Food Safety Tailgating Tips: Be on the "Offense" Against Foodborne Illness

This brochure provides food safety tips such as preparing and packing for a tailgate and grilling and serving at a tailgate.
Food Safety Tailgating Tips: Be on the "Offense" Against Foodborne Illness - Articles


The Temperature Danger Zone

Preparing for a Tailgate

Supply Check List

  • Thermometer (properly calibrated)
  • Disposable plates
  • Disposable utensils
  • Disposable cups
  • Paper towels
  • Liquid soap
  • Sanitizer
  • Disposable resealable containers
  • Resealable bags
  • Bottled water
  • Ice
  • Food and drinks

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold

  • Separate perishable foods into two smaller dishes, one to be served before the game and one for after; bring separate utensils for each dish
  • Plan for few or no leftovers
    • Make sure leftovers can be properly cooled in cooler; if not, discard

Properly defrost meat

  • Defrost in the refrigerator or on ice
    • If defrosting frozen, raw food items, allow enough time to thaw in a refrigerated cooler. Do not thaw frozen food items at warm, outside temperatures

Marinate meat in a cooler or refrigerator

  • Discard any remaining marinade that was used for raw meat
  • When preparing marinade, reserve and refrigerate a separate portion for flavoring cooked food

Do not precook meat

  • Partially cooked meat prepared in a microwave, stove, or oven must be grilled immediately

Packing for a Tailgate

Keep cold foods cold (below 40°F)

  • Pack food directly from refrigerator to cooler
  • Pack separate drink cooler so main food cooler is opened less and stays cooler
  • Keep coolers in coolest place possible, such as in air conditioned car
  • Bring enough ice to keep coolers below 40°F until food is gone or food is returned to refrigerator

Keep hot foods hot (above 140°F)

  • Use insulated carrying cases with heated inserts to transport hot dishes
  • Hot foods can be placed in insulated "coolers" to maintain temperature

Keep raw food separate from ready-to-eat (RTE) foods to prevent cross-contamination

  • If possible, keep raw meat in a separate cooler, away from ready-to-eat foods
  • If not, store raw meat in leak-proof containers and under RTE foods in cooler
  • Regularly drain coolers of melted ice
  • Pack plenty of disposable plates and utensils

Don't forget supplies for cleaning

  • Pack liquid soap, plenty of water, and paper towels for handwashing on site
  • Pack sanitizer such as disinfecting wipes or disinfecting sprays for sanitizing food-contact surfaces

Grilling at a Tailgate

Guide to Cooking Temperatures

Guide to cooking temperatures.
145°FBeef, lamb, and veal steaks and roasts, medium rare (medium = 160°F)
160°FGround beef, pork, veal, and lamb; pork chops, ribs, and roasts; egg dishes
165°FGround turkey and chicken; stuffing and casseroles; leftovers
165°FChicken and turkey, whole bird, legs, thighs, breasts, and wings

Source : Food Safety & Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Cook meat thoroughly

  • Make sure that meat has reached the recommended internal temperature before consuming
  • Use a clean, properly calibrated thermometer to measure internal temperature
  • Do not use the color of the meat to determine proper cooking; meat that has changed to a "cooked" color may not have reached the proper temperature to kill harmful bacteria

Keep raw meat cold and cooked meat hot

  • Remove meat from cooler immediately before placing on grill
  • Cook only a portion of meat that will be consumed in 2 hours or less

Serving at a Tailgate

Prevent cross-contamination

  • Use a clean platter for serving cooked meat (since raw meat juices can contaminate cooked products)

Keep cold food cold and hot food hot

  • Do not let food sit out for more than 2 hours
  • In hot weather (above 90°F) food should sit out for no more than 1 hour
  • Do not let unwashed utensils sit out for longer than recommended times above
  • Hot food can be kept hot by holding in chafing dishes, crock pots, or on a closed, lighted grill

Make Handwashing a Priority

Cooks, servers, and persons eating food should wash hands frequently. Tossing around a football, petting the dog, or setting up a tent will leave hands dirty. Here are some rules for when to wash hands:

  • Before handling food
  • After touching raw foods (uncooked meat)
  • After sneezing or coughing
  • After handling garbage

Essentials of a Tailgate Handwashing Station

While hand sanitizers sound good, they do not remove the dirt or bacteria from your hands. Handwashing is the best way to clean your hands and prevent foodborne illness. Make sure you have plenty of warm water, soap, and paper towels.

Steps for Tailgate Handwashing

  1. Wet hands.
  2. Apply enough soap to produce a good lather.
  3. Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday").
  4. Rinse with water.
  5. Dry using a clean paper towel.

Oops! We forgot the handwashing supplies!

In a pinch, disposable antiseptic wet wipes can be used for handwashing. Just don't forget to wipe hands thoroughly for 20 seconds.

Remember... When in Doubt, Throw It Out!

Prepared by Catherine Cutter, associate professor of food science, and Stephanie Penn, food safety specialist.