There's nothing more American than tailgating and football. Like other food preparation and serving situations, tailgating requires safe food handling practices. Ignoring food safety can spoil the fun of a tailgate party.
It takes a good defense to keep harmful foodborne bacteria from sending guests to the sidelines. Here are some tips to make certain bacteria don't have a sporting chance at your football tailgate gatherings.
The Game Plan
Start with good planning at home. Pack for a situation where a refrigerator, stove and running water are not available. Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. A water jug can provide a supply of water for cleaning. Hand sanitizing gel is also a convenient hand cleaner.
Include lots of clean utensils, not only for eating but also for serving the safely cooked food. Pack a food thermometer to be sure the meat and poultry reach a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present.
If cold foods -- such as salads or deviled eggs -- are on the menu, chill them thoroughly in the refrigerator before packing in coolers. Remember that it takes plenty of ice to keep foods in the cooler at 40 degrees or lower. Be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent their juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food.
Pack separate coolers for drinks and food. Beverage coolers are opened more frequently than food coolers and the temperature inside will rise each time the cooler is opened.
At the tailgate party, it's important to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit -- this is known as the "danger zone."
Shade ice chests and coolers if possible. Cover with a blanket if no shade is available. Wait until ready to eat before removing salads and sides from coolers. And, return the dishes to the cooler as soon as everyone has finished eating.
Cook meat and poultry completely. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them.
Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown very fast on the outside, so use a food thermometer to be sure they are cooked thoroughly. A food thermometer also ensures that food is not over-done and dry, so guests can be impressed with your culinary talents.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently updated its recommendations for safely cooking meats. Now there are only three internal temperature numbers to remember:
145 degrees Fahrenheit plus a three-minute rest time after removing from the heat source for whole meats (such as steaks, roasts, and chops);
160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground meats;
165 degrees Fahrenheit for all poultry.
Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than two hours -- or one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Planning for the number of guests expected will minimize the amount of leftovers of perishable foods, such as meats, salads and casseroles, to worry about during and after the game. Any leftovers need to be packed carefully into ice chests for safe keeping. Discard any leftovers that are not ice cold when you return home. Remember the adage, "If in doubt, throw it out."
You may also learn more about many food safety topics at K-State Research and Extension's food safety website, www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety.