Tackle foodborne illness at your football tailgate

By Justin Miller
Alabama Extension Cooperative System
Posted 9/20/23

AUBURN UNIVERSITY — Tailgating is a time-honored tradition in the world of sports. No tailgate is complete without an assortment of delectable food offerings. From burgers and wings to cheese …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Tackle foodborne illness at your football tailgate


AUBURN UNIVERSITY — Tailgating is a time-honored tradition in the world of sports. No tailgate is complete without an assortment of delectable food offerings. From burgers and wings to cheese dip and chips, there are many delicious options to chow down on while cheering on your team. However, there is something out there that could disrupt your tailgate with unsportsmanlike conduct: foodborne illness. Without proper food safety measures in place, foodborne illnesses can quickly take your tailgate guests out of the game.

Food Safety Starts at Home

Rebecca Catalena, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food safety and quality regional agent, said proper food safety starts before you arrive at your tailgate.

"Before heading to a tailgate, you must plan ahead to ensure that your food items are properly handled, prepared and stored," Catalena said. "Make sure that you have the needed supplies to keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate, keep food items at the right temperatures and keep your tailgate clean."

Avoid Cross Contamination

If you plan to cook raw items are your tailgate, make sure they are kept separate from your other food items. Cross contamination will encourage the growth of harmful bacteria.

"Avoiding cross contamination starts when buying your food at the grocery store," Catalena said. "Keep your raw food items, especially meat, away from other items in your shopping cart and when bagging the groceries."

Once you are at the tailgate, always use clean containers and cooking utensils. Never use a container that once held raw meat for foods that are ready to eat.

You're Hot and You're Cold

When tailgating away from home, hauling the food and keeping it at the right temperatures can be tricky. Known as the danger zone, refrigerated or heated food should never be between 41 degrees Fahrenheit and 135 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. One great way to transport food items to the tailgate is to have separate coolers for both hot and cold foods.

"For cold items, pack them directly from the refrigerator to the cooler," Catalena said. "Keep cold foods – such as potato salad and dips – on ice until ready to use."

To keep cold food items below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, you may have to add additional ice to the cooler as the day goes on. To keep hot food above 135 degrees Fahrenheit, it is a good idea to have an electric device, such as a slow cooker, on hand. When serving food, Catalena said to avoid leaving it out for more than two hours.

A Clean Tailgate

The best way to keep your tailgate free of harmful bacteria is to wash your hands. To do this properly, lather with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Thoroughly rinse and dry your hands with a single-use paper towel.

"Accessing running water at a tailgate can be a challenge," Catalena said. "You can create your own hand-washing station by using a cooler with a spout. Fill the cooler with clean water and bring soap, paper towels, a bucket for wastewater and a trashcan or bag."

Consider Food Allergies

In addition to foodborne illnesses, it is a good idea to consider food allergies when planning a tailgate. Both adults and children can have adverse reactions to certain food items. According to Catalena, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that food allergies in children increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011.

"Food allergens can really put a fumble on your tailgating fun," Catalena said. "Depending on the person, reactions can be mild or severe. Have a playbook that includes informing guests of food ingredients."

Label any homemade dishes that contain common allergens such as milk, eggs, wheat, sesame, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and soy. For store-bought items, keep them in their original containers. This allows people to read the ingredient lists and make an informed decision. Catalena also recommends that people ask their guests to notify them of any known food allergies ahead of time.

"I have two children with egg, dairy and peanut allergies," Catalena said. "I know reading food labels and asking questions are going to help guard my children from having an adverse reaction."

More Information

For more information on food safety, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.