Don't Let Food Poisoning Sideline Your Tailgating Party

No matter what you are cooking, you want to make sure you are not sidelined with foodborne illness if you are not careful with food preparation and storage. When planning your tailgate or other outdoor activity this fall, follow these food safety tips:

Don't Let Food Poisoning Sideline Your Tailgating Party

Food & Drink

Don't Let Food Poisoning Sideline Your Tailgating Party


As a food-centric website, we maintain a good relationship with the food safety experts at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) website offers a multitude of informative articles and tips to help you safely enjoy the foods you make and transport to events and parties throughout the year.

The following article is written by Sarah Lichtman, Food Safety Education Staff for the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA.  – Editor.

Football season is finally here and you know what that means—every sports fan’s favorite—tailgating. Football fans all over the country enjoy different tailgating delicacies, from hot dogs and brats to BBQ brisket and burgers. 

No matter what you’re cooking, make sure you’re not sidelined with foodborne illness by not being careful with food preparation and storage. When planning your tailgate or other outdoor activity, follow these food safety tips:

Planning Ahead—

Make sure that you’ve got the right supplies

A good tailgating kit should include:

  • Paper towels
  • Moist towelettes/Hand Sanitizer
  • Two coolers—one for food and one for beverages
  • Ice and/or frozen gel packs
  • Two sets of cooking utensils
  • Paper plates and disposable silverware
  • Food thermometer
  • Clean containers for leftovers

Clean: Lead a Good Warm-Up

A Woman Washing Her Hands. Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash.

A recent study by USDA found that 97 percent of the time participants should have washed their hands, they did not do so correctly or at all. The correct method is using warm water and soap to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds both before cooking and after handling raw meat.

This poor hand hygiene caused participants to cross-contaminate other spice containers, refrigerator handles, even ready-to-eat foods and other areas of their kitchens with bacteria. 

In addition, make sure you start with plenty of clean utensils and serving dishes. Wipe down tables with disinfecting wipes before serving food, and keep the moist towelettes/hand sanitizer available so everyone can clean their hands before eating or handling.

Separate: Keep Up the Defense

Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meat or poultry touch ready-to-eat foods, like vegetables, fruits or cooked food. To prevent cross-contamination, securely wrap raw meat and poultry, and pack it at the bottom of the cooler to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods. Use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Never put cooked food on a plate or tray that held raw meat.

Cook: Avoid a False Start

Defeat bacteria by using a food thermometer! A recent study by USDA showed that 66 percent of participants did not use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures. The only way to know if your food is safe to eat is to use a food thermometer. You cannot tell just by looking at meat or poultry whether it’s safe to eat, as color is not an accurate indicator. 

Never brown or partially cook meat or poultry to refrigerate and finish later, Any bacteria present would not have been destroyed. Using a food thermometer is the only way to determine whether food is cooked to the correct minimum internal temperature.

Different meats have different minimum cooking temperatures, so check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to be sure. Once foods are cooked, keep them warm in chafing dishes or on the warm side of the grill rack. The two-hour rule is another important guideline to follow when you have perishable foods at your tailgating party. Bacteria thrive in temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.

Chill: Watch the Clock

When you transport raw meat and poultry, or other perishable foods, store them in a cooler with ice and/or frozen gel packs. During the tailgate, keep cold foods cold by nesting serving dishes in beds of ice. At the end of the tailgate, pack leftovers in clean containers and pack them in a cooler with ice. 

If foods have been sitting at room temperature for under two hours, you have a few options. You can place foods in the refrigerator to save for later or change the cold sources to continue keeping the foods at a safe temperature. If perishable foods have been sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours, you should throw these foods out.

If you need food safety tailgating advice, call our Technical Information Specialist at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at, available from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.

Learn more about key food safety practices at You’ll also find additional tips for preparing for a food-safe tailgate. Don’t forget to follow the USDA on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety.


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