Fall is football season, and that means a lot of eating. Tailgating is part of that sport; people set up grills and picnic tables in the parking lots of stadiums and chow down. The FDA is offering tips to make your tailgating event a food safety success.
Plan ahead for food safety. Make sure you have these items on hand to keep the food you serve safe: paper towels, moist towelettes or hand sanitizer, two coolers (one for food and one for beverages), ice, frozen gel packs, two sets of cooking utensils (one for raw foods and one to take cooked food off the grill), paper plates, disposable silverware, a food thermometer to check the temperature of burgers and chicken, and clean containers to hold leftovers.
Always wash your hands well with warm water and soap for at least 2o seconds before you start to prepare the food. And wash your hands again, for the same time and with the same method, after handling raw meat or poultry. Wipe down food tables with disinfecting wipes before setting the table or eating, and make sure your guests use moist towelettes or hand sanitizer before they eat.
Cross-contamination is a common way that food becomes contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. Always keep raw meats and poultry separate from ready to eat foods, such as produce or cooked foods.
When you pack your cooler before you leave the house, make sure that thoroughly wrapped raw meat and poultry is at the bottom. That way it will stay cold, and raw meat juices won’t drip onto other foods. And never ever put cooked food on a plate or tray that held raw meat. Don’t use utensils that touched raw meat to remove cooked meat from the grill. And clean the thermometer probe as you are testing meat so you don’t transfer bacteria from a burger to a chicken breast.
Always use a food thermometer before you serve meats. This is the only say to know if the food has been cooked enough to kill pathogenic bacteria. You can’t tell if meat is safe by the color or the cooking juices. The food thermometer also helps you not overcook meat. Different meats have different safe final temperatures, so print out the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to be on the safe side. Once meats have cooked, keep them warm with chafing dishes or put them in a clean pan on the warm side of the grill rack and cover.
When it’s time to go into the stadium, remember that your cooler can’t chill food down; it only keeps food cold. Keep cold foods cold during dinner by putting serving dishes in beds of ice. If the food stayed cold during your dinner, pack leftovers in clean containers and put them in the cooler again with ice. This is where having two coolers is handy. But if the perishable food is warm, throw it away.
And remember that you can call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 to talk to a food safety specialist if you have questions. Stay food safe and enjoy the game. We hope your team wins!