August 5, 1999 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Tailgating before football games is a popular tradition in Kentucky as families and friends gather to eat and get ready to pull for their favorite team. Follow safe food handling practices to ensure your guests take home memories of good food and fellowship rather than a case of foodborne illness.

"Use safe food-preparation practices at home to get your tailgate outing off to a good start. Be sure your hands, counters and food-preparation utensils are clean before, during and after handling food," said Sandra Bastin, Extension food and nutrition specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Preventing cross-contamination is another reason cleanliness is important, according to Bastin.

"Cross-contamination can occur when raw meats containing disease-causing bacteria come into contact with other meats, fruits or vegetables. This contamination can take place when you don't wash a cutting board or knife used to prepare meat before using them to prepare raw fruit or vegetables. Cross-contamination also can occur when you put cooked meat on the same container used to hold raw meat. This is why you need to wash your hands, counters and any utensils you've used to prepare food before using them for other foods."

When food contaminated with disease-causing bacteria is left at room temperature for one or two hours, organisms can grow to numbers that cause foodborne illness, or produce disease-causing toxins that will cause this problem. Keeping foods below 40 degrees will help prevent bacterial growth; so always thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter. Marinate foods in the refrigerator as well.

"It's a good idea to decide ahead of time what foods and amounts to prepare for the outing so you'll have needed equipment such as ice packs or insulated containers available to keep food safe for tailgating guests," Bastin said.

With proper cooling, most food will be safe. Pack food right from the refrigerator in an insulated cooler with ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water or juice to keep temperatures below 40 degrees. Keep food containing milk products, cooked eggs or mayonnaise well chilled.

Temperatures above 140 degrees will prevent growth of disease-causing bacteria in hot foods; so use a thermos or insulated container to keep hot food hot.

To help keep cold food chilled en route to a tailgate event, store coolers in the passenger section of the vehicle because this area is cooler than the trunk. Put coolers in the shade during the outing. To keep food cold, don't open the cooler often. Serve chilled food directly from the cooler and quickly return food to the cooler.

"It's best to wait until you get to the tailgate eating site to cook hot foods," Bastin said. "Cooking on site lessens the length of time these foods are likely to remain in the bacterial growth danger zone. If on-site preparation is not possible, use a thermos or insulated dishes to keep hot foods prepared ahead above 140 degrees.

"When preparing meat at the tailgating site, be sure to thoroughly cook them. Use a meat thermometer to be sure meat reach the recommended safe internal temperature. Cook hamburgers and pork to 160 degrees; poultry to 180 degrees; chicken breast to 170 degrees; beef, veal and lamb steaks and chops to 145 degrees. Do not rely on the external color as an indicator meat is done because ground beef can turn brown before it's done. Thoroughly cooked beef and poultry should have clear juices. You should be able to flake fish with a fork.

"To prevent cross-contamination, keep raw meat juices separate from other foods. Use a clean plate to serve cooked meats rather than plates that previously held them raw."

During hot weather, don't allow hot or cold foods to remain at room temperature more than one hour. Plan to take only the amounts of food you will use for tailgating because it's best not to reuse foods taken to tailgate outings.

"If you're in doubt about the safety of foods, always throw them out," Bastin said.

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Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell (606) 257-1376

Source: Sandra Bastin (606) 257-1812