The Tailgater's Handbook How-To Section or (Tailgating 101)

Food Safety

After a long day of singing, cheering, and enjoying delicious food with friends at a tailgate party on game day, most people just want to get home and cover the couch. They need to unwind from the events of the day and the drive to campus. Upon arriving home these fans may also flip on the TV to catch a game from the left coast, where the sun still shines, or at least catch scores and highlights. This is the perfect ending to a great day back on campus! Unfortunately, a perfect ending is not in the cards for all of the day's tailgaters because this is about the time when a small number of them begin to experience some food poisoning symptoms.

Food poisonings are most commonly caused by bacteria, the most common of which is Salmonella. There are, however, even worse things like E.Coli, Botulism and others that can do serious harm. Usual symptoms are cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting along with even more serious symptoms and death.

In 1993 there were three deaths and more than 600 hundred people sickened by Escherichia Coli (E.Coli) at Jack In The Box restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. The final culprit was contaminated beef from a supplier. Jack in the Box reported that in the 18 months following the outbreak the company lost approximately $160 million. It faced hundreds of lawsuits from ill customers. President Clinton called congressional hearings regarding the safety of the food supply and the Secretary of Agriculture testified before the Washington State legislature. As a result of the investigation the FDA raised the recommended internal temperature of cooked hamburgers and declared E. Coli O157:H7 an adulterant1 in raw ground beef.

The lesson we need to learn is to cook foods thoroughly. Get the raw meat hot enough to kill E.Coli (160 degrees)2 by using a meat thermometer. Unfortunately, meat isn't the only food that may cause problems. Salmonella can be found in poultry, eggs, unprocessed milk and water as well as meats. So follow the rules below to enjoy that perfect ending to a great tailgate party.

Basic Tailgating Food Safety Rules

  1. Always start with USDA meats and be sure to check the freshness dates on all perishable foods.

  2. Be sure to wash your hands, your utensils and cutting boards prior to and after each use. Prepare as much of your food as possible at home in your sanitary kitchen. Remain clean at the tailgate site with a jug of water and some anti-bacterial soap. Also have hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes and paper towels handy.

  3. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Keep all perishable food in your refrigerator up until the moment you pack you pack your coolers to leave for the game. Food born microorganisms don't grow below 40 degrees. Do not let cold foods sit out for more than one hour at your tailgate party. Any leftovers should be put back into the cooler right after they are served. The longer foods are held at unsafe temperatures the more likely that bacteria can grow and cause food-borne illness. Keep hot foods hot while serving the meal. Meats should be cooked to the temperatures posted in the chart below. Cooked foods are just as perishable as raw foods, so once grilled foods are cooked do not let them sit out for more than one hour. Plan preparation so food is eaten shortly after it is cooked.

  4. Use at least two coolers on game day. Have one cooler, with ice, hold only the cold drinks so people can frequently open it to retrieve a canned or bottled beverage without contaminating foods. In the other coolers store perishable foods in resealable plastic containers and/or bags. Keep the size of the containers small so that you are able to use their contents completely after opening. Keep these foods below 40 degrees by using plenty of ice and keeping the cooler out of direct sunlight.

  5. Stay sanitary by using clean disposable bowls, plates, cups, forks, knives, and spoons. Have plenty of napkins, paper towels and hand sanitizer within reach of all tailgaters. When you're eating off your fancy picnic set of china or porcelain plates and such, don't reuse any of them at your tailgate, unless they are washed.

  6. End your game day tailgate party by throwing away all foods that have sat out in the warmer temperatures. When in doubt, throw it out.

The US Department of Agriculture says the following temperatures will produce safely cooked, but still flavorful meats:


Internal Temperature

Fresh ground beef, veal, lamb, pork


Beef, veal, lamb roasts, steaks, chops: medium


Fresh pork roasts, steaks, chops: medium


Ham: cooked before eating


Ham: fully cooked, to reheat


Ground chicken/turkey

165° F

Whole chicken/turkey

180° F

Poultry breasts, roasts

170° F

1An adulterant is a chemical substance which should not be contained within other substances , namely food and beverages.

2Fitness Contrarian .com the fitness blog for the ageless


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