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Common Questions: FSIS Food Safety Education Campaign to Promote Food Thermometer Use

 


Q. What is the goal of this campaign? 

A. The Thermy™ campaign is a national consumer education initiative developed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The goal of this campaign is to increase the use of food thermometers by American consumers.

Most people think they can tell when food is "done" by "eyeballing" it—judging by its color or texture. The only problem is, research has shown that those methods don't necessarily work. For instance, one out of every four hamburgers turns brown before it's cooked to a temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria.

We want to help Americans accomplish what they intend to—cook their food safely and cook it to the very highest quality, so that it's tasty and juicy. The only way you can really know when your food is safely cooked—and not overdone or underdone—is to use a food thermometer.

And this doesn't mean just for special meals and holidays—when Americans will traditionally use their food thermometers. We want to encourage people to ensure safety and quality everyday and use a food thermometer for many foods including hamburgers, chicken breasts, and pork chops!

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Q. Why is it so important that people use a food thermometer when cooking meat, poultry, and eggs? 

A. America's food is among the safest in the world. But bacteria are everywhere, including on food, like meat, poultry, and egg products. If food isn't handled safely, harmful bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels and make people sick.

There are four key safe food handling steps promoted under a national educational campaign by the Partnership for Food Safety Education called Fight BAC!®. These steps include: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

"Cook" is one of the key steps. Cooking food so that it reaches a safe internal temperature is crucial in keeping food safe. Using a food thermometer is the only way to tell if food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria.

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Q. How did the Thermy™ campaign get started? 

A. Important research prompted this educational campaign by FSIS. The research underscored the fallibility of traditional consumer methods for determining when food is "done."

In 1995, a study by Kansas State University indicated that ground beef might turn brown before it's cooked to a safe internal temperature, sufficient to destroy potentially dangerous bacteria. With that information in hand, FSIS commissioned the USDA's Agricultural Research Service to examine the color of ground beef as it relates to doneness. Their 1998 findings: one out of every four hamburgers turns brown before being cooked to a safe internal temperature.

FSIS knew then that it needed to take action to change consumer behavior and encourage thermometer use.

And there is widespread support for encouraging the use of food thermometers:

  • One of the goals of Healthy People 2010 is to promote the use of food thermometers over the next 10 years.
  • The new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2000) will include, for the first time, a guideline on food safety. These guidelines include the recommendation to use a food thermometer.

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Q. When did the Thermy™ campaign get started? 

A. The campaign was officially launched May 25, 2000. See this archival web page for more information about the campaign kickoff.

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Q. How many people use a food thermometer today? 

A. Consumer research conducted in 1998 by FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration shows that less than half the population owns a food thermometer. And only 3 percent of the population use a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers.

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Q. Do you really think people will use a food thermometer for small items like hamburgers and chicken breasts? 

A. Yes, we think they will. Using a food thermometer has never been easier. There are thermometers that are specifically designed to register temperatures quickly in thin foods like hamburgers or chicken breasts. Thermometers are digital, instant-read, and disposable—and they're even turning up in the tips of barbecue forks. They're high-tech and easy to use.

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Q. This is an important message. Why choose a cartoon character to be the messenger? 

A. Research helped FSIS see that consumers were at risk because they weren't checking "doneness" with a food thermometer. Research also pointed to the right direction in developing this educational campaign.

FSIS conducted extensive research with focus groups made up of a wide variety of typical consumers—young and old, different ethnic groups, and educational backgrounds. That research showed that people were receptive to an educational program that had a messenger—like Smokey Bear. The experience with the Fight BAC!® campaign also shows that a character can be a very effective messenger.

People supported the concept that a messenger would help make learning fun and be attractive to kids. Many times, kids lead the way. They bring new thoughts and ideas home and can help teach the family.

As a result, the digital thermometer messenger named "Thermy™" was created along with the message, "It's Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right!"

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Q. Who is cooperating in this campaign? 

