Sports Tailgating Food Safety Tips

Making tailgate party plans for the football game?  Good friends – great food – sounds like an awesome time right?  Because tailgate parties are usually all-day food fests and grilling extravaganzas, they’re also a time of increased risk of food poisoning.

Make sure to follow food safety principles and procedures – so you and your friends can enjoy the game – rather than worrying about coming down with a foodborne illness.

Food Safety Tips for the Big Game

Food poisoning has lots of causes, including leaving food out too long. Food poisoning generally occurs when people eat food that contains bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxins.  Follow these food safety tips to avoid food poisoning:

Packing the Food Properly and Safely

  • If preparing food in advance, divide cooked food into shallow containers and store in a refrigerator or freezer until the party begins. This encourages rapid, even cooling…and discourages pre-party nibblers.
  • Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw such as fruits.
  • Rinse all fresh produce under running tap water before packing it in a cooler, including produce with peel-away skins or rinds.
  • Keep cold food cold. Place cold food in coolers with frozen gel packs or ice. Stashing it at 40°F or below prevents bacterial growth. Meat and poultry may be packed while it is still frozen; in that way it stays colder longer.
  • Maintain cold foods, like salsa and guacamole, at 40°F or colder. Use small service trays or nest serving dishes in bowls of ice, replacing ice often.
  • Keep hot food hot. Hold hot foods at 140°F or warmer. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays to keep food hot on the buffet table.
  • Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another since you are likely to grab beverages most often.

Keep it Clean

  • Wash your hands with soap and running water (warm or cold) for at least 20 seconds before preparing, eating, and handling food—especially after passing the TV’s germy remote control! Also wash your hands after using the bathroom and touching pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Rinse produce under running water, including those with inedible skins and rinds. For firm-skin fruits and vegetables, rub by hand or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing.
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Cook to the Correct Temperature

  • Use a food thermometer to test Super Bowl party favorites, like chicken wings and ground beef sliders, and any other meat or microwaved dishes on your menu.
    • Cook your favorite foods to the right temperature by using a meat thermometer; hamburger to at least 160º F and chicken breasts to at least 160º F.
    • Make sure chicken wings (and any other poultry) reach a minimum internal temperature of 165°F and that any ground beef sliders or burgers reach 160°F.
    • Microwave leftovers to 165°F to get rid of harmful bacteria.
    • Large pots of food, such as soups or stews, and large cuts of meats, such as roasts or whole poultry, should be divided into small quantities for refrigeration to allow them to cool quickly and minimize time in the temperature “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F.

  • Refer to the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart below for the “rest time” of meats—the period after cooking that some meats need to rest before serving to ensure that germs are killed. Note: Good news for your super-hungry guests: chicken wings and ground beef sliders don’t require rest times!
    Category Food Temperature (°F)  Rest Time 
    Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160 None
    Turkey, Chicken 165 None
    Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb Steaks, roasts, chops 145 3 minutes
    Poultry Chicken & Turkey, whole 165 None
    Poultry breasts, roasts 165 None
    Poultry thighs, legs, wings 165 None
    Duck & Goose 165 None
    Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165 None
    Pork and Ham Fresh pork 145 3 minutes
    Fresh ham (raw) 145 3 minutes
    Precooked ham (to reheat) 140 None
    Eggs & Egg Dishes Eggs Cook until yolks and
    white are firm
    None
    Egg dishes 160 None
    Leftovers & Casseroles Leftovers 165 None
    Casseroles 165 None
    Seafood Fin Fish 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork. None
    Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque. None
    Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until shells open during cooking. None
    Scallops Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm. None

Watch the Time

Track the time that food stays on the buffet. Sideline any perishable foods that have been out at room temperature for two hours or more.

Avoid mix-ups

  • Separate raw meats from ready-to-eat foods like veggies when preparing, serving, or storing foods.
  • Offer guests serving utensils and small plates to discourage them from eating directly from the bowls with dips and salsa.

Leftovers

  • Discard any perishable foods on the buffet for two hours or more.
  • Divide leftovers into smaller portions or pieces, place in shallow containers, and refrigerate.
  • Leftover foods should be refrigerated at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation. It’s OK to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate leftovers for three to four days at most. Freeze them if you won’t be eating the leftovers sooner.
  • Leftovers should be reheated to at least 165°F (74°C) before serving.