The temperature is getting crisp and the sun is setting earlier. These changes mean tailgate season is here. Everyone enjoys getting together with friends and family to cheer their favorite team and to enjoy food together before the game — and sometimes after the game.
Will this be a winning season on the gridiron for your team and for your tailgate party? Just like your favorite team, you need to plan so that you and your guests enjoy tasty, safe food. Planning is the key to keeping your food safe during a tailgate. Here are some questions to ask when planning what to serve:
- Do you have enough coolers to keep the food cold during the trip to the game and while everything is cooking? If possible, use separate coolers for uncooked meats and ready-to-eat items such as potato salad or raw veggies or fruits.
- Do you have sufficient containers or plastic bags to be sure juices from raw meat and poultry don’t drip on ready-to-eat items if you must store in the same cooler?
- Do you have several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, or containers of ice available to keep perishable food like raw hamburger patties, sausages, and chicken cold?
- Do you have a source of water to wash your hands? If none is available at the site, you can make your own portable handwashing station using a large water cooler and bucket to catch the used water. Be sure to pack plenty of soap and paper towels.
- Do you have a meat thermometer to measure the temperature of that burger or chicken you are cooking on the grill? It’s the only way you can be sure your meat or poultry has reached a safe temperature (160°F for ground meats, 165°F for poultry, and 145°F for steaks and chops).
- Do you have a way to keep food that is cooked before departing for the game hot (above 135°F) during the drive to the game and before serving?
- Do you have a way to either keep food cold (below 40°F) or hot (above 135°F) if you plan on enjoying leftovers after the game? Food left at room temperature should be eaten within 2 hours (1 hour if the game day temperature is above 90 °F and remember the interior of your car can get quite warm even on a cold day).
When you plan your tailgate, use this checklist to make sure you have a safe, winning party:
- Clean: Soap and water to wash hands. Wet disposable cloths or moist toilettes and hand sanitizer are alternatives for cleaning hands if it is not possible to use water and soap.
- Separate: Separate plates and utensils for raw meats and cooked meats. No contact of juices from raw meat and poultry with ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook: Grill, fuel, cooking utensils, food thermometer.
- Chill: Coolers, ice or frozen gel packs, clean containers for storing leftovers.
Enjoy the game knowing you followed the above safely practices for the food you served at your party. Hopefully, just like you, your team has practiced and followed the rules of the game so they are winners, too.