Preparation for the Best Tailgate Party

Make sure you have plenty of ice to keep cold foods cold (below 41° F). You may even want to consider a separate cooler for food and drinks. Be sure any raw meat is properly sealed in a container or storage bag, so juices don’t leak out during your drive to the game. An extra bag of ice can be helpful for not only your drinks but for your cold food storage as well.

Here is a check list of some important food items to bring for your tailgate party:

  • Thermometer
  • Extra ice
  • Sanitizer (wipes, pre-made bleach solution, sanitizing spray)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disposable gloves – just in case
  • Extra grill utensils and service spoons in case one falls onto the ground
  • Paper towels for cleaning up spills

Temperature

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.

Food Cooking Temperatures1

Food Type Internal Temperature (°F)
Ground meat and meat mixtures Beef, pork, veal and lamb 160
Turkey and chicken 165
Fresh beef, veal and lamb Steaks, roasts and chops
Rest time: 3 minutes
145
Poultry All poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets and stuffing) 165
Pork and ham Fresh pork, including fresh ham
Rest time: 3 minutes
145
Precooked ham (to reheat)
Note: Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140° F
165
Eggs and egg dishes Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm
Egg dishes (such as frittata and quiche) 160
Leftovers and casseroles Leftovers and casseroles 165
Seafood Fish with fins 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
Shrimp, lobster, crab and scallops Cook until flesh is pearly or white, and opaque
Clams, oysters and mussels Cook until shells open

Marinades

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

Germs

You can protect yourself and your family 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

Cross-Contamination

Cooking outside 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 and vegetables) and a third for your beverages.

If that’s not possible, pack raw meat in tightly sealed containers or double bag them to prevent raw juice from leaking onto the ice and contaminating the rest of the food. Place raw food at the bottom, followed by pre-packaged salads toward the top. As partygoers open coolers often to get drinks, pack beverages in a separate cooler to avoid frequent opening of the coolers containing perishable foods.

Pack the food first, placing ice on top to better insulate the food and keep it at a safe temperature of 41° F (5° C)).

Time to Eat

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 (32.2° C)) 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.

Cleaning Up

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 store glass bottles off the ground to avoid tripping or stepping on broken glass. When the game is about to start and tailgating is over, throw out your garbage before you go into the stadium. If you leave your garbage in your car, bacteria can grow and potentially contaminate areas in your car.

Want to learn more about tailgating and food safety? Contact our consumer information hotline at 1.800.673.8010 or info@nsf.org.

1Foodsafety.gov