They don’t call you “the Grill Sargeant” for nothing. You know your way around the grill like MacGyver knows how to make a tank using a stick of chewing gum and barbed wire. BTU’s are what you dream about and grilling while tailgating is your happy place. But, do you know how to do it safely? No, this is not some OSHA sponsored mouth piece designed to take the fun out of your tailgate party. This is a guide on how to avoid food borne illnesses while tailgating. Food poisoning is no laughing matter and you definitely do not want to spend game time in the port-o-potty because you failed to follow these simple rules.
The first rule of thumb is to know that bacteria will begin to multiply between 40°F and 140°F. That means you need to keep perishable items hot or cold right up to the moment of cooking or serving. That means you need to get a cooler that can keep items at or below 40°F for the duration of your tailgate party. Another way to avoid food from spoiling is to plan tailgating meals with less perishable items like lunch meats. Another good idea is to have two separate coolers, one for food and the other for beverages. You would assume the beverage cooler will be opened more often than your food cooler. Separating drinks from food will help the food stay colder.
…If you pre-cook meats, your chances of spending the next few days on the toilet are just as good as if you drank a gallon of Mexican water…
No one likes to waste food, so you should estimate how much food you will need to feed everyone in your tailgate party. Bring along clean and empty Tupperware containers or Ziploc bags for any leftovers. Make sure that once they are packed up and zipped up they go straight into your cooler to stay cold while you attend the game. Also, cooking your meats should be done all at the same time. This means you should not pre-cook your meats at home and then finish them off on your grill while tailgating to save time. If you do that, your chances of spending the next few days on the toilet are just as good as if you drank a gallon of Mexican water.
The location of your cooler will also combat food borne illnesses. When driving to the game or concert, place the cooler in the back seat of your car rather than the hot trunk area. Also, once you arrive at your tailgating spot, place the cooler in a shady spot and replenish your ice often. If you are planning on picking up some food on your way to the game, make sure you eat it within two hours of purchase. Letting it sit for longer than that and you are taking a risk.
When firing up the grill, make sure it is 500°F or hotter. (We discussed this in our 10 Rules of Grilling article last month.) Make sure all your surfaces, grilling utensils and hands are clean before cooking. A hand sanitizer or that germ gel is great for tailgating because you hardly seen a sink with clean running water in the tailgating areas.
When ready to grill, take out only the amount of meat you think you will need at that time. Taking the entire package of chicken out and only cooking half of it will allow the other half to warm up and potentially become ruined. Also, after your meat is cooked properly, always transfer it to a clean plate. It’s a big time no-no to place meat back on the same plate where it had been sitting prior to hitting the grill.
The USDA recommends fully cooking meats to ensure bacteria is destroyed. To be sure bacteria is destroyed, hamburgers and ribs should be cooked to 160° F or until the center is no longer pink and juices are clear. Cook ground poultry to 165° F and poultry parts to 180° F. A portable meat thermometer is always good to have and is handy to tell if your meat is properly cooked. Lastly, never reuse marinades that have come in contact with raw meat, chicken or fish. Don’t put your cooked food back into an unwashed container or the dish that contained the original marinade.
Sure there are a lot of Do’s and Don’ts in here and we really do not mean to be a buzz kill on your tailgating fun. Just take some precautions when it comes to food safety at your next tailgate party and you should be just fine. After all, following these tips now can save you some serious pain and discomfort later.