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AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Nothing says the Deep South’s oldest rivalry like some good tailgating. Friends, foes and food. Whether they cheer for your team or not, accidental food poisoning is never a good way to start the tailgate.

“If we don’t handle and prepare foods in safe ways, we could make family, friends and ourselves sick,” said Janice Hall, the Macon County Extension coordinator. “Food that is handled, prepared or stored incorrectly can harbor bacteria and other pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses.”

Kick off the game in a safe, tasty fashion by following Hall’s tailgate recommendations.

Squeaky Clean

More important than ever, wash your hands. First, to keep COVID-19 off the guest list to the tailgate, and second to avoid cross-contamination with raw meat. Therefore, make sure to wash your hands in between handling raw and ready-to-eat foods.

Lather with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Thoroughly rinse and dry your hands with a single-use paper towel.

“Avoid using aprons or cloth towels for drying, as this can lead to bacteria growth and recontamination of your hands,” Hall said.

Since access to running water at a tailgate can often be challenging, create your own hand-washing station. Bring containers (a cooler with a spout, jugs or bottles) of clean water along with soap, paper towels, a bucket for waste water and a trashcan or bag.

Hand sanitizer and wipes used for cleaning hands are also an option. However, hand sanitizer should only be used after washing your hands or using hand wipes. Disinfectant wipes are not safe for hand-washing.


Separating saves. Cross-contamination is the fast-track to bacteria growth. Use clean plates and cooking utensils to take your tailgate creations off the grill. Never use the same plate that once held raw meat for foods that are ready to eat.

Hall recommends even separating raw and ready to eat foods in the shopping cart and in grocery bags.

“Placing meats in plastic bags will help reduce the risk of bacteria getting on other foods that will not be cooked,” Hall said.

Keep it Cool

Hauling food from the kitchen to the tailgate is the tricky part. Keeping the food cold or hot is essential.

Have separate coolers for hot foods, cold foods and beverages. Pack food directly from the refrigerator to the cooler.

Be sure to keep cold foods – such as potato salad, cold dips, salsas and fruit salads – on ice until ready to use.

These foods need to stay below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. To ensure this, adding additional ice may be necessary.

Once ice has been used for storage, it should never be used for consumption. “Do not eat or use the ice used for food or beverage storage,” Hall said.

Lastly, pack up leftover food as soon as possible. Food should not be left out for more than two hours.

Cooking Time

As you’re grilling up the competition, make sure the meat is fully cooked, too. Have a food thermometer nearby to check the temperature of meats.

Follow these guidelines for cooking meats to minimum internal cooking