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Consumer Reports Warns Not to Eat Romaine Lettuce

Late last week Consumer Reports issued a warning to not eat romaine lettuce.

“Over the past seven weeks, 59 people in the U.S. and Canada have become ill from a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria, likely from eating romaine lettuce. In the U.S., the infections have occurred in 13 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington state). Five people in the U.S. have been hospitalized and one has died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There has also been one death in Canada.”

The Centers for Disease Control confirmed that the strain of E. coli detected in the U.S. is “a virtual genetic match” with the one that has caused illnesses in Canada.

You have no doubt heard this news already from your usual news sources, but I just want to add my two cents.

A reader sent me a comment from an organic farmer. He said

They say “all romaine” and can’t figure out why that is. Well, they answer it in the third paragraph:

“Until the cause of the current outbreak is known and the implicated food is removed from the supply chain, CR’s experts say consumers should avoid eating any romaine lettuce.”

The problem is the supply chain, the global food system that mixes produce from dozens or hundreds of farms together, including lots of lettuce grown overseas. All it takes is one farm doing things wrong and all romaine lettuce becomes deadly.

Please buy locally grown romaine at the farmers market and eat it with gusto.

I wanted to comment on this because I usually don’t buy romaine lettuce from the supply chain. My number one source of lettuce is my local organic farmer’s market. All their lettuce comes from their own farm. It’s not contaminated.

If lettuce is out of season (as it is now) I eat other greens or buy organic lettuce at a local produce market that does get their produce from the organic supply chain.

I hardly ever buy romaine anyway. I prefer a mix of red and green leaf lettuces.

But Larry’s family (who we live with) always buys romaine lettuce in a plastic bag at the supermarket. I’m happy to report that this warning resulted in the purchase of red leaf lettuce. No plastic bag.

If you eat romaine lettuce, please take this warning as an opportunity to explore local organic sources and other delicious lettuces.

FOOD SAFETY NEWS: Consumer Reports warns against eating any romaine lettuce

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My New Space Heater

Every winter the question of space heaters seems to come up.

Most heaters you will find on store shelves are made with plastic housings, which is the worst choice because heat will cause the plastic to outgas into the air.

I’ve written a number of posts in the past about space heaters. O&A: Portable Heaters With Metal Housings in particular outlines all the types of heaters to look for plus has links to other posts about heaters.

Today I want to tell you about a space heater of a different type that Larry purchased this year at Costco, and I like it so much I took it from him to put in my office (it’s in a building separate from the house where there is no central HVAC and the built-in heater is broken).

I LOVE this heater. There has never been an odor from the beginning.

Though the heating element is suspended in a hard plastic frame, it does not seem to outgas. The only part that heats up the the heating element and the large metal “dish” that focuses the heat in the direction right on you instead of heating the entire room.


I can turn on this heater on a cold morning and in minutes my immediate workspace is warm.

For years I have used small ceramic heaters and more recently a utility heater with metal housing. Both of those have fans that make noise. This is absolutely silent except for a slight hum that is much less noticeable to me.

Here’s another interesting heater I just found on amazon while I was looking up the link for the Presto. The description says “Safe and oderless heat. Eco friendly, does not consume oxygen and does not dry the air.”

UFO Electric Mid-Wave Infrared Heater

It looks like a standard infrared heating element in an aluminum tube. It costs twice as much, but seems to be more portable and can be used indoors or out. This one can be mounted on a wall or stand and in various other ways as well.

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Resources for Affordable Organic Fabrics & Upholstering Materials

You can make a cushion for a charming window seat like this using ORGANIC upholstery materials.


Question from Sabrina

Hi Debra,

First of all, thanks for all of your wonderful information and advice over the last…Gosh, I don’t know how many years! Eight? You’ve helped me make better choices for my family and kids, specifically. I am deeply grateful.

I am going to make a cushion for a window seat for my avid reader kiddo, and I wanted to pass along some info I found about some great materials.

First: certified GOLS organic latex foam and organic cotton muslin from It’s the best price I found for organic latex foam.

I also am getting organic wool batting from, but they don’t sell organic latex, only “all natural”, whatever that means.

I will be covering the cushion in organic cotton canvas from . They have the best selection at the best prices of organic fabric, that I have found.

