Food Safety During Tailgating


Football (Photo credit: The Malones)

It’s college football season and we all know what this means! It’s time for tailgating and with a great tailgate comes great responsibility not only for preparing the best food in the lot but for keeping your food safe enough to eat. Ensuring your food stays at a safe temperature during your tailgate party is absolutely essential for protection against what could be your greatest opponent: foodborne illness.  Guarantee your tailgate party goes off without a hitch by following these simple tips for keeping your food safe:

  • For cold, perishable food items, pack your coolers with plenty of ice or ice packs and use a food thermometer to ensure your food stays below 40*F (4*C). If the temperature of the food rises above 40*F and remains above 40*F for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour on days 90*F (32*C) or above), foods are much more likely to grow and harvest bacteria quickly which can potentially make us very sick. With that being said, it’s best to hold your food in the air-conditioned car rather than the trunk when traveling to your tailgating spot and begin preparing and eating shortly after you arrive.
  • The same goes for hot foods. Ensure your hot foods are maintained at 140*F or above at all times. If you find that you can’t keep your hot foods hot during transport, prepare them in advance, cool them in the refrigerator before packing, and reheat to 165*F upon arrival to your tailgate location.
  • Hand washing is key as cross-contamination is one of the main culprits of foodborne illness. Scrubbing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after food preparation and before you eat is recommended. In the case that running water is not available, water-less sanitizers or moist towelettes may be used. Suggest your guests use them too before digging in!
  • When transporting raw meat, be sure it is wrapped tightly, is free of leakage, and stored separately from ready-to-eat foods. If stored in the same cooler as ready-to-eat foods, separate with a liner and place in the bottom of the cooler so juices don’t contaminate the other foods.
  • Pack plenty of clean preparation and serving utensils as these may be a cause for cross-contamination and therefore, foodborne illness as well. Pack used and clean utensils separately and in designated Ziploc bags.
  • Avoid defrosting frozen foods in the heat of the car or parking lot. This will drop the temperature of the food into the “danger zone” (40*F – 140*F) too quickly which will increase the risk for bacterial growth. Defrost all foods before leaving the home in the refrigerator or microwave.
  • Grilled tailgating favorites like bratwurst, hamburgers and chicken breasts must be cooked to at least 165*F. Using a food thermometers is the most effective way to assess whether the food has reached the appropriate consumption temperature.

It’s tailgating season. Grab your friends, temp your food, and enjoy the game!

You can find more information about food safety at the following websites:


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