Tailgating … as American as Apple Pie

September 06, 2012 | Peggy Martin

Tailgating … as American as Apple Pie

Tailgating is as American as apple pie, but unless you want some time on the sidelines, take care when planning a party in a parking lot. Last year I tail gatecringed a few times as I observed food sitting out 3-4 hours before a football game started and then the same food was brought out again after the game for snacking!

Here are a few tips on what to serve and how to keep your next tailgate safe…

What to Serve

The safest foods are prepackaged such as sandwiches or cookies, or other  items in food-grade plastic bags or film wrap. This minimizes the number of people who handle the food. Dry foods or those high in sugar are also usually safe. These might include breads, rolls, cakes (without cream filling), fresh fruits and vegetables, cookies, and crackers.

Be cautious with high-protein foods like meat, milk, lunch meat, hot dogs, vegetables, and salads. Dishes with potatoes or rice, custards, puddings, cream pies, gravies, and stuffing are safer served at home.

Here’s a sample menu with recipes from our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. collection:

Cooler Tips

  • Foods cooked ahead of time need to be cooked far enough in advance that they have time to thoroughly chill in the refrigerator before you leave home.
  • Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40°F.
  • Pack food from the refrigerator right into the cooler.
  • Use a separate cooler for drinks so the one containing perishable food won’t be constantly opened and closed.
  • Keep the cooler in the air-conditioned car on the way to the game and then in the shade and don’t open the lid too often.
  • If you bring hot, take-out food, fried chicken or barbecued beef, pizza, or burgers, eat it within two hours of purchase.

Keep it Clean

Washing hands is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of disease-causing bacteria. Port-a-pots and eating are a bad combination.

  • Hands should be washed with soap after using the restroom and water before handling food.
  • A hand washing site can be set up at any tailgate party by placing water in a beverage container.
  • If you have electricity you could heat water in a coffee pot or put a pan with water on the grill to heat.
  • Be sure to bring soap and paper towels.


Serving Grilled Food

Serve hot, grilled foods immediately. Do not partially grill extra hamburgers to use later. Once you begin cooking hamburgers by any method, cook them until completely done to assure that bacteria are destroyed. Ground meat should be cooked to 160°F so using a thermometer is important. Put cooked food on clean plates and don’t reuse plates that were used to hold raw meat or poultry.

If some of your guests will come later, leave their portions in the cooler until they arrive and then grill them. Perishable foods should be eaten within two hours, or one hour if the outside temperature is above 90°F. Remember to keep cold foods cold (below 40°F) and hot foods hot (over 140°F).


Plan realistically so you don’t have lots of leftovers.

  • Place leftover foods in the cooler soon after grilling or serving.
  • Any food left outside for more than 2 hours (or one hour if the temperature if over 90°F) should be discarded.
  • If there is still ice in the cooler when you get home, the leftovers are okay to eat.

What are you planning to serve at your next tailgate? How will you transport food to the game?

Peggy Martin

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