Hope this is interesting and helpful.

Thanks again! And Happy New Year!

Debra’s Answer

Thanks for these great resources! I’m sure others will be interested in them too.

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UV system in air conditioner OK for MCS?

Hi Debra,

Anyone with mcs have a UV system for their air conditioner?

It is supposed to help prevent odors and mold, and my ac company is trying to persuade me to get it, but I know many years ago I read it is not good for an mcser.

A friend of mine had it and had to have it removed, but another mcser friend has one and is okay.

It is quite expensive and if I have to take it out, I will not get any of the money back. Thanks.

Debra’s Answer

UV lights produce varying amounts of ozone, but those intended for mold and germs produce very little. That may be what some very sensitive people are reacting to.

Readers, any experience with this?

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EWG’s New Healthy Home Guides


Environmental Working Group has released a set of Healthy Home Guides. It’s the first time they have addressed exposure to chemicals in the home as a whole.

Rather than being comprehensive, these guides offer simple advice on avoiding less than a dozen chemicals of concern (lead, asbestos, flame retardants, VOCs, PFCs, antimicrobials, and radon).

Product-specific guides give only tips on what chemicals to avoid and what to look for, but no guidance on how to actually find these products.

Still, it’s a good educational effort to show there IS a problem with chemical exposures in the home and will make many more aware they should be looking for toxic-free products.


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Co-workers with Fragrance

Question from Sus D

Hi Debra,

I work with people who have worked with me when I contracted fragrance allergies, they refuse to stop using their fragranced lotions and work in my office before I get there.

We have a policy addressing this but isn’t enforced even by HR department.

I work in a health care facility and it has gotten bad over the last five years. we have customers that have fragrance allergies also.

Why do the leaders let this happen with these employees who don’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. the leaders are aware, I know of one family that has wrote letters addressing the issue.

I was told I didn’t have the right to ask people to not use their product and the only manager that has tried to help feels like his hands are tied due to no one else caring to enforce the policy.

is their any organization to contact. already contacted JAN. Any advice. the manager wants to get me and the one that works in the office before me to met and have a discussion. I say it won’t help cuz she already knows and has know since the beginning but will not stop.

Debra’s Answer

Readers, anyone have a similar experience? Any advice?

Here is a page from The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation with many links regarding fragrance-free policies

I understand you have a policy and need help getting it enforced.

Here are some other resources that might help with enforcement. Some of them address refusal to comply. You might contact any of these organizations for help with your situation.

SAVVY WOMAN’S ALLIANCE: Five Friendly Fragrance-Free Signs

New ADA Guidelines for Fragrance Sensitivity Explained | Labor Law

Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance ..

Fragrance Sensitivities Raise Bouquet of Legal Issues

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How I Found My New Refrigerator

Larry and I have been living with his mom and two siblings for the past two months, and it had become abundantly clear that a standard refrigerator would not hold enough food for five adults with varying food preferences.

So we decided to get a small “apartment size” refrigerator to hold our food. A bit inconvenient to have to bring food into the kitchen from another room to prepare it, but the trade-off is that we can actually find our food and nobody else will eat it, intentionally or by accident.

And then we had to find one.

Larry looked on craigslist but didn’t find anything. I called around to used appliance stores, but they didn’t have any. Prices on new ones were more than $400, and I didn’t want a new refrigerator.

So Larry and I went to the bank to get some cash, and cleaned out his van so we could bring the refrigerator home, and looked again at craigslist.

There was a new listing.

It was about 45 minutes away, in Mill Valley. It was in perfect condition and totally clean. It was six months old so it didn’t have the “new refrigeratory smell” of plastic outgassing.

A young couple was selling it because they were moving out of their rental, which just happened to be a charming Arts & Crafts cottage in a grove of redwoods that was 100 years old. The owner wanted to tear down the house. The couple had moved everything out of the house and the refrigerator had to be gone today.

The ad said $200, but when Larry asked the seller how much he wanted, he said $150.

We took it.

Larry and I had wanted to spend $100 and his sister had given us $50 toward the refrigerator as an early Christmas present. So we spent the $100 we wanted to spend and got the exact refrigerator we wanted.

