Don’t let foodborne illness tackle your tailgate!

Tackle tailgating with these food safe defensive pre and post-game tips.

Fall colors, cool days and football! The changing of the seasons has sports fans charging to their team’s stadiums on weekends and cheering on their teams win, while participating in a favorite pastime tradition – tailgating!

This articles’ game plan is to tackle tailgating and avoid food poisoning with these winning tips:

The game plan begins at home with washing hands and food preparation areas, prior to food preparation. Keeping your work areas clean will cut back on bacteria invading your food. Be sure to pack sanitizing towelettes to use at your tailgate site.

Avoid cross-contamination. If you plan on grilling, marinate meat in the refrigerator prior to traveling and keep it chilled in a cooler before you grill. Don’t reuse the marinade; make a fresh batch if you want some for cooking with, or for dipping. When transporting any raw meat, tightly seal the meat in a plastic wrap or zip bags to prevent juices from contaminating other food items in your cooler.

Always keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate. Consider using a cooler just for meat products and another cooler for ready-to-eat food. Pack extra or color-coded plates or utensils to help prevent cross-contamination. Use one set for raw foods and another set for cooked foods. Never defrost meat in a microwave at home and then transport it to your tailgate party, as it has already started the cooking process. Always defrost meat in the refrigerator prior to an event. Don’t leave a frozen meat product out to defrost at the tailgate event, as bacteria will rapidly grow and could make some of your fans ill.

An instant read thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure your foods are cooked to the proper temperature. The outside of meat and poultry often brown quickly when cooking on a grill. Relying on color or if the juices run clear is not accurate. Tailgating favorites such as hamburgers and bratwurst should be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit and chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Keep perishable food cold in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or ice-packs to keep temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep a refrigerator thermometer in the cooler monitor the temperature. This will also help you determine if food is still safe to consume after the game. Keep the cooler in your trunk rather than the car if possible, the “green house” effect heats up a vehicle faster than a trunk. Foods should not be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours. In hot weather (warmer than 90 degrees Fahrenheit) this time is reduced to one hour. When the game is over and you are waiting for the parking lot to clear, serve and consume only non-perishable foods, unless the foods have been stored in a cooler that is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Michigan State University Extension recommends these tips to reach an undefeated tailgating season and avoid any foodborne illnesses.

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