Safe Tailgating

Tailgating is in full swing in our area and what fun everyone has! Whether you are the person that plans the menu, prepares the food, sets everything up, or just enjoys, it is important to take precautions to keep everyone safe. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne illnesses every year. It is estimated that over half of those cases are related to improper hand washing. If your venue does not have hand washing stations readily available consider taking water and soap along specifically for hand washing. Proper hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds is always your best line of defense. If that is not feasible, take plenty of antibacterial wipes along and after using them follow up with an alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol which is very effective in killing harmful microorganisms. Most commercial hand sanitizers contain that percentage of alcohol or close to it.

Bacteria cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted and multiply rapidly in the Danger Zone – 40 degrees to 140 degrees F. It is very important to not let foods remain in this Danger Zone for more than two hours. If the temperature outside is 90 degrees or higher that time frame drops to 1 hour. Pack your cooler the last thing before leaving home for the tailgate and put foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the temperature inside the cooler at 40 degrees or colder. Raw meat and poultry should be wrapped tightly to prevent contamination of other foods. A separate cooler is recommended for beverages as it is opened frequently which allows the internal temperature of the cooler to increase. If you won’t be serving the food soon after your arrival at the tailgate, keep the food in the cooler.

To keep hot food hot, insulated thermoses work well. Fill the thermos with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, then empty and fill with your hot food before you leave. If you have access to electricity a crock pot works well to keep hot foods above the Danger Zone during the tailgate. If you do not eat all the hot foods you have taken, be sure to put any leftovers in your cooler with enough ice before you head to the game.

If you are planning to grill as part of your tailgate, the only safe way to make sure your meat has cooked to the correct internal temperature is to take and use a calibrated food thermometer.

So what foods should you be cautious of when tailgating and which foods would be considered always safe? Be cautious of foods that are high in protein like meat, milk and dishes/casseroles containing eggs as well as marinades, potatoes, and pie (especially cream pies). Often part of the fun at a tailgate is preparing the food while you are there. However from a safety standpoint, single-serving, pre-packaged foods are the best. There would be far less people touching the food limiting the chances of contamination. Dry foods and those high in sugar are safe bets as well. Things like breads, cakes, and cookies. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also good choices.

Enjoy the rest of tailgate season!


Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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