Tailgating Without Worries

Each year Americans look forward to the time-honored tradition of tailgating at sporting events, especially football. During these pre-game festivities, usually in the stadium parking lot, there is always an abundance of food ─ from burgers and potato salad to sandwiches and desserts. Food poisoning can be a game changer if proper food handling practices aren’t followed, however.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when tailgating:

Avoid False Starts

Bringing a meat thermometer to the game will help you avoid taking food off the grill too soon and serving it undercooked to your fellow fans. You can’t rely on your eyes alone, so use an NSF-certified food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to the proper minimum internal temperature:

  • Whole or ground poultry — 165º F
  • Ground meats (other than poultry) — 160º F
  • Fresh fin fish — 145º F
  • Fresh whole (not ground) pork, beef, veal — 145º F with a three-minute rest time

Put Your Marinade on the Sidelines

When preparing for the big day, keep your marinade in bounds. If you need some for basting, do not use marinade that has come into contact with raw meat. Instead, set aside a small amount of prepared marinade in a separate dish and bring it to the game.

Play Defense

Take defensive measures to protect you and your fellow fans against germs by:

  • Bringing wet wipes and hand sanitizer to the game. Make sure you sanitize your hands frequently, especially after putting raw meat on the grill and before eating.
  • Bringing two sets of utensils and dishes if grilling raw meat — one for use with raw foods, the other for cooked foods.
  • Having a plastic bag handy to store dirty utensils or dishes that have touched raw meats to prevent spreading germs in a cooler or in your car after the pre-game meal.

Prepare for Kickoff

Cooking outdoors makes it challenging to avoid cross-contamination. Prepare for the big day by packing three coolers: one for your raw meats, another with your pre-made foods (e.g. potato salad, vegetables) and a third for your beverages. Pack the food at the bottom of the cooler and the ice on top to better insulate the food and keep it at a safe temperature of 40° F. As partygoers often open coolers to get drinks, pack beverages in a separate cooler to avoid frequent opening of the coolers containing perishable foods.

Don’t Let Food Go Into Overtime

While it’s tempting to display your game day food spread, it should not be left out for more than two hours (or one hour on days over 90° F) to avoid bacterial growth. Keep perishable foods in coolers to help keep them at safe temperatures as long as you can, and don’t take them out until right before it’s time to eat.

Create a Neutral Zone

Come prepared with trash bags and create a neutral area to dispose of garbage, empty cans or bottles, and unwanted leftovers. Keep your tailgating area neat and avoid placing glass bottles on the ground where they could be tripped on or broken. When game time is over, throw out your garbage on your way out of the stadium if possible rather than leaving it in your car where bacteria can grow and spread to other surfaces in your car.

Tailgating is a fun way to celebrate before watching your favorite team play, but can be ruined if you don’t follow the rules of food safety. By following these food safety tips, tailgaters will help keep food poisoning at bay and make the pre-game experience a safe one.

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