Tailgating parties are synonymous with fall game-day fun. Handling food properly in the stadium parking lot is just as important as handling food safely at home. Don't let food safety mistakes spoil your tailgating party.
Plan your tailgate party menu with game time in mind and the number of people you expect. This can help minimize leftovers and food storage before, during and after the game.
To avoid cross contamination, use separate coolers or ice chests for beverages, ready-to-eat foods, and raw foods that will be cooked. Because beverage coolers are usually opened most frequently, separating the beverages will help maintain the quality of other tailgating foods.
- Prepare most of your 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, resealable bags or containers and chill them in the refrigerator before putting them in the ice chest or cooler. Transfer all the cold foods to ice chests or 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 resealable plastic bag.
- Washing your hands before and after handling food is critical. Since water might not be readily available, bring along a jug of water, soap and paper towels, or brush off surface dirt and use a hand sanitizer.
- Many tailgaters are opting for portable gas grills and appliances that plug into car batteries or generators to grill food during the party. Use a food thermometer to test the doneness of grilled foods. Hamburgers may be brown, yet may not have reached a safe-to-eat temperature of 160 degrees. Poultry products, such as chicken breasts, thighs or wings, should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- If you are planning to pick up a bucket of chicken or pizza on the way to the stadium, make that the last stop before the stadium to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- 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 everyone is ready to eat.
- When finished eating, wrap and stow leftovers in the ice chest or discard them. If extra hamburgers are cooked, but not eaten, wrap and store them in a cooler for a later meal or snack. Food left out for two hours or more (one hour or more if the temperature is 90 degrees or above) should be discarded.
- Foodborne illness can quickly ruin a tailgate party and football game. Eliminate food safety hazards and have fun. Safe internal cooking temperatures and other food safety guidelines can be found at USDA's website at www.fsis.usda.gov. Go to Fact Sheets in the top bar and click on Kitchen Companion under Safe Food Handling.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.