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Tackling Food Safety at Your Tailgate

Football season is finally here, and you know what that means—time to tailgate! Football fans all over the country enjoy different tailgating delicacies, from hot dogs and brats to BBQ brisket and burgers. No matter what you’re cooking, you want to make sure to keep a good defense against foodborne illness.

Plan Ahead with the Food Safety Playbook

Planning ahead is an important part of every tailgate. Do you have enough food for your guests? Who’s in charge of the music and games? And who’s bringing the guacamole? However, food safety should never be left out of tailgating preparation. Here is a checklist of food safety items that will keep tailgate guests off the sideline:

  • Paper towels
  • Moist towelettes and/or hand sanitizer
  • Two coolers—one for food and one for beverages
  • Ice
  • Frozen gel packs
  • Two sets of cooking utensils
  • Paper plates and disposable silverware
  • Food thermometer
  • Clean containers for leftovers

Keep It a Clean Game

Keeping hands and surfaces clean is an easy and important step in preventing foodborne illness. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before cooking and after handling raw meat or poultry. Wipe down food tables with disinfecting wipes before serving food, and keep hand sanitizer at the food station to encourage tailgate guests to keep their hands clean, too!

Separate to Prevent an Offsides Penalty

Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meat and poultry touch ready-to-eat foods, like vegetables, fruits, or cooked food. When packing your cooler, pack securely wrapped raw meat and poultry at the bottom of the cooler to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods. Additionally, use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Never put cooked food on a plate or tray that held raw meat. This is where using paper plates can come in handy!

Tailgating MVP

Defeat bacteria by using a food thermometer! Meat and poultry often browns very quickly on the outside, so using a food thermometer is the only way to know if your food has reached a safe temperature on the inside. 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. Once foods are cooked, keep them warm with chafing dishes or by keeping them on the warm side of the grill rack.

The Cool Down

Keeping perishable food cold is another important part of avoiding foodborne illness. When you transport raw meat and poultry and other perishable foods to your tailgate site, store them in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. During the tailgate, keep cold foods (like potato salad, guacamole, or cut fruit and veggies) cold by nesting serving dishes in beds of ice. At the end of the tailgate, pack leftovers in clean containers and pack them in a cooler with ice before heading to the game.

The Ultimate Coaching Staff

If you have additional food safety questions, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish. You can also follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter to receive daily tips and information on recalled food.


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Posted in: Events | Food Outside the HomeTagged: Football | Tailgating | Food Safety