazine sales teams do background checks on their workers, Phil Ellenbecker, told the Orlando Sentinel. Ellenbecker runs an industry watchdog group based in Wisconsin that has tracked about 300 felony crimes and 86 deaths attributed to door-to-door vendors. “It’s not uncommon to get recently released felons knocking on your door trying to sell you magazines,” said Ellenbecker.

One salesman who spent 10 years on crews and eventually became a crew manager told the Indiana Student Daily newspaper, “I regret a lot of stuff I did….I’d become this monster. Lying to kids, telling them how good the job was, and it wasn’t a good job at all.”

A tough economy has made it tougher to sell magazines and according to Earline Williams of Parent Watch, that has meant more violence on crews and more sales employees abandoned. “It’s gotten meaner,” she told NCL. 

Among the possible dangers of working on traveling sales crews:

Murder: In addition to the suspected murder of Jennifer Hammond in 2003, other relatively recent murders:

  • In November 2007, Tracie Anaya Jones, 19, who was a member of a traveling sales crew, was found dead of stab wounds. Originally from Oregon, Jones was last seen working in Little Rock Arkansas before her body was found 150 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee. Her killing remains unsolved and was featured on America’s Most Wanted Web site.
  • In Rapid City, South Dakota in April 2004, a 41-year-old man wa