I have to tell you that intention plays a large part in finds like this. Knowing what we want and intending we will find it. Works every time.

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Lead Paint on Glass Kettle


Question from Kaila

Hi Debra,

I recently purchased a glass kettle by Trendglas Jena to replace my old kettle and avoid leeching metals. Sadly, I didn’t see your comment on lead in the markings on the outside before I bought it, otherwise I would have purchased their smaller one with no markings.

I wrote the company and they sent me their test results (yes lead in the paint).

However, their kettles pass: FDA, Prop 65, REACH and several other European standards.

Is the risk with this paint just that it would wear over time and you’d come into contact with it washing, etc. Or that it can leach into the glass from the outside? I did not want to purchase a Chinese glass kettle and chose this because of the higher European safety standards. I may be able to exchange for one without markings. Thoughts?

Debra’s Answer

Europe does have higher safety standards.

I’m not really concerned about this.

A lot of research has been done on lead exposure and there are zero warnings about touching lead or breathing air next to a surface with lead paint. The hazard of lead exposure from paint is when it is ground into dust and inhaled, such as a door or window wearing away paint from opening and closing, and releasing it into the air. Also eating chips of lead paint is a hazard.

But I have no evidence or logic that would indicate to me that lead paint on a measuring cup would be a hazard.

Would I prefer there to be no lead paint on a product? Yes. But I don’t see a hazardous exposure here.

Someone please correct me if you have some evidence otherwise.

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Organic and Pesticide-Free Christmas Trees, Wreath and Greenery

Every Christmas I look for organic Christmas trees, wreaths and greenery. In the past they have been difficult to find, but last year I have quite a few. Some of these are from Debra’s List, others I’m not adding only because they are seasonal. This is last year’s post updated.

Before you make a decision, check out this great article from Beyond Pesticides about Christmas Trees and Pesticides. They talk about pesticides used on Christmas trees, give suggestions on how to find organic trees in your area, and give lots of tips about how to handle and care for your tree.

And here’s another interesting article about how farmers are learning to reduce and eliminate their use of pesticides. It says that even though Christmas tree farmers do regularly use pesticides such as Roundup and Lorsban, the amount of pesticide residue that may be present on a Christmas tree by the time it gets to your house in “minor.” Most pesticides are sprayed in the spring or summer, so by December, they’ve been broken down by the elements.


SILVERTON TREE FARM “Our Christmas trees are organically grown, with no pesticides used. Our tree farm is certified with the American Tree Farm system. To be certified we must follow “[t]he American Forest Foundation’s (AFF’s) 2010-2015 Standards of Sustainability for Forest Certification…” By following such standards we are promoting “…the vitality of renewable forest resources while protecting environmental, economic, and social benefits and work to increase public understanding of all benefits of sustainable forestry.” ( We are also working toward organic certification.”

LYNCH CREEK FARM Wreaths, garlands, centerpieces, and “trees” (assembled from sprigs) made from Noble fir boughs from the Cascade Mountains. Assembled on a farm that has been organic since 1980. “We generate revenue for local landowners, giving them a reason to protect their forest versus opting to clear-cut.”

GRANSTORM EVERGREEN Wreaths, garlands, and a cross wreath. “We do not use any pesticides when growing or making our evergreen products. We are a family business that has been making wreaths for over 30 years.”

OREGON HOLIDAY WREATHS Wreaths hand-made with fresh cut boughs of Noble Fir, Douglas Fir, Juniper, and Pine Cones. “We are 100% organic and pesticide-free.”

CREEKSIDE FARMS Holiday wreaths made from plants of the season that are not evergreens, grown naturally without pesticides.

ORGANIC BOUQUET Wreaths, plants, and fresh flowers. “All of our sustainably certified partner farms in Ecuador, Colombia and California use earth-friendly techniques to grow the flowers you enjoy! Instead of using harmful synthetic chemicals for fertilizers and pesticides, natural resources are used to grow these beautiful flowers.”


 List of organic Christmas tree farms in USA. This list has been growing for many years and is updated for 2016.

SLOW FLOWERS A lovely online directory that lists local providers of “slow flowers”—flowers that are locally grown and often organic. Providers know the source of the flowers they sell.


serf Now there is a program for Christmas tree farmers that educates and certifies farmers for sustainable practices in the Northwest. Socially and Environmentally Responsible Farm (SERF) Includes in their certification requirements use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) instead of toxic pesticides.

While only four farms in Oregon have been certified as of this writing, Oregon is the largest Christmas tree producer in the nation—more that 6 million tress are harvested there every year, and they are shipped all over the world. So you just might see a SERF seal at a Christmas tree lot near you.


wreath Last year I received a beautiful wreath from Jen’s Wreaths.

I had contacted them last week for this post, but there was a big blizzard in Minnesota and they didn’t get the message in time. When she finally responded, Jen offered to send me a wreath in exchange for adding them to the list. How could I refuse?

All the materials for their wreaths are hand-harvested from their local forests. “We are all about sustainable harvesting and a lot of our greenery actually comes from logging sites and the branches they discard…Some of our bows are made of synthetic material, but we’re on the look out for affordable, durable ribbon that is organic and healthy for everyone.” Maybe they will have that this year. Sustainably harvested wreaths with organic bows. 🙂

I emailed Jen on Friday I needed the wreath by Monday and it arrived on Saturday. It was full and lush and just beautiful. It was mixed greens—cedar, white pine, balsam fir and dogwood—so fragrant I could smell it even sitting in the next room as I wrote.

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Nontoxic Choices for Artificial and Alternative Christmas Trees

Question from Stacey

Hi Debra,

Just wondering if there are any new resources for artificial Christmas trees. We have gotten real trees in the past, but for various reasons, we prefer to get an artificial tree. However, I do not want a toxic tree. Any new recommendations?

Thanks so much!

Debra’s Answer

There are several types of artificial trees. I haven’t done an extensive study of all the types, but the plastic ones are most prevalent and most toxic.


Most plastic trees are made in China from polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC). Since it is a semi-soft plastic, it would outgas phthalates, like a PVC shower curtain.How much it outgasses is hard to say. Cheap artificial trees are most likely 100% PVC.

I called Balsam Hill , who advertises having the most realistic and beautiful Christmas trees, and their trees are made in China. They have three grades of trees. Their “traditional” is 100% PVC, and their “realistic” and “most realistic” are 70% nontoxic polyethylene and 30% PVC.

If you want a plastic artificial tree, your best choice is the Christmas trees sold at IKEA.

It turns out the Fejka trees at IKEA are made from polyethylene and polypropylene, two of the least toxic plastics available. Polyethylene is so nontoxic it is approved by GOTS to be safe enough to use to make a crib mattress. There are no other chemicals on these trees like fire retardants. I called IKEA and they said no. I asked them if, in general, ALL the materials are included on the tag and online and they said yes. So if it’s not on the tag, it’s not in the product. These trees are not sold online, only at local IKEA stores. But call first if you want one, as they are not available in all stores.

So if you want a plastic tree, be sure to check what type of plastic it’s made from. Avoid PVC, choose polyethylene.


Here is a solid hardwood trees made in New Hampshire by Festive Trees. I don’t know anything about the paint or finish, but they will last year after year. You may be able to get one unfinished and paint it yourself, or if you are handy or know someone who is, you could even make one in any size you want.

Ii you don’t want to buy a tree, consider finding or purchasing bare branches on which to hang lights and ornaments. Though the evergreen is the traditional greenery for winter as it symbolizes life continuing even in the dark days, bare branches can be beautiful and reflect the bare trees outdoors. Right now where I am living there is a beautiful persimmon tree with bare branches and bright orange permissions hanging all over it like Christmas tree ornaments.

merry christmas

One Christmas I was living in a rented room in someone else’s house and didn’t have room for a tree. But just before Christmas there was a big winter storm, and when I went for a walk the street was strewn with evergreen branches. So I gathered as many as I could carry and put them in a vase, and that was my tree.

Or trim whatever evergreens you have in your yard, put the trimmings in a vase, and decorate them.

There are all kinds of creative ways to come up with a Christmas tree by using various nontoxic materials and your imagination. You could easily make this tree below out of branches. For more inspiration on ways to make your own Christmas tree, see 25 Creative Christmas Tree Ideas.

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