Fall means football, thousands of fans … and food safety

tailgater grilling meat

Fall and football are in the air, along with unmistakeable smells of tailgate parties on every available square inch of campus. Chargrilled burgers and dogs, smoked ribs, barbecue chicken – delicious yet potentially dangerous in a tailgate setting.

Bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses can easily grow and spread at outdoor picnics and barbecues, particularly on a warm day. Tailgaters should take precautions during each phase of their event, from preparing and traveling to serving and packing up leftovers, to help prevent guests from getting sick. Here are some tips to ensure game day is memorable for all the right reasons.


Preparing and Traveling

If you’re planning to grill at your tailgate, raw meat such as ground hamburger, chicken, and hot dogs should be packed in an insulated cooler and surrounded by ice or frozen gel packs. The meat should be in a sealed container and be placed at the bottom of the cooler to keep juices from leaking onto other foods, which can lead to cross-contamination. Perishable, ready-to-eat foods such as potato salad and sealed lunchmeat can be placed near the top of the cooler. You should always have a separate cooler exclusively for ice for drinks.

As the weather cools off, chili and hearty soups like gumbo also become popular tailgate fare. These can be kept hot (during short drives) by first filling an insulated container with boiling water, letting it stand a few minutes, emptying it, and refilling the container with steaming hot soup or chili. The food can stay hot (140 degrees F or above) for several hours if the container is kept closed. If your drive to the tailgate is longer than an hour or so, chill the soup or chili in the refrigerator before packing it in a cooler, and reheat it onsite to 165 degrees F.

You’ll need to bring separate utensils for preparing, serving, and eating the food as well as a food thermometer to ensure meat is cooked thoroughly.


Grilling and Serving

Tables and tents are set up, cold beverages are plentiful, and now it’s time to start grilling. Be aware that while meat may look “done” on the outside, it may not have reached a safe internal temperature. Poultry should be cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees F, and ground beef should be 160 degrees F. See the “Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures” chart for more details.

Set aside separate plates and utensils for serving meat and serving ready-to-eat foods. You don’t want the same fork that’s been transferring burgers from the grill to go in the pasta salad bowl.

And when all the guests have filled their plates, store your meats, perishable side dishes, and dips in a cooler. You can always pull them back out if needed, and cold storage keeps bacteria from growing.


Winding Down

One of the most important points from the experts at AUFSI is that it’s not safe to eat grilled meats and ready-to-eat foods that were left out for more than two hours – one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees F. When in doubt, throw it out.

Your leftovers that are safe to eat should be sealed tightly and packed into icy coolers for the trip home.

For more information on tailgating, including more safety tips, tailgating history, and fun facts, visit www.aufsi.auburn.edu/tailgate and follow the AUFSI Tailgate Times page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AUtailgatetimes/).


Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures for Cooked Meat
All poultry 160°F
Ground meats 160°F
Beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, roasts and chops 145°F*
Leftovers (reheating) 165°F

*As measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest at least three minutes before carving or consuming.


Source: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.