Football season has kicked into high gear along with the favorite pastime of tailgating. However, tailgating in your favorite stadium’s parking lot can result in food safety challenges and an undesirable game ending. Below are some tips to help make your tailgating gatherings safe and enjoyable.

What to bring

Make sure to pack perishable foods in plenty of ice in your cooler so your food will stay cold for the entire duration. Store meat in a separate cooler away from ready-to-eat food, such as salads, dips and condiments. Bring plenty of clean utensils, cutting boards and platters for preparing, handling and serving food, especially if dish soap and water will not be available.

Utensils used to handle raw meat cannot be reused on cooked meat or other food unless they have been cleaned in hot soapy water between uses. Soap, water and clean paper towels are the safest for properly washing hands and surfaces, but towelettes and disinfecting wipes can be used as alternatives. You also need to make sure you pack a food thermometer to check the internal temperatures of cooked food for safety. Disposable foil pans can be used for reheating food on a grill.


Meat should be marinated in the refrigerator and never at room temperature as this can allow bacteria to quickly grow. Additionally, marinated meat should be kept cold until it is ready for cooking. Marinades that have been in contact with raw meat should never be placed on cooked meat unless it has been boiled first. It is best to reserve a separate portion of the marinade that has not been in contact with the meat if you wish to use the marinade for basting.

Cooking and cooling food

Bacteria grow rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is imperative that you keep food either hot or cold. It is strongly recommended to keep ready to eat perishable foods, such as salads, dips, dressings and cut vegetables, on ice. Perishable food should not be left out for more than two hours, and any food that has not been kept hot or cooled will need to be discarded after two hours. If food is prepared at home and transported to the game, you need to keep it hot during transport or the food should be cooled at home then reheated once you have reached your destination. If you have access to electricity, then the use of slow cookers or warming trays can help keep food hot. Alternatively, ethanol gels, such as Sterno, can be used to keep food above 140.

When cooking raw meat, ensure that the meat has reached the required minimum internal temperature for safety. Carefully remove the meat from the heat source and insert the food thermometer into the thickest portion of the meat. Make sure the thermometer has completely stabilized before confirming the temperature. It is strongly recommended to check the internal temperature of the meat in several locations to ensure the entire piece of meat has reached the minimal internal temperature. Poultry products, such as chicken wings, should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees, as measured using a food thermometer. Ground meat and egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160, while steaks, roasts, and chops should be cooked to 145. If you are cooking commercially processed food, be sure to read the package instructions for cooking. Most processed foods, and foods that are being reheated will need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165.

Additional game day tips can be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at or through your local Extension office. Have a fun and food safe tailgating season!

Smith is an assistant professor and statewide consumer food specialist for Washington State University. She can be reached at If you have a food safety question you would like to see appear in this column, send your question to us at

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