Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tailgating 101--Keeping Food Safe Pre- and Post Game (Part 1)

Football is a really big deal for those of us living in the southeastern part of the United States. SEC rivalry is fierce and very competitive. Auburn University, home of the 2010 BCS Champions, is in my backyard.
When I came here as an assistant faculty member, I could not believe the electricity that hangs in the air before, during and after an Auburn football. When I first landed on the Plains, I had never seen anything like the spirit of the Auburn family in my entire young life.
Folks would begin staking out “their” tailgating sites, setting up tents and tables several days ahead of time. Game day yielded even more excitement with fans showing up in all sorts of wild spirit gear including simply painting their partially nude bods in funky designs using orange and blue, hopefully washable, paint. Pom poms and noise makers were everywhere. The noise level of the crowd went up in direct proportion to the consumption of alcohol that no one was allowed to consume on campus.
Auburn University became a party zone from early morning on the day of the game until the wee hours of the following morning. Grills, televisions, generators and more were set up, sort of like a home away from home concept. Folks put on elaborate spreads, if for nothing else than to sustain themselves. They might eat two, three, four or more meals on the grounds of “their” tailgating spot depending on game time.
One of the purposes of tailgating, in addition to providing nutritional subsidy, is purely social. Eating, drinking, playing games, talking, laughing and basically having a carefree time are a real draw to the idea of tailgating. But, if one of your group should just happen to eat food that just may not be at its prime, the party can quickly head south.
Here is where I come in.
Practicing food safety tips while tailgating is an important as the players practicing their plays. You know how hot it gets in the south. The first games of the season can be brutal, thus the importance of giving special consideration to how to deal with food, especially that being served outside over a prolonged period of time. The very hot temperatures can provide some very unpleasant consequences if you are not careful.
To keep all of you party animals out of trouble and possibly the emergency room this football season, I have a few tried and true rules for you to follow for safe food consumption while tailgating:
1. Keep cold food cold. One of the cardinal rules is to make sure you have enough ice and well-insulated coolers on hand before you pack up and head to the stadium. Keep in mind that cold food should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, thus requiring a lot of ice if you plan to tailgate all day or even an extended period on a long, hot day. A refrigerator thermometer comes in handy, letting you know exactly where you are regarding maintaining a safe temperature.
2. Keep hot foods hot. Just as cold foods must remain 40 degrees or lower, keeping hot foods at a safe, but much higher temperature, is equally important. If you bring foods, such as soup or chili, already prepared, using an insulated container helps food maintains a safe temperature.
3. Have enough equipment on hand to handle the food safely. Always have a minimum of two coolers, one for the uncooked food and one for the ready-to-eat nibbles. Keep the cooler containing raw food closed until time to go on the preheated grill. I always liked having a third cooler handy for drinks and just plain old ice. As a side note, I like freezing water in two-liter bottles because it melts more slowly than crushed ice. When you are ready to head home, empty the bottle and toss in one of the garbage bags you brought (See list of supplies below).
I think it goes without saying, but store raw foods in sealable plastic containers or bags to prevent dripping and ultimately contaminating everything in the ice chest.
4. Know how to properly pack an ice chest. Place a layer of ice on the bottom of the cooler; add a layer of correctly packed food, another layer of ice and so on ending with a layer of ice.
5. Know the correct temperature for grilling various meats. When grilling meat and poultry, make sure each reaches the correct internal temperature. Hamburger patties and pork should reach at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, while chicken should hit a hot 170 degrees before serving. One way to ensure the correct temperature is reached is to pack an instant read cooking thermometer. For a complete list of the correct internal temperatures for cooking meats, go to
6. Raw foods and fresh foods should never mix. Do not use the same utensils or plates to serve and handle raw meats that are used for cooked, ready-to-eat foods. The juices of raw meats should never be allowed to touch, even on the grill, other foods to be grilled, such as vegetable kabobs.
7. Take along lots of non-perishable foods. Nibbles can sometimes get the best of you. Have prepackaged foods, such as chips, cookies, etc., that do not need to kept at a certain temperature for when the munchies hit.
Basic Tailgating Supplies:
1.      3 or more insulated ice chests
2.      Paper towels
3.      Paper plates
4.      Paper cups
5.      Paper napkins
6.      Disposable eating utensils
7.      Duplicate sets of cooking and serving utensils, one for raw meats and one for the other food to be cooked and served
8.      Heavy duty garbage bags
9.      Small grill
10. Match light charcoal
11. Moistened antibacterial towelletes
12. Lap trays or folding table
13. Folding chairs
14. Small fire extinguisher

How long is too long? One thing we have not talked about is length of time food left out can be expected to remain safe. Food can spoil while you are looking at it on a hot afternoon in the south. Never leave food out for more than two hours at most. That time reduces to one hour on a really hot day, such those we experience at the beginning of our football season when pre-game temperatures can hit 90 degrees or higher.
And, another thing: To keep everyone safe and having a spirited good time, have a designated time to prepare and/or serve your meal, leaving everything in the cooler until them. Cook and/or serve, eat and then pack away again with plenty of ice, thus the idea of one cooler containing nothing but ice. Using sanitized wipes, disposable plates and eating utensils and allowing food to sit out only a very short period of time should keep everyone in a spirited mood. Personally, I like to put everything back in the cooler as soon as everyone has had time to get their second helping.
Just be sure to keep the wine and beer (that no one is allowed to drink on campus) cold.
We tend to push the envelope a bit with things like dips, chips, cookies and the like. Even if non-perishable, these should be tossed when you begin to head toward the stadium or packed away until after the game.

If you follow these simple guidelines, you and you fellow tailgaters will have a wonderful time, enjoy the game and the remainder of the weekend.

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