Chicken: Pumped and Plumped to Look and Taste Better

Dear Mary: Thanks for your most informative recent column on poultry labeling. I have seen chicken in the supermarket that includes “enhanced” on the label. As nearly as I can figure this means pumping salty water into the meat. What is all this about? Thanks. Mimi

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Photo Credit: Getty Images/Adam Gault

Dear Mimi: You are smart to question that dubious description. The USDA allows meat products to include solutions that deliver ‘benefits’ such as adding moisture, tenderizing meat or add flavor. However, such additives must be fully disclosed on the label, which you know because you have seen this.

Turns out that a lot of our meat is enhanced. About 30 percent of poultry, 15 percent of beef and 90 percent of pork are injected with some kind of liquid solution before sale, according to the USDA, and it’s usually something high in sodium.

According to the American Meat Institute, the solution pumps up the meat’s volume and can “replace the flavor and moisture loss that results from raising leaner animals or from potential overcooking.” The process can increase the amount of sodium in chicken by five times or more. Enhanced chicken often costs the same as unenhanced chicken, so if you buy a 3-lb. chicken and it has 15 percent salt water in it, you’re essentially paying for a half pound of salt water.

What you figured is exactly right.

A Surprise Cleaning Agent for Fireplace Doors

I had a striking déjà vu moment when I read today’s first reader tip. I don’t think I’d ever thought about it, but Roseanne’s tip brought back a memory of my grandfather doing this very thing on the big, black cast iron wood range that sat in my grandparents’ tiny kitchen in Potlatch, Idaho. The stove had a small door with a glass window to observe the fire burning inside. He would clean that door so my grandmother could see when she needed to add more wood to the stove. Sounds like something out of the the dark ages, doesn’t it? For the record, I was a very, very young at the time.

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FIREPLACE GLASS. This is a trick I learned from my mother for cleaning the glass on the glass fireplace or stove doors that get fouled with smoke and soot, becoming opaque so you cannot see and enjoy the flame. Spread newspaper down, open the door. Take another wadded up page of newspaper, wet it, dip it in the ashes and use it to clean the glass. This will remove everything from the glass without scratching or harming it in anyway. Last step: Wad up one last piece of newspaper and use it to wipe away all of the crud and nastiness. The result is quite amazing and the price is right. Rosanne

Six Winners in the Generic vs. Name-Brand Competition

What do you associate with the word “generic?” Do the words “inferior” or “tastes like cardboard” come to mind? Or do you, like many people, associate name-brands with people who are well-to-do, while people in poverty opt for generics? All of that is complete nonsense, but it is a commonly held attitude. The truth is that generics are often a great buy because the quality of the product is exactly equal or sometimes even better than the name brand counterpart. Here are six winners:

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Cereal. You really can stop paying $4 a box for cereal because excellent generic options are typically 30 percent cheaper. In several blind test studies, kids who were given brand name and generic cereals could not tell a difference. If your kids are picky about their favorite cereal, try combining the name brand and the generic brand in a plastic container so they don’t see the packaging. Gradually move the mix to more and more generic, until they’ve made the switch.

A Cheapskate State of Mind

I’m sure I could lecture about frugality and living below your means until my face turned blue, write until my computer exploded in a fit of rebellion and still not achieve the impact of a success story like this one from Kelly D.

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“Shortly after my husband and I were married, the first credit card application showed up. At first I was dead-set against filling it out but after a little coaxing from my husband I gave in. Of course others followed shortly.

“Each time we had an emergency–car repairs, unpaid taxes, a weekend getaway–we’d pull out a card. It all seemed so easy. Before I knew it we had three or four cards that were all nearly charged to the limit.

“We tried setting up a plan to pay off the debts. The money was always there on paper but somehow I didn’t ever see it in the account. My husband and I would tell each other things would be much better once the next raise, next promotion or next job came along. Somehow it didn’t ever work out that way. That was how things were our first five years together.

Microwave Popcorn May be Trouble in a Bag

When I first read about the possible dangers of microwave popcorn, I assumed I would read about issues having to do with sodium and trans fats. What I’ve learned is that the real problem may be with the bag.

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The bag almost all microwave popcorn varieties come in is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical, when heated, has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. No long term studies have been conducted on humans, but the EPA now lists this substance as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  Holy moly! Likely to be? That’s enough for me to shun the stuff, but that’s not the only reason. Microwave popcorn is relatively expensive!

I’ll show you a cost comparison, but first, let me show you how to make popcorn in the microwave with no PFOA-laden bag, and no tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), annatto extract or propyl gallate added for flavor, color or longevity (ingredients copied from a bag of the stuff). I’m talking fresh, pristine, fabulous popcorn from start to finish in about 3 minutes.

Credit Scoring is Complicated

Dear Mary: I am a retiree and maintain a good credit rating but it could be better. That being said, I discussed that with my insurance people who said having charge cards open with no balance is a strike against you in achieving that. That took me by surprise.  I currently have one active credit card and pay the balance each month. However, I do have  three charge cards from clothing stores, which are seldom used. Balances are always paid off each month.

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Are inactive charge cards keeping my credit score low even though they never carrying revolving balances? Joann

Dear Joann: I must take exception to what your insurance people told you. That information is not correct. Whoever told you that closing any credit card account will improve your credit score is misinformed. On the contrary, closing any credit card accounts will effectively lower your credit score. 

It is important for you to understand that Insurance companies use a different credit score when determining premiums than the score a bank will use to issue a credit card account or mortgage. 

Your “insurance credit bureau score” originates using the same information (from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) used by financial services, but also considers information on previous insurance claims. If you filed an auto claim or a claim against your homeowners insurance, for example, that is considered and can lower your insurance credit bureau score. 

This will explain why your insurance credit score may be lower than say the score you received from MyFico.com or one of the credit bureaus. 

There is one thing I’m sure we can all agree on: credit scoring is complicated!

More Ways to Slash Your Food Bill

Could you use an extra $50 or $100 next week? If you get motivated there’s a big chance you can slash your family’s food bill by $50 a week without sacrificing health and nutrition. And that will be tax-free cash you have in your hand … not money that requires more overtime or a garage sale before you can get your hands on it. 

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Notice I said “food” bill, not grocery tab. Unless you’re keeping careful track of your spending, you might not know just how much is being sucked out for restaurants, fast food, school and business lunches, coffee shops and on and on. 

There’s not one single way to reduce food costs significantly and consistently. It has to be a combination of strategies: buy right, eat out less and cook at home more. 

Coupons. These days shopping with coupons requires more than clipping them from the Sunday paper. You can still do that but you need to know how to grab digital coupons, too. Even with the explosion of ways to add coupons to your grocery dollars, lots of people don’t do it because it’s just not their thing. Or they don’t have the right information or know-how. Two great resources to get you up to speed: 5DollarDinners.com  and TheGroceryGame.com

Graduate Debt-Free

There was a time that I didn’t have much of an opinion on paying for college with student loans. That was before the advent of e-mail and thousands of messages all with a similar subject line: Help! I’m drowning in student loan debt! 

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That was before I learned that 85 percent of all college graduates do not end up working in their major.

That was before I heard from Jim P., who took all the student loans he could get to pay for college and law school. He assumed he’d land a big-bucks cushy job and pay back $200,000 really fast. The fifth time he failed the bar exam he gave up on being a lawyer. But the debt goes on.

That was before I met Peter K., who became a chiropractor on borrowed funds. Guess what? He couldn’t stand the profession. Now he’s teaching high school math. Too bad teachers don’t make enough money to service $160,000 in student debt. But the debt goes on.