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November 16, 2009

How Cheesy Can You Get?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:12 am

MrConsumer found a lactose-free parmesan cheese substitute at his local supermarket, and decided to try it.


Beside bearing more resemblance to sawdust in flavor than grated cheese, the package contained another surprise. Had MrConsumer been Superman, he could have used his x-ray vision at the store and discovered that the container was only about 60% filled.



Regulations of the Food and Drug Administration call this “slack-fill.”


Subpart F–Misbranding for Reasons Other Than Labeling

Sec. 100.100 Misleading containers.

In accordance with section 403(d) of the act, a food shall be deemed to be misbranded if its container is so made, formed, or filled as to be misleading.
(a) A container that does not allow the consumer to fully view its contents shall be considered to be filled as to be misleading if it contains nonfunctional slack-fill. Slack-fill is the difference between the actual capacity of a container and the volume of product contained therein. Nonfunctional slack-fill is the empty space in a package that is filled to less than its capacity for reasons other than:
(1) Protection of the contents of the package;
(2) The requirements of the machines used for enclosing the contents in such package;
(3) Unavoidable product settling during shipping and handling;
(4) The need for the package to perform a specific function (e.g., where packaging plays a role in the preparation or consumption of a food), where such function is inherent to the nature of the food and is clearly communicated to consumers; [(5-6) omitted; 21 CFR 100.100]

A check of another container revealed a similar slack fill. It is unclear whether the contents did or did not weigh the labeled eight ounces. Without more facts, one cannot determine whether this package violates the law, but it sure might annoy most purchasers.

[Note: The next new Mouse Print* story will be published on Monday, November 30.]

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November 9, 2009

The Limits of Unlimited Cell Service

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:55 am

More and more cell companies are advertising unlimited service packages these days. Here’s one from a company you have never heard of:


Their “unlimited” plans range in price from $39.99 to $69.99. So do they really give you “unlimited” service?


From their FAQ:

Q: Is there a cap on the unlimited program. A: Yes, the unlimited Local & LD Plans are capped at 10,000 minutes per month.

Q: How many text messages can I send per month? A: Unlimited Text Messaging is capped at 30,000 per month.

Q: How much data can I use on the unlimited program? A: Unlimited MMS, Internet & Data is capped at 5 Gig

Ten thousand minutes of talk time sounds like a lot, but it really is only about 5.5 hours a day.  Some business people may in fact be on their phone longer than that.  At least they disclose the actual limits of their “unlimited” service, unlike most of the big brand name cell companies that make you hunt through their terms and conditions to find out that their unlimited service is subject to (sometimes unstated) limits. 

Realistically, while most users won’t go over these limits, that should not give a company the right to call a service unlimited when it is not.  From a consumer protection standpoint, no company should advertise “unlimited” service unless it actually is that.

• • •

November 2, 2009

Sears: They Only Call it a Refrigerator

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:57 am

Walletpop reports that a senior citizen recently bought one of those mini dorm-size refrigerators from Sears, and was having a problem. Her food was spoiling after only a day or two, as the interior temperature of the refrigerator reportedly hovered between 50 and 65 degrees, and higher on hot days.

When she contacted Sears, the consumer recounts, “a technician who handles warranty service for Sears told me it is quiet because there is no compressor in it and it cannot keep food cold enough to eat safely if there is no compressor.” Please visit Walletpop for the rest of her tale, and learn whether Sears gave her any money back.

Here is how Sears promotes this refrigerator on its website:


It is described in part as:

This Thermoelectric refrigerator chills your food without noise and vibration. You’ll never notice it’s there until you need a snack! With no harmful refrigerants, this quiet, compact, thermoelectric refrigerator will be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone.

It is nice to know that this appliance has no harmful refrigerants, but it does have something worse.

*MOUSE PRINT: The disclosure that is missing in that product description is that it is not safe to store perishable food in this “refrigerator.” According to the Food and Drug Administration, refrigerators should be kept at 40 degrees or below, which this appliance is apparently unable to do.

The FDA goes on to say:

“The goal is to keep yourself and others from being sickened by microorganisms such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and C. botulinum, which causes botulism. Keeping foods chilled at proper temperatures is one of the best ways to prevent or slow the growth of these bacteria.” –FDA

Given the limitations of this unit and the potential illness it could cause, it seems to us that Sears should pull these units off the market or clearly label them as “coolers” along with appropriate warnings that perishable food should not be stored inside for more than a few hours. It would also seem appropriate that Sears either warns existing purchasers of the potential danger of these units or recalls them.

• • •

October 26, 2009

Acai Berry “Reports” Misleading

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:39 am

The buzz on many websites seems to be about acai berry supplements that purportedly can help you lose weight. Here is one such site (click to enlarge):


This looks like a local TV news station’s report on acai berries, reporter and all, who tested the stuff herself.  The station, News 8, WKRV-TV is in Florida, according to the masthead.

*MOUSE PRINT:  WKRV-TV in Florida is non-existent.  WKRV is a small FM radio station in Illinois, and may once have been a TV station in some other cities.

But what about our intrepid investigative reporter, Rachel Frank, pictured above?  Well, it seems she has a twin sister named Julia who wears the exact same clothing and works at some other health news website:


The “sisters” wrote about their experience using the product in a diary-format for a four week period, including saying “My energy level seemed to steady climb each day during this first week.”  Funny how the sisters made the exact same typo in each of their reports.

*MOUSE PRINT: Even more coincidental, women named “Jackie”, “Christine”, and “Kate”, and one unidentified man who looks strangely like NBC’s white house correspondent Chuck Todd, all said the same thing in those exact words on their websites.

In the first ad above, there are two disclaimers at the top.

*MOUSE PRINT: One says “advertorial” and the other says “this website is not affiliated with any news outlet.”

Hmmm.  So those few words are somehow supposed to overcome the net impression created by the website that this is a television station doing an investigation of a diet pill?

We saved the best for last:

*MOUSE PRINT: At the very bottom of the website in tiny type on a grey background is this disclosure:

“This website, and any page on the website, is based loosely off a true story, but has been modified in multiple ways including, but not limited to: the story, the photos, and the comments. Thus, this blog, and any page on this website, are not to be taken literally or as a non-fiction story.” –Ad 1


Finally, there have been some real news reports of consumers who took advantage of “free trial offers” and wound up being billed for hundreds of dollars of unordered products.  (See also our story on tooth whitener offers.)

Buyer beware.

• • •

October 19, 2009

Schlage: Unlock Your Front Door Remotely (but Not Cheaply)

Filed under: Business,Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

Lock manufacturer Schlage has just begun an advertising campaign on TV promoting a new front door lock that can be unlocked remotedly.  Their commercial depicts a homeowner in Seattle unlocking a door far away for a friend just by pressing a few button on his cell phone.

*MOUSE PRINT: In case you didn’t catch that fine print disclosure on the bottom of the screen, it said:

“Monthly fee is required for the remote featured benefits. Product is simulated and requires additional third party equipment and service for proper functioning.”

A monthly fee to unlock your front door in an emergency? What will they think of next? And the cost here is key — $12.99 a month. That’s not insignificant. What’s wrong with the old-fashioned way — keeping a spare key in the flower pot — and that’s free?

As to what else you need to make this work:

— a compatible cell phone with Internet access (or remote computer);
— a Schlage Link bridge — a device that sends wireless signals to the lock
— an Internet router — you plug the bridge into the router
— a live broadband Internet connection

The lock pictured in their commercial, incidentally, is just a latch type lock. If you want a deadbolt, which provides more security for your home, it does not lock/unlock remotely as depicted in the commercial.

*MOUSE PRINT: From Schlage’s FAQ:

“For the Schlage Wireless Deadbolt, however, you can remotely activate the lock which makes it possible for the door to be unlocked by someone turning the outside thumbturn. Since door frames aren’t always aligned and a deadbolt can require more leverage to engage or disengage, the deadbolt requires manual operation.”

The starter kit that Schlage sells is $299.

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