Home games herald tailgate fever, food safety


Home games draw thousands of fans to tailgate hot spots like The Junction at Mississippi State, pictured, and The Grove at Ole Miss in Oxford. When serving food over several hours outdoors, it pays to review how to do it safely and avoid being the source of a foodborne sickness.

Home games draw thousands of fans to tailgate hot spots like The Junction at Mississippi State, pictured, and The Grove at Ole Miss in Oxford. When serving food over several hours outdoors, it pays to review how to do it safely and avoid being the source of a foodborne sickness. Photo by: alumnus.msstate.edu


Jan Swoope



With both Mississippi State and Ole Miss hosting their first home games of the 2019 season Saturday, you can bet tailgate plans are in overdrive. The Junction in Starkville and The Grove in Oxford will overflow this weekend with fans and food. Sure, thinking about the safety of your tailgate food isn't as fun as selecting the menu, but it's critically important. You don't want to be that guy, the one that made folks at your tent sick, right?


The MSU Extension Service offers guidance as you prep, pack for and participate in the great fall tradition of tailgating. Right now, before the first home game, is a good time to review it. Find the full text in Publication No. 3328 at extension.msstate.edu. Below is a condensed checklist.




Clean and sanitize


Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing foods. If there's no access to running water at the tailgate, come prepared with water, soap and paper towels for a handwashing station. Bring moist towelettes and hand sanitizer (at least 60 percent alcohol) for sanitizing hands and surfaces. But remember, there's no effective substitute for soap and water.



Avoid temperature abuse


Most bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses thrive in the "temperature danger zone" -- between 40-140 degrees F. Keep this in mind when packing coolers to transport. Use ice, ice packs or a refrigerator to keep foods cold. Pack drinks in a separate cooler from food products because the drink cooler will be opened and closed frequently, causing the temperature inside to rise.


On the drive, keep the cooler in an air-conditioned passenger compartment; never place a cooler in a hot trunk where foods can rise to the temperature danger zone.


To limit growth of bacteria in cold foods when serving, keep foods below 40 F using an ice bath, and keep foods covered. Store food in the cooler after all guests have been served. To limit the growth of bacteria in hot foods, keep them above 140 F using chafing dishes or crock pots. All foods kept at room temperature for more than two hours should be thrown away.


If the temperature at the tailgate is above 90 F, foods left out should be discarded after one hour. This includes hot take-out food.



To make an ice bath


Fill a large bowl halfway with ice and partially with water, and then add a few tablespoons of salt. Put the food you want to keep cold into a smaller bowl.


Immerse the smaller bowl into the larger bowl. To keep the food cold and at a safe temperature, add ice to the large bowl as needed.


Prevent cross-contamination


Packing smart is an easy way to prevent cross-contamination. Raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood should be wrapped, sealed and placed in the bottom of the cooler to ensure that raw juices don't drip onto ready-to-eat foods.


Thermometers are highly encouraged if you plan on grilling at the tailgate. After each use, it's important to clean thermometers used to check temperatures of meat and other food products. For buffet-style tailgates, provide clean tongs and utensils so guests don't cross-contaminate food with their hands.



Grill safely


Safe grilling begins with safely thawing frozen items. Keep thawing meat out of the temperature danger zone by thawing in cold water, in the refrigerator or in the microwave (but only for immediate use). Never thaw meat on the kitchen counter, in hot water, or in the trunk of the car on the way to tailgate. For the same reason, marinate foods in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.


Before adding raw meat to the marinade, save some for dipping or basting; do not reuse marinade after it has been in contact with raw meat, poultry, fish and/or seafood. Do not partially cook meat, poultry, fish, or seafood to grill or cook later. Partially cooking muscle foods puts them in the danger zone, which allows bacteria to grow rapidly.


After transferring raw meat to the grill, change out the utensils (tongs, forks) and container (plate, dish, platter) used for the raw product to prevent cross-contamination. Do not put cooked food in the same container that held raw meat, poultry, fish and/or seafood because raw juices could contaminate the cooked product.



Thermometer tips


Instant-read dial thermometers or digital thermometers are the best options for a tailgate. Both are small and relatively fast, and most brands are easy to calibrate. To ensure accuracy, calibrate the thermometer periodically. In ice water, thermometers should read 32 F; in boiling water, they should read 212 F.


To check the internal temperature of any food product, insert the thermometer into the thickest, coldest part of the food and hold there until the reading stabilizes. Minimum internal temperature for sausages and beef hamburgers is 160 F; 165 F for hotdogs, poultry and reheated foods; and 145 F for a medium steak.




Food left unrefrigerated or improperly held can cause foodborne illnesses. Remember it's important to store perishable food in the cooler except when serving.


Discard any leftovers that are not cold (40 F or below) after the game. Reminder: Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than two hours (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 F).


Enjoy the tailgating ahead, just remember bacteria on food can't be seen by the human eye, so preparing, cooking and storing foods the right way is vital.


For more tailgate food safety info, look up Extension Service Publication 3328 at extension.msstate.edu.



Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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