Food safety at the tailgate

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, September 3, 2019


Boyle County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

Who’s ready for some football? Its tailgating season, y’all! Whether you’re enjoying Friday night lights in your hometown or Saturdays at a college game, football and tailgating go hand-in-hand for many fans.  But unsafe food handling practices during your tailgating event could have you sidelined by game time. To keep your guests and yourself safe from foodborne illnesses, follow these tips:

Email newsletter signup

• Wash your hands: Handwashing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of disease-causing bacteria. Parking lots don’t have access to running water so bring your own handwash station. Portable water jugs with a spigot can be found in the drinking water aisle of most grocery stores.  Bring along liquid soap, paper towels and a bucket to catch waste-water.  Wash your hands before and after preparing food and especially after using portable restrooms. Always wash your hands before eating, and encourage your tailgating friends to wash their hands before eating.

• Keep cold foods cold: You should keep perishable food below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Use insulated coolers and plenty of ice or frozen gel packs to keep meat, poultry, sandwiches, dairy and deli salads cold. If you plan on grilling, keep the raw meat separated from ready-to-eat products and drinks. Use two coolers and designate one for raw ingredients and one for ready-to-eat. 

• Keep hot foods hot: Cooked foods should stay above 140 degrees F.  Food can be kept hot in disposable pans on the grill. You may also use insulated containers or Sterno heaters to keep casseroles and other cooked foods hot. If electricity is available, slow cookers are a great option for keeping foods like chili and homemade dips hot.

• Check that temp: When grilling, use a metal stemmed thermometer to make sure your meats reach the correct internal temperature before taking them off the grill.  You should cook all poultry should to 165 degrees F and ground meats (burgers) to 160 degrees F.  Roasts, steaks and chops of beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to 145 degrees F.  Hot dogs and bratwurst should be cooked to 165 degrees F.  Never use color as an indicator of doneness.

• Eat prepared food within two hours: If the temperature is over 90 degrees F, consume the food within an hour.

• Discard leftovers:  Put leftovers in trash cans with plastic liners and lids before heading into the stadium.

• Clean it up: After returning home, clean and sanitize all of your food preparation equipment including coolers, thermometers and utensils.

Don’t invite foodborne illness to your next tailgating event. Remember these helpful tips to keep every sports fan healthy. For more food safety information, contact the Boyle County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Feel free to email me at