Always check the final temperature with a thermometer. Photo credit: Bob McDonald
Nothing says autumn like football, whether it be professional, college or high school and the party that accompanies the event. While tailgating has been around for years, the new kid on the block is homegating for those not able to be at the stadium. Either one takes on a life of their own when it comes to setting up for the event, the variety of foods prepared and enjoyed, the comradery of friends, and friendly rivalry with the opponents.
Tailgating and homegating occurs over the course of the day with pre-game and post-game food, and for homegating during-game food. Either way there is a lot of food prepared, served and consumed. This creates some special challenges when it comes to food safety, especially during the warmer months of the season when food may end up in the temperature danger zone (40° to 140°F) over many hours. Why is this of concern? Many of the foods served are considered TCS foods or foods that need Time and Temperature Control for Safety to keep them safe, such as sloppy joe, BBQ chicken, potato and pasta salad, fruit salad, deli sandwiches, and creamy desserts, to name a few. When these foods are in the temperature danger zone for 2 or more hours, if harmful bacteria are present, they can grow and multiply to high enough levels to cause illness. Throw in the fact that people might not be washing their hands before handling food because of lack available handwashing facilities or are just caught up in the fun that they forget, and you have further chance of contamination of food.
Because of the pre, post, and during game food activities going on it is probably a good idea for the host to have someone assist them with refereeing the food game plan. Kind of like a “designated driver” for food safety. A few key plays include:
- Set up and keep a handwashing station stocked if bathroom facilities are not readily available and encourage everyone to wash up before eating.
- Be sure the grill master checks the final cooked temperatures of foods with a calibrated food thermometer.
- Keep hot foods hot (above 140°F) and cold foods cold (below 40°F) and throw out those TCS foods if they have been sitting out for two or more hours. When temperatures reach 90°F or above throw out food if it has been in the temperature zone for one hour.
- Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods and use a clean plate when taking cooked foods off the grill.
Penn State Extension’s Tailgating Tips offers a complete playbook of food safety tips to keep your tailgates and homegates on the winning side!