Food safety: the game plan for tailgate parties

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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Pre-game tailgate parties are a long-standing American tradition. Although tailgating is typically a cool weather activity in most areas of the country, it still requires the same safe food handling practices as summer picnicking.

Let’s take a look at some tailgate tips offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

  • Foods like chili or stew can be kept hot with an insulated container. To ensure the food stays hot, first fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty it and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed to keep the food hot (140 degrees Fahrenheit or above) for several hours.
  • Plan ahead and chill the food in your refrigerator before packing for your tailgate. Carry all cold, perishable foods, including potato or pasta salads, luncheon meats, raw hamburger patties, and cooked meat or chicken in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs or containers of frozen water. Wrap raw meat and poultry securely to prevent their juices from cross contaminating ready-to-eat foods.
  • Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Be sure to also pack water for cleaning up.
  • Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside, so use a food thermometer to be sure they are cooked thoroughly. Cook hamburgers, sausage and all cuts of pork to 160 degrees. For taste as well as safety, FSIS recommends cooking poultry breast meat to 170 degrees and dark meat to 180 degrees. Beef, veal and lamb steaks and roasts may be safely cooked to 145 degrees for medium rare. It is best to avoid partially cooking food ahead of time, which allows bacteria to multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them.
  • If bringing hot take-out food, eat it within two hours of purchase. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill for more than two hours (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees). Cook only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature. Remember to discard any leftovers that are not ice cold after the game.

Following this game plan is sure to reach the goal of preventing foodborne illness. For more information, contact the Extension office at 940-627-3341.

Tanya Davis is a Wise County Extension agent.

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