A. USDA has many initial cooperators and partners.

Thermometer companies and many grocery chains nationwide are key initial cooperators that will help to get Thermy™ in the public eye at the retail sector. The Food Temperature Indicator Association (FTIA), along with many other thermometer companies, have made thermometers and temperature indicators more accessible and user-friendly for consumers. Thermometer manufacturers and distributors are putting Thermy™ art on floor and counter signage for display in grocery, kitchen, and department stores.

The Food Marketing Institute and many grocery chains have partnered with USDA to provide Thermy™ kick-off events, concurrently and soon after the USDA launch. Plans include attendance by local media, distribution of Thermy™ brochures and magnets, food demonstrations, in-store and newspaper advertisements, local press releases, and use of the public service announcement and the Thermy™ costume as requested.

USDA has the support of the Partnership for Food Safety Education and plans to partner Thermy™ and the Fight BAC!® character in future interactions. Cooperative extension plans to incorporate Thermy™ in food safety education classes. The Food and Nutrition Service and it's many food programs plan to bring the message to parents through kids at school.

Other partners continue to be added to the campaign, such as chefs' organizations and various agencies and associations.

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Q. How will the Thermy™ campaign materials be distributed? 

A. To kick off the campaign, Thermy™ kits were distributed to over 40,000 individuals and groups, including school food service directors, local public health officials, Cooperative Extension agents, other educators, cooperators, and the media. Over 10,000 are being disseminated through other mailings and will be distributed at food, health, and nutrition conventions.

Single copies
Single copies of most items are available from the FSIS Food Safety Education Staff by either calling the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), e-mailing a request to fsis.outreach@usda.gov, or by faxing to (301) 504-0204.

The Thermy™ brochure is available on this Web site and also from the Federal Consumer Information Center. Consumers can write for a single copy to: FCIC, PO Box 1000, #614G, Pueblo, CO 81002, 1-888-8PUEBLO.

Multiple Copies; Electronic Formats
The Thermy™ materials are featured on the FSIS Web site (www.fsis.usda.gov/thermy) and are available in a variety of reproducible and print-quality formats. For high-quality professional printing, download materials in the EPS or SIT formats.

Limited larger amounts of print materials will be provided free of charge to educators while supplies last. Request as described above.

Selected campaign materials are also available in quantity from the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). See flyer for details. To order materials online, you must go to the GPO Access Online Bookstore: http://bookstore.gpo.gov/

For further information about procuring bulk quantities of Thermy™ materials, e-mail fsis.outreach@usda.gov

Video 
A Public Service Announcement and Video News Release with "B-Roll" about food thermometers are available. Request a VHS version for educators or BETA-SP version for media inquiries as described above.

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Q. How can a group borrow the Thermy™ costume for their own education campaign? 

A. The costume (see photo below) is available for large education events. Contact the FSIS/Food Safety Education Staff to request the costume. Delivery expenses must be paid by the requesting agency/organization.

Photo of Thermy Costume Character

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Q. What does the Trademark mean? 

A. Thermy™ art is trademarked by USDA, but is offered free to industry and educators if the Guidelines for Use of Thermy™ Art are followed. Industry and educators must put a disclaimer on materials sold for profit: USDA does not endorse any product, service, or organization. Thermy™ art must be used with the message: "It's Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right!" If Thermy™ art is used on a food label, the request must be granted in advance by FSIS/USDA.

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Q. Will any Thermy™ materials be available in non-English languages? 

A. The Thermy™ brochure, "Use a Food Thermometer," * is available in Spanish on the Web site and through the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. Spanish versions of the magnet, poster, and postcard | En Español are available on the Web site. Other materials will be translated and produced in the future.

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Q. What are future plans for the campaign? 

A. A primary goal is to expand the number of partners, including more grocery chains and organizations in order to reach more consumers with the message. Additional materials will be produced. The Thermy™ campaign will enhance the Partnership for Food Safety Education's effort to promote the COOK message of the Fight BAC!® messages. Let us know how you plan to use Thermy™ in education programs by writing to: fsis.outreach@usda.gov

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April 2004

* Brochure no longer available.

Last Modified Oct 18, 2013