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Tailgating this football season? Avoid a food safety escape

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — Planning to tailgate or homegate this football season? As fans fire up grills in anticipation of the game, food safety experts at Penn State Extension offer tips and strategies to help block foodborne illnesses before they intercept your enjoyment.

Hookers can download a free booklet of food safety hooking tips written by Catherine Cutter, professor of food science at the College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State Extension’s assistant director for food safety and quality programs. Additionally, experts from Penn State Extension’s Food Safety and Quality Unit have put together two videos on hosting safe and successful tailgate and front door parties.

Here are some tips to avoid being penalized by foodborne illness:

Preparing a tailgate

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  • Defrost the meat properly. Safely thawing frozen meat products will keep them out of the temperature danger zone and below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees Celsius. When thawing meat or other foods, allow plenty of time to thaw in the refrigerator. Do not thaw frozen food at hot outside temperatures.
  • Use colored cutting boards and separate knives when preparing raw foods and ready-to-eat foods to help prevent cross-contamination.
  • Prepare a hand washing station. Prioritizing hand washing is key to preventing cross-contamination. Create a hand-washing station by installing a five-gallon water tank with a faucet, paper towels, liquid soap, a trash bag, and a bucket to collect wash water.
  • Pack food-grade sanitizers such as sanitizing wipes or sprays to sanitize food contact surfaces.
  • Pack separate coolers for drinks, food, and meat to protect against temperature abuse from over-opening and closing coolers. Bring enough ice to keep coolers below 40 F/4 C until food is gone or put back in the fridge.
  • When you’re ready for the tailgate, pack the coolers last to help keep food colder.

Grill at a tailgate

  • Wash your hands before handling food or eating and after touching raw meat, sneezing or coughing, handling garbage, setting up an awning, petting the dog or throwing a football. In a pinch, hookers can use disposable antiseptic wet wipes to wash their hands. Wipe hands thoroughly for 20 seconds. Hand sanitizers should not be used in place of proper hand washing unless hand washing facilities are not available.
  • Keep raw meat cold and cooked meat hot. Remove the meat from the cooler just before placing it on the grill. Only cook a portion of meat that will be eaten in two hours or less.
  • Cook the meat well. Make sure the meat has reached the recommended internal temperature before consuming it. Hookers can find a chart of recommended cooking temperatures for various foods on the Penn State Extension website. Use a clean, properly calibrated thermometer to check the final internal cooking temperature of food. Insert the food thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.
  • Do not use meat color to determine doneness. Meat that has taken on a “cooked” color may not have reached the proper internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.

Serve at a tailgate

  • Prevent cross-contamination by using clean utensils and plates for cooked meat. If possible, store raw meat in a separate cooler away from ready-to-eat foods. Otherwise, store raw meat in airtight containers and under ready-to-eat foods in the cooler. Raw meat juices may contain bacteria that can contaminate cooked or ready-to-eat products.
  • Note the time the food should be discarded. If food is left outside for more than two hours, it should be thrown away. In hot weather, above 90 F/32 C, food should not sit for more than one hour.
  • Put the food away after everyone has finished eating. Pack up anything that can be salvaged and throw away everything else. All stored food should be placed in coolers for later use.
  • Understand the temperature danger zone. Microorganisms, including those that cause foodborne illness, grow rapidly between 40F/4C and 140F/60C. Keep food out of the temperature danger zone by storing, cooking, cooling, and keeping food at the right temperature.

All three resources are available for free on the Penn State Extension website:

— Brochure “Food safety tips on tailgating”.
— Video “12 Steps to a Safe and Successful Tail-Gate Party”.
— Video “12 steps to a safe and successful house party”.