Tailgating safety

Keeping food from food borne illness at your next tailgate

September 8, 2015 - Author: Jane Hart, Michigan State University Extension and Sarah Bennett, MSU Dietetic Intern

It’s that time of year when you hear marching bands, cheer on your favorite team and of course, tailgate. What has become an American tradition has also become a concern for food safety. As you head out to tailgate before the big game, remember food safety is the key to fighting foodborne bacteria!

Let’s have a little play by play:

  • It is imperative to keep cold foods in an insulated cooler with several inches of ice or freezer packs. Cold food items must be held at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Pack foods in your cooler in a reverse use order. In other words, pack foods that you are likely to use last in the bottom.
  • Keep your drinks in a separate cooler than your food. Since the drink cooler will be opened frequently, you don’t want to let the cold air out and compromise the safety of your food.
  • Hot take-out foods should be consumed within two hours of purchase; this will help avoid bacteria growth. Hot foods prepared at home should be held in an insulated container to keep the heat in. Again, keep the two-hour rule in mind.
  • Bring nonperishable snacks for the game. This way you won’t be tempted to eat the perishable food that has been sitting out for too long.

Be a grilling all-star! The following are some tips from the USDA for safe grilling at a tailgate:

  • Grill your food to a safe internal temperature. When cooking meat, check the temperature with an instant read thermometer in the thickest part, avoiding the bone, fat and gristle. 
  • Prevent cross contamination by using clean utensils and platters for cooked food.
  • Grilled food can be kept hot until serving by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals to avoid overcooking.
  • When bringing food to a tailgate, do not partially cook meats and finish cooking on the grill. Partially cooked meats are at increased risk for bacterial growth during travel.

Michigan State University Extension recommends you remember to wash your way to victory! Wash your hands with warm water and soap to your favorite team’s fight song. This will ensure that you are washing your hands long enough in the warm soapy water. When you get to your tailgate, prepare a tailgate hand washing station by setting up water, soap and paper towels. Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes will work in a pinch, but they are not as effective at removing dirt and bacteria from hands. Don’t forget to clean surfaces in which food has come into contact, with water and soap or with disinfecting spray or wipes.

There’s your food safety game plan for any tailgate! Remember, not being cautious about your food safety at a tailgate is not worth getting sick and missing the big game.

If you would like more information on food safety, you can contact your local Extension office or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Tags: food & health, msu extension, safe food & water

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