Food safety for tailgating season

September 22, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Lynn Little

Tailgating parties are synonymous with fall game-day fun. So don't let food safety mistakes spoil your tailgating party.

Handling food properly in the parking lot is just as important as handling food safely at home.

Washing your hands before and after handling food is critical. Water might not be readily available, but tailgaters can either bring a jug of water, soap and towels, or brush off surface dirt and use pre-packaged towelettes or a hand sanitizer.

To avoid cross contamination, use separate coolers or ice chests for beverages, ready-to-eat foods and raw foods that will be cooked. Dedicate a cooler for easy access to beverages so you are not jeopardizing other cold foods. The temperature in a cooler can change each time the cooler is opened.

Fill a cooler or ice chest so that it is half-full of ice. Block ice will melt more slowly than cubes, and cubes will melt more slowly than crushed ice. Freezing water bottles is an option, but don't fill the bottles completely, as the water will expand during the freezing process. One advantage to freezing water in a bottle is that, when thawed, the water is chilled and ready to drink.


If you plan to grill foods use a food thermometer to test the doneness of those foods. Hamburgers might be brown, yet it still might not have reached a safe-to-eat temperature of 160 degrees. U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking all poultry products, such as chicken breasts, thighs or wings, to 165 degrees.

Food thermometers are easy to use and can be purchased for $10 or less. If you want more information on choosing and using a food thermometer, it is available at http://www.fsis.usda .gov/Fact_Sheets/Kitchen_Thermometers/index.asp.

If planning to serve an egg casserole before an early game, the casserole should be cooked to 160 degrees. To transport a cooked-egg casserole, use an insulated container to keep it hot. Wrapping the hot casserole in towels is an option if an insulated container is not available.

Plan the tailgate party menu with game time in mind. If grilling is on tap for a pre-game lunch, plan post-game snacks, such as cookies, fruit, veggies and dip, or a snack mix that won't need cooking.

Plan and prepare enough food to feed expected guests but not so much that you'll have leftovers that will spoil during the game and have to be discarded. This will also help to minimize the amount of food storage needed before, during and after the game.

Prepare food at home. For example, shape hamburger patties and place them in a disposable plastic container or bag. Remove them from the container to grill and discard the plastic container.

Wrap foods in waterproof, re-sealable bags or containers and chill them in the refrigerator before putting them in the ice chest or cooler. Chill salads and sides, like deviled eggs, before transferring them to an ice chest or cooler. Transfer all the cold foods to ice chests/coolers just before leaving home.

Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods. If marinating steaks, chops or chicken for grilling at the stadium, do so in a disposable re-sealable plastic bag. Use separate utensils and serving plates for raw and cooked foods to prevent cross contamination.

Shade ice chests and coolers; cover with a blanket if no shade is available. Wait to remove salads and sides from ice chests and coolers until ready to eat.

Wrap and stow leftovers in the ice chest or cooler, or discard them. If extra hamburgers are cooked, but not eaten, wrap and store them in a cooler for a later meal or snack. If food is left out for two hours or more (one hour or more if the temperature is 90 degrees or above), it should be discarded.

Use disposable paper products, tableware and food containers to minimize cleanup. Tuck in extra utensils, serving spoons and a roll of paper towels and trash bags.

Foodborne illness can quickly ruin a tailgate party and a football game. Foodborne illness can occur within an hour of consuming spoiled food or it can develop days later, depending on the bacteria present. Eliminate food safety hazards and enjoy the tailgate party.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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