There's nothing like a tailgate party ahead of a big game to bring people together for good food and fun, and a few simple tips can help keep the event safe. Karen Blakeslee, K-State Research and Extension food scientist, offers some reminders on how to keep food safe while tailgating, picnicking and during other outdoor events.
Blakeslee cites cross-contamination as a frequent error at picnics, potlucks, and tailgating during the fall sports season. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria from one food is transferred to another. Transporting food can increase the risk of a food safety mistake. But those mistakes are preventable.
To ensure that juices from meat or poultry do not seep onto other foods, 1) use protective plastic bags available at the grocery store; 2) place meat and poultry items on the lower basket of the cart so juices will not drip onto fresh fruits, vegetables and other items in the cart; and 3) separate and store foods by category once home.
When holding or thawing frozen meat or poultry in the refrigerator, place it in a shallow baking pan or tray with a lip to catch juices and avoid cross contamination.
Errors also can occur when plates, platters, knives and other serving utensils are used for both raw and cooked foods without washing before and after each use, said Blakeslee, who advises cooks to dedicate utensils to each food item and keep raw foods separate from cooked foods.
If grilling meats and poultry on the same grill with fruits and vegetables, she also advises using separate areas of the grill for each.
Washing the rind before cutting into a melon with a clean knife will reduce the risk of transferring potentially harmful bacteria that may have been present in the soil in which the melon grew.
Other tips for healthful tailgating and picnics include:
* Plan a menu to match the size of the group to minimize leftovers that could spoil during the game.
* If sharing the responsibilities for the food, ask those traveling the shortest distances to bring the perishable foods; invite others to bring non-perishable items.
* Use one insulated cooler for raw foods such as beef patties, brats or chicken, and a separate insulated cooler for perishable cooked foods, such as cooked meats, pasta or potato salad.
* Dedicate a third cooler for beverages that can be opened more frequently without jeopardizing the safety of other foods. Each time a cooler is opened, the temperature inside the cooler rises.
* Place plenty of ice and an appliance thermometer in each cooler; food should remain at 40 degrees F or below.
* Transport food in the air-conditioned passenger compartment, and shade it with a blanket. Shade coolers, picnic basket and other foods on site.
* Pack a food thermometer, and check internal cooked temperatures; Poultry, 165 degrees F; ground meats, 160 degrees F; and beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, roasts and chops, 145 degrees F.
* Pack water, moist towelettes, soap, hand sanitizer, paper or other towels.
* Wait to get food out until shortly before cooking and serving; shade foods from direct sunlight, and return leftovers to coolers within one hour or less if the temperature is 90 degrees F or above, and two hours or less if the temperature is lower.
* If sharing cooking responsibilities for a large group, keep recipes separate, rather than blending them, to simplify identifying an errant food if foodborne illness becomes an issue.
Following these practices will help ensure that all your outdoor eating memories are pleasant ones.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District--Fort Scott office. She may be reached at 620-223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.