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Don’t Let Food Poisoning Sideline Your Tailgating Party

Posted by Sarah Lichtman, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Oct 10, 2017
A football beside chips, salsa and eggs
Tailgating chips & dip with other snacks just in time for football season.

Fall is a great time to get outdoors — the weather is mild, and there are so many great activities to choose from: picnics in the park, hiking, apple picking and every sports fan’s favorite — tailgating. But even the most devoted fan could be sidelined with foodborne illness if they’re not careful with food preparation and storage. When planning your tailgate or other outdoor activity this fall, follow these food safety tips:

Make sure that you’ve got the right supplies. A good tailgating kit should include:

  • Paper towels
  • Moist towelettes
  • Two coolers—one for food and one for beverages
  • Ice and/or frozen gel packs
  • Two sets of cooking utensils
  • Paper plates and disposable silverware
  • Food thermometer
  • Clean containers for leftovers

Keeping your hands and surfaces clean when you don’t have access to a full kitchen can be challenging, but it’s an important step. Make sure you start with plenty of clean utensils and serving dishes. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before cooking and after handling raw meat or poultry. Wipe down food tables with disinfecting wipes before serving food, and keep the moist towelettes available so everyone can clean their hands before eating or handling food.

Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meat or poultry touch ready-to-eat foods, like vegetables, fruits, or cooked food. To prevent cross-contamination, securely wrap raw meat and poultry and pack it at the bottom of the cooler to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods. Use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Never put cooked food on a plate or tray that held raw meat.

Cook your meat and poultry thoroughly. You can’t tell by just looking at meat or poultry whether it is safe to eat. Using a food thermometer is the only way to determine whether food is cooked to the correct minimum internal temperature. Different meats have different minimum cooking temperatures, so check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to be sure. Once foods are cooked, keep them warm in chafing dishes or on the warm side of the grill rack.

When you transport raw meat and poultry, or other perishable foods, store them in a cooler with ice and/or frozen gel packs. During the tailgate, keep cold foods cold by nesting serving dishes in beds of ice. At the end of the tailgate, pack leftovers in clean containers and pack them in a cooler with ice.

Visit for more tips on how to prepare a food-safe tailgate.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety