By: Keeba Smith

Are you ready for some football?!  Yes, it is that season again.  Football season! It is time to support our favorite teams, renew long standing rivals and celebrate friendships.  One important thing that goes hand-in-hand with football is TAILGATING.  Tailgating is a time-honored tradition and most times is just as important as the game itself. It brings the haze of portable grill smoke over parking lots, the delicious aroma of barbecued foods, and the sharing of a variety of beverages.

Tailgating may be fun and everyone usually has a good time but it is also important to have a food safety plan to keep your friends healthy and safe.  Food safety while tailgating can be difficult due to having unavailable resources such as a refrigerator and running water.  A food safety plan will help prevent your family and friends from getting a foodborne illness.

Food Safety Plan-Do’s


There are a few essential items needed for every tailgating experience.  If there is no water available at the site, make sure you bring some.  Also pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.  Bring a food thermometer when cooking raw meat on a grill.


The biggest hurdle when tailgating is transporting the food from home to the stadium. It is very important to keep cold perishable food cool as possible to help prevent foodborne illness.  Carry cold perishable foods like raw hamburger patties, sausages, and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, or containers of ice.  Food should stay at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Storage and Containment

Containment is key when transporting cooked and grill-ready foods for your tailgate.  Cross contamination can ruin your tailgate before it has even begun.  To keep raw meats and poultry from cross-contaminating ready to eat food, they should be securely wrapped and kept separate.  It is recommended that raw meats are stored at the bottom of the cooler.   Perishable cooked foods such as luncheon meat, cooked meat, chicken, and potato or pasta salads must be kept cool in the refrigerator before being placed in a cooler.

Marinate and Season

You should season and marinate your meats at home where you can wash your hands thoroughly after handling the meat.  Always let food marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter.  Marinated meats should be kept in their own separate zip-top bags before packing in an ice-filled cooler.  Hamburger patties should be pre-formed at home, then layered between sheets of waxed paper before sealing in a zip-top bag.  Never reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry on cooked food unless it’s boiled first to destroy any harmful bacteria.


Grilling is the centerpiece for every tailgate experience.  You should be a master of the grill and not let the grill master you.  Always use a food thermometer when cooking any type of meat.  Cooking food to a safe minimum internal temperature kills harmful bacteria.  Meat can look done before it is actually done.  Some meats and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside.  You are placing everyone at risk if you are “eyeballing” your meat.  Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached its recommended temperature.  Raw beef, pork, lamb, chops and roasts must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145º F.  All poultry must cook to internal temperature of 165º F.

Internal thermometer can also help to ensure that the food is not overcooked.  This will help the meat keep its flavor while keeping it safe.  Use alcohol wipe in between each use to avoid any contamination.

Food Plan Safety-Don’ts

Partially Cooked Food

Never bring partially cooked food to a tailgate.  Partial cooking of food without cooking it to a safe temperature allows harmful bacteria to survive and multiply.  Meat and poultry must continue to cook to a safe temperature once cooking has started.

Leaving Food on the Table

Perishable foods, such as potato salad, pasta salads, dips, hot foods, and anything that can be stored in the refrigerator should not stay on the table for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature is over 90 degrees.  Any food left out longer than that should be discarded.  Bacteria can spread at room temperature.

Using utensils without washing

When taking cooked food off the grill, they should be placed into a clean or new platter.  Cooked food should never go on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry.  Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.

This is the same for cooking utensils.  If you can’t clean your utensils in between touching raw and cooked food, then you should have two separate set.  Cross-contamination can lead to all kinds of foodborne illnesses.

The Winning Tailgate Plan

  • Clean: Soap, water, wet disposable cloth or moist toilettes, hand sanitizer
  • Separate: Separate cooked food and utensils from raw meats
  • Cook: Grill, cooking utensils, food thermometer
  • Chill: Coolers, ice or frozen gel packs, clean containers for storing leftovers

Tailgating food safety is critical to ensure the health of those attending.  It should be enjoyed by people of all ages scrambling to claim their turf.  Your tailgate should be memorable because of the good food shared amongst friends.  Having a good food safety plan will ensure that you and your guest avoid any foodborne illness while supporting your favorite teams.