LAKELAND, Fla. -- Publix Super Markets here -- in an effort to educate consumers and ultimately to sell them more meat -- is giving away disposable meat thermometers with the purchase of ground round.
The chain, with 400 some units in the Southeast, has ordered 650,000 of the individual thermometers for giveaway in all its divisions. Contained in a blister pack with directions on how to use them, the thermometers are affixed to the outside of packages of ground round. The promotion began on October 18 when consumers were informed of the free-thermometer deal in Publix' ads.
A blurb superimposed on the chain's meat ad in a freestanding insert said, "Free! One TempRite disposable ground beef temperature sensor with the purchase of any size package of Publix fresh ground round. Always cook ground meats to 160F and use a meat thermometer or sensor."
Selected stores also were demonstrating the product's use. Here's how the sensors work: When stuck into the middle of a hamburger, the sensor -- a thin plastic rod about the size of a ballpoint pen refill -- turns bright orange on its top when the internal temperature of the burger has reached 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Safety experts have found that cooking ground meat to the proper temperature is the best protection against salmonella and E. coli bacteria. For that reason, retailers and food safety experts are attempting to get customers used to checking the temperature of the meats they're cooking.
Publix is offering the sensors free as long as supplies last, the in-store signs and ads said. Judging by individual stores' requests for more of the product, the promotion was doing well the first week of its launch, a local source told SN. Officials at Publix' corporate offices here declined to comment.
In most stores, the chain also is offering packages of nine of the disposable sensors for sale at $2.99. They're displayed on J hooks right over the packages of ground beef in the self-service meat case.
The effort was applauded by food safety specialist Richard Daniels, president, Audits International, Highland Park, Ill.
"I think it's a marvelous service to consumers. The hope is that more people will start using thermometers routinely. There are still an awful lot of people undercooking meat. This should help them realize that they need to cook things longer. I would hope they'll come back and buy the nine-pack [of disposable sensors] and then buy a permanent thermometer that they can use when cooking other meats," said Daniels.
"A few of the more progressive supermarkets have tried to guide their customers toward cooking with thermometers. What Publix is doing is a great idea," he added.
It's the first time a supermarket has launched a giveaway of sensors on such a large scale and in such an aggressive way, said officials at Taylor Precision Products, LP, the Oak Brook, Ill., company that makes the product.
In addition to educating the public, Publix' strategy could also work to sell more meat because it's introducing customers to a tool that enables them to have confidence that they're cooking meat safely. It also could result in their ending up with a better-tasting product, one official said.
"It certainly makes it easy for people to cook meat to the proper temperature so it'll be safe to eat, and it also can help those who may be sacrificing flavor for safety. Without a sensor or thermometer to tell them when the meat has reached the right temperature, they might be over-cooking it and losing flavor," said Pat Bridges, vice president of marketing at Taylor Precision Products.
These particular disposable sensors are specifically designed to be used with ground meat, said Bridges.
The company also makes disposable sensors with three readings -- rare, medium and well-done -- for steaks and beef roasts and another for use in cooking poultry to the proper temperature. The disposable items are easy to use on thin cuts of meat because they don't need to be inserted as deeply as a regular cooking thermometer to get a reading, Bridges said. Taylor also makes a full line of permanent, reusable cooking thermometers. The company, which traditionally has supplied discount stores, recently launched an effort to supply supermarkets with its reusable cooking thermometers and disposable sensors, Bridges said.
"There are different applications for both. For example, the disposable ones are a great convenience when barbecuing. You don't have to clean up; you just throw them away. And it's just a good item to use to introduce people to the concept of cooking with thermometers," he said.
The chain will display the nine-packs of sensors in its meat departments and gadget departments, Bridges said.