It’s tailgate season — are you ready for the kick off? Planning is the key to keeping your food safe during a tailgate, so get your gear ready now. Do you have enough coolers and all the tools you need to cook? In addition to a grill and fuel for cooking make sure you don’t forget your most valuable player, the food thermometer. It’s the only way you can be sure your meat or poultry has reached a safe temperature.
Don’t sideline your guests—Stay in the Food Safety Zone
- Bring water for cleaning if none will be available at the site. Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
- Carry cold perishable food like raw hamburger patties, sausages, and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, or containers of ice.
- Be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent their juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food. If possible, store these foods near the bottom of the cooler, so that juices don't contaminate other foods in the cooler.
- If you can't keep hot food hot during the drive to your tailgate, plan and chill the food in the refrigerator before packing it in a cooler. Reheat the food to 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- If bringing hot take-out food, eat it within 2 hours of purchase (1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F).
Know your opponent—Defend against bacteria
To defeat bacteria, use a food thermometer! Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. the only way to be sure that the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature is to use a food thermometer.
Using a food thermometer not only keeps your guests safe from harmful food bacteria, but it also helps you to avoid overcooking, giving you safe and flavorful meat. Different meats have different minimum cooking temperatures, so check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to be sure.
Follow the game plan for a winning tailgate
When you plan your party, use this checklist to pack your gear:
- Clean: Soap, water (if none is available at the site), wet disposable cloths or moist toilettes, hand sanitizer
- Separate: Separate plates and utensils for raw meats and cooked meats
- Cook: Grill, fuel, cooking utensils, food thermometer, Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart
- Chill: Coolers, ice or frozen gel packs, clean containers for storing leftovers
For more information about keeping bacteria away on the big game day, check out these resources:
If you have any questions about tailgating food safety, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.
As children head back to school this fall, parents and caretakers may wonder, “What’s the most important thing that the kids should take to school with them?” From my perspective as a food safety specialist, I’d recommend an insulated lunch box as the best investment of the school year. For a few dollars, an insulated lunch box can keep children healthy and engaged to learn by protecting them from foodborne illness.
If you pack perishable food in an old-fashioned brown paper bag, it can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime. When children are sent home sick or stay home because of illness, it’s difficult for them to succeed in their school work.
Insulated lunch boxes help maintain food at a safe temperature until lunchtime. Perishable lunch foods, such as cold cut sandwiches and yogurt, can be left out at room temperature for only 2 hours before they may become unsafe to eat. But, with an insulated lunch box and a chilled freezer gel pack, perishable food can stay cold and safe to eat until lunch.
Why keep food cold? Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the "Danger Zone" — the temperatures between 40 and 140 °F. So, perishable food transported without a cold source won't stay safe long.
Here are some other tips to keep food safe until lunchtime:
- Clean Hands: Always make sure your hands are clean before preparing lunches. And, make sure your children understand that they need to wash their hands thoroughly before eating lunch or snacks. “Washing hands thoroughly” means using soap and warm water, and rubbing hands for 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). If water is not available, provide moist towelettes or hand sanitizing gels in the lunch box.
- Freeze your juice box: You can freeze juice boxes and use them as freezer packs. By lunchtime, the juice should be thawed and ready to drink.
- Hot Foods: To keep hot foods hot, use an insulated bottle like a thermos for foods such as soup, chili, or stew.
- Non-Perishable Food: Some food is safe without a cold source. Lunch items that don't need to be refrigerated include whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.
If the lunch box comes home with food in it, make sure to throw away any perishable food items, because they have been unrefrigerated too long!
In my job as a bilingual technical information specialist with the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline, one of my responsibilities is to answer food safety questions from callers who speak Spanish. Since 2002, when we started offering our hotline services in Spanish, we’ve learned that the members of our Hispanic communities across the country are increasingly interested in getting advice from food safety experts.
The Hotline is open Monday thru Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (EDT). If you happen to call after hours, you can listen to recorded food safety messages in English and Spanish. But, what do you do if you have a food safety question that just can’t wait? What if it’s 2:00 a.m.?
Pregúntele a Karen is a free online service that provides consumers with answers in Spanish to over 1,200 questions about food safety – questions like:
- How do I thaw a whole chicken safely?
- If my hamburgers are still pink inside, are they safe?
- If the leftovers stayed out on the counter all night, are they safe to eat?
With Pregúntele a Karen, all you need to do is type a question, keyword, or phrase, and then click Ask. (Or you can cheat and look at the answers at the end of this blog.) The great thing about both PregunteleaKaren.gov and AskKaren.gov is that they’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
On our Web site, FSIS En Español, we provide many other resources for food safety information in Spanish, which are also available 24/7:
Now, for the answers to those questions (with links to our fact sheets – in Spanish):
- Chicken: USDA recommends three safe ways to defrost chicken: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave (not on the counter). Remember to cook it immediately after thawing with cold water or in the microwave. Fact sheet: The Big Thaw
- Hamburgers: The only way to tell whether a hamburger is done is to use a meat thermometer. Fact sheet: Is It Done Yet?
- Leftovers: Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Fact sheet: Basics for Handling Food Safely