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Food safety tips for tailgaters

Don't let food safety mistakes spoil your next tailgating party. Here are expert tips to avoid foodborne illness, as recommended by Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist.

Tailgate Party

Food safety tips for tailgaters

Blakeslee is an avid football fan and experienced tailgater, but on any given game day, she may see fans who risk foodborne illness unnecessarily.

Wash your hands

"Washing your hands before and after handling food is critical," she said. "Water may not be readily available, but tailgaters can either bring a jug of water, soap and towels or, brush off surface dirt and use pre-packaged towelettes or a hand sanitizer.

Keep foods in separate coolers

To avoid cross contamination, Blakeslee suggests using separate coolers or ice chests for beverages, ready-to-eat foods, and raw foods that will be cooked.

"On a hot day, the temperature inside a cooler typically rises each time a cooler is opened," she said. Since beverage coolers are usually opened most frequently, separating the beverages helps maintain the quality of other party foods.

opt for block ice

Blakeslee recommends filling a cooler or ice chest so that it is half full of ice.

"Block ice will melt more slowly than cubes, and cubes will melt more slowly than crushed ice," she said. Freezing water bottles is an option, but Blakeslee cautioned tailgaters to not fill the bottles completely, as the water will expand during the freezing process.

One advantage to freezing water in a bottle is that, when thawed, the water is chilled and ready to drink.

Use temperature to determine doneness

Tailgaters are opting for portable gas grills and appliances that plug into car batteries or generators, but Blakeslee said that it is still critical to test doneness of cooked foods with a food thermometer. Not all ground beef browns at the time or temperature.

That means if a hamburger is brown, it still may not have reached a safe-to-eat temperature of 160 degrees F. United States Department of Agriculture recommendations for cooking all poultry products, such as chicken breasts, thighs or wings, were adjusted earlier this year to 165 degrees F.

If planning to serve an egg casserole before an early game, check the cooked temperature (160 degrees F.), Blakeslee said.

She does not recommend preparing an omelet in a bag, a recipe that's been shared on the Internet recently. The eggs may not cook completely, and re-sealable plastic bags, which are not intended for such cooking purposes, may melt.

Foods with temperatures from 40 to 140 degrees F. can be hazardous, the food scientist said. She recommends heating hot dogs to steaming.

Food thermometers are easy to use and can be purchased for $10 or less. (More information on choosing and using a food thermometer is available on K-State Research and Extension's Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu/foodsafety.)

Top tips for food safety

Given Blakeslee's enthusiasm for football and tailgating, she offered these additional food safety and time-saving tips:

  • Plan the menu with game time in mind. If grilling is on tap for a pre-game lunch, plan post-game snacks - cookies, fruit, veggies and dip or a snack mix - that don't need cooking.
  • Plan party foods for the number of guests expected to minimize leftovers and food storage before, during and after the game.
  • Chill salads and sides - deviled eggs, for example - well before transferring them to an ice chest or cooler. And, fill ice chests just before leaving home.
  • Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods. If marinating steaks, chops or chicken for grilling at the stadium, do so in a disposable re-sealable plastic bag.
  • Shade ice chests and coolers; cover with a blanket if no shade is available.
  • Planning to pick up a bucket of chicken or pizza on the way to the stadium? Make that the last stop before the stadium to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Use a food thermometer to check cooked temperatures.
  • Wait to remove salads and sides from ice chests and coolers until ready to eat.
  • Shade the serving table, if possible.
  • Wrap and stow leftovers in the ice chest or cooler or discard them. For example, if extra hamburgers are cooked, but not eaten, Blakeslee suggests wrapping and storing them in a cooler for a later meal or snack. If food is left out for two hours or more (one hour or more if the temperature is 90 degrees or above), it should be discarded.
  • Use disposable paper products, tableware and food containers to minimize cleanup.
  • Tuck in extra utensils, serving spoons and a roll of paper towels and trash bags. Make a "tailgating kit" with the most used utensils and extra supplies for every game.
  • Make sure cooking appliances or equipment is shut down and cooling or otherwise stowed appropriately before going to the game to reduce the risk of fire hazards.
  • Lighten party planning by asking guests to share responsibilities. For example, ask out-of-towners to bring less perishable items such as chips and salsa or help out on food cost.

More information on food, food safety, nutrition and health is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and website: www.oznet.ksu.edu/foodsafety.

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