You Can Avoid The 24 Hour Flu

Didn’t I ask to hold the Shigellosis on mine?You know why? Because it really doesn’t exist.

Most likely what you were experiencing was a bout with foodborne illness. No joke.

Why am I talking about foodborne illness on this here blog? Well, as we all know, medical care is expensive. With food prices on the rise more people are cooking at home to help stretch their dollar. Learning how to prevent our home cooked meals from making our families ill can save us valuable funds and sick time.

The CDC estimates that there are about 76 million cases of foodborne illness every year; with 325,000 serious enough to require hospitalization. Even if most of the cases are mild and go away after a few days that’s still a lot of downtime for the American worker.

Think it’s all from shady restaurants? Probably not.

The odds are that many cases of foodborne illness start in our very own kitchens.

At least restaurants (hopefully) have the proper equipment, training, and monitoring to reduce their risk of serving up a plate of foodborne illness. Who is teaching the home cook about proper sanitation? Is anyone performing inspections to make sure you are cooking and storing your food correctly?

I learned some really interesting things in my sanitation class that could actually benefit us home cooks. I’m far from a germ-o-phobe but I’m much more conscious of my practices now. I’ve already changed some of my cooking habits after learning a bit more about how to prevent potential illness.

Reduce your chances of serving a side of salmonella with your chicken pot pie with these tips:

Stop cross contamination. The biggest source of cross contamination is from your hands. Wash your hands (along with your cutting board AND knives/utensils) with soap every time you change foods. Simply wiping your board after cutting up raw chicken isn’t enough. Wash it and dry it with single use paper towels. I like to use a sanitizing spray for my surfaces, too.

Think about how you store your food. Don’t place your raw chicken on the top shelf where juices could drip down and contaminate other food or surfaces. You should always try to place cooked or ready-to-eat foods above and away from raw foods.

The industry stores food (top to bottom):

Cook your food properly. Heat can kill many of the pathogens that cause illness. The only way you can definitively know that your food is cooked to the recommended internal temperature is with a thermometer. You can find a nifty brochure containing the USDA’s temperature guidelines here. Oddly enough, some of the USDA’s current recommendations are higher than what is in my book for pork and ground meat.

Avoid the danger zone. The “danger zone” refers to the temperature range that bacteria multiply rapidly in; currently that temperature range is 41 F to 135 F. Food exposed to this temperature range for 4 hours or longer could accumulate enough bacteria to cause illness.

An example of this time/temperature abuse is leaving your thanksgiving meal out on the table all afternoon. Put away leftovers promptly and keep them below 41 F. If food sits out, especially longer than 4 hours, toss it.

Thaw safely. There’s a reason why you aren’t supposed to set that frozen turkey on the counter to thaw. By the time the center starts to warm up the surface has already been in the bacteria-friendly danger zone for too long. That’s just no good. The best ways to thaw food are:

Wash all your fruits and veggies. Just do it. Many bacteria and viruses can be spread through contaminated soil, water, or equipment that has touched your food. Before using your veggies make sure to thoroughly wash them. I always wait to wash them until immediately before use to lower my chances of food spoilage.

Do you have any home food sanitation advice or concerns?

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Last Chance To Use Your Flexible Savings Account!

If you have a Flexible Savings Account, or FSA, you know how complicated tracking all your medical expenses can be. If you haven’t been keeping up with the receipts it can be a real chore to get organized, especially now that there is a looming deadline.

From our employer’s website:

You have until April 30th of the current year to file claims for expenses incurred January 1st of the previous year through March 15th of the current year.

In other words, it’s now or never to spend your FSA funds and submit the expenses.

Please be aware that not all companies elected to have the same deadlines. Check with your specific employer to see when your FSA deadlines are.

It’s pretty late in the game but if you are still searching for ways to spend your remaining 2007 FSA funds, consider:

While going through my receipts, I noticed that some stores actually note which items may be eligible for FSA reimbursement. Until I saw the “H” next to the antacids and contact solution I didn’t realize I could submit them! Check your receipts and see if you missed anything. How convenient!

2008 is my first year to fund and actually use a FSA. In an effort to keep up with my paperwork I just submitted all my receipts for the past two months. Less than 3 months into the year and I’m already half way through my funds. I’ll probably run short by December and will need to increase my figure for next year.

After narrowly missing some eligible expenses I decided to spend some time looking up what is and is not eligible for reimbursement.

Here is a detailed list of eligible expenses by a human resources company I found online. I found it very helpful. The alphabetical list starts on page 3.

FSA updates for 2008:
The following expenses no longer require a physician’s note for reimbursement:

  • Orthotics, insoles, and arch supports
  • Sunscreen and sun block (awesome!)
  • Tints and coatings for prescription eyeglasses
  • Ear-wax removal products

Familiarizing myself with the list really helped me understand what expenses qualify for reimbursement. I had no idea that you could count mileage to medical appointments. I don’t plan on submitting my mileage but I suppose if your doctors were far away this could come in handy.

I also didn’t realize that vitamins wouldn’t qualify unless your doctor writes a note saying they are used to alleviate a medical condition. Taking them for health and well being isn’t enough.

Interesting expenses allowed:

Interesting expenses NOT allowed:

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Get Your Doctors To Give You The Goods!

Free meds certainly make me happy!I spent most of my morning at the doctor today.  My asthma has been acting up for over a month now and I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I’ve been putting off going to the doctor (laziness?  fear?  I’m not sure) but it’s to the point where I can’t sleep at night and I’m draining all of my emergency inhalers.  I just couldn’t avoid it any longer.

At the beginning of this year our health insurance benefits changed slightly.  Our office and prescription co-pays stayed the same but now we are required to pay 10% of the cost of any bloodwork performed (up to $100). 

After puffing on a new cocktail of nebulizer meds and getting an injection in my hip of something that burned like crazy I was able to breathe fully again.  Whew!  To help me get over this flare up I’ve been prescribed a host of new meds.  It’s a bummer (I still have 2 months worth of the old meds left at home) but I’m hoping this new stuff will do the trick.  

I’ve been saving money by getting my long term meds in 3-month supplies by mail order.  Unfortunately, this time we are experimenting with new meds so I had to get them one month at a time at Walgreens.  There goes my medical budget for the month!  I paid $10 for the visit co-pay and a whopping $125 in prescription co-pays.  Asthma inhalers are pricey right now and generics are hard to find due to recent formula changes.  Blood was drawn during this visit, too.  I’ll have to add that 10% fee to the overall damage when I get the bill.  Sigh.

The good news is that despite being lightheaded from the steroids I remembered to ask three very important questions about the new meds he was prescribing me: 

By simply asking those questions I was able to get:

I also nonchalantly asked if I would need a prescription to get some replacement tubing/mouthpiece for my nebulizer and he slipped me a new set for free.  That was a big help because I would have had to go to a specialty medical store for that.  I totally scored.

So even though I had to spend over $125 in meds today I was able to get over $125 in freebies and discounts.  Just goes to show it never hurts to ask questions about your meds at the doctor’s office (even if everything else that happens there hurts).  You might be surprised at what you can save.

Man, that was one painful injection!  I’m gonna be sore for days, I just know it…

Image Source: Son of Groucho