August 18, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Tailgating is a popular tradition prior to football games. Following safe food preparation and handling practices will ensure that guests remember good food and a winning touchdown, instead of foodborne illnesses.

"To get your tailgating event off to a winning start, safely prepare foods at home," said Sandra Bastin, Extension food and nutrition specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "Be sure your hands, counters and preparation utensils stay clean before, during and after handling food."

Cleanliness is important to prevent cross-contamination, which takes place when raw meats containing disease-causing bacteria come into contact with other meats, vegetables or fruits, according to Bastin.

"Cross-contamination can occur when you fail to use hot, soapy water to wash a cutting board or knife used to prepare meat before using it on raw fruit or vegetables," she said. "It also can happen when cooked meat is put on the same container that held raw meat. This is why it is important to keep your hands, counters and utensils clean throughout the entire food preparation process."

Bastin said it is important to remember the food-safety adage to "keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot." Cold foods should be maintained below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and hot foods above 140 degrees to prevent rapid multiplication of bacteria that may cause foodborne illness or production of toxins that cause this problem.

"It is a good idea to decide in advance what foods and the amounts to prepare in case you need to buy ice packs or insulated containers to keep food safe for the event," she said. "Advance planning also will keep you from taking too much food, because it is best not to reuse those taken for tailgating or other outings."

Bastin said proper cooling will keep foods safe. Put food right from the refrigerator into an insulated cooler with enough ice or other frozen items to maintain a temperature of at least 40 degrees. Be sure to keep foods containing milk products, cooked eggs or mayonnaise well chilled.

To keep food cold en route, put coolers in the passenger section of the vehicle rather than the trunk and place them in the shade during the tailgating event. To avoid opening the food cooler too often, keep beverages in a separate cooler. Quickly serve and return foods from coolers.

"Ideally, wait until you get to the tailgating site to cook hot foods because this will reduce the time they are in the 140-degree bacterial growth danger zone," Bastin said.
Be sure to thoroughly cook meats by using a meat thermometer to check for the recommended safe internal temperature. Cook hamburgers and pork to 160 degrees; poultry, 180 degrees; chicken breast, 170 degrees; beef, veal and lamb steaks and chops, 145 degrees. Do not rely on the external color to indicate that meat is done, because ground beef can turn brown before it is done.

If it is not possible to cook meats on-site, keep them hot in insulated containers or thermos bottles.

"Do not allow hot or cold foods to remain out more than one hour during hot weather," Bastin said. "If you are not sure about the safety of foods, always throw them out."


Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 ext. 257
Sources: Sandra Bastin 859-257-1812