Food safety tips to tackle tailgates

Football season is well underway, and many fans are counting down until their next tailgate to cheer on their favorite teams.

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It is important to remember proper food handling and cooking techniques, so a tailgate does not sideline its guests, said Ravi Jadeja, food safety specialist for the Oklahoma State University Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center.

“Roughly one out of six people get sick from foodborne illness,” he said. “Following simple food safety procedures to reduce foodborne illness can help keep your guests from getting sick at your next tailgate.”

The following food safety tips can help tailgaters ensure they have a fun and safe football season.

Storing Perishable Foods

  • Pack cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
  • Raw meats, premade dishes and leftovers need to go in the cooler. 
  • Store meats near the bottom of the cooler.
  • Separate and securely wrap all cooler items.

Food Preparation 

  • Use separate plates and cutting boards for raw and cooked proteins. 
  • Prevent cross contamination by using separate utensils for each item.
  • Use color coded knives to help keep you organized.
  • Wash utensils between uses.

Preparing the Grill

  • Preheat gas or electric grills for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking.
  • Preheat charcoals for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking. 
  • Preheating allows food to cook evenly. 
  • Never partially grill foods and then finish later.

Grilling Safety

  • A food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure food is safe to eat.
  • Hamburgers and brats need to be at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Steaks and chops need to be at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit and rested for at least 3 minutes.
  • If reheating an item, such as precooked hot dogs, cook to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Chicken breasts need to be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Safety During and After Tailgating

  • Keep hot foods hot, at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep cold foods cold, at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Throw away or put perishable foods in the cooler before heading to the game. 
  • Foods should not be left out for more than 1 hour if it is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. 
  • Place leftovers in shallow containers to prevent bacteria growth.

Bacteria can double in numbers every 20 minutes, and in favorable conditions, few bacteria can become millions in several hours, Jadeja said.

“It only takes as few as 10 pathogenic E. coli to make someone sick, so the food items which are temperature abused for a short period of time could cause foodborne illnesses,” he said. “This is proof that proper food handling and cooking procedures are a necessity, especially during tailgates.”

FAPC, a part of the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop, and deliver technical and business information that stimulates and supports the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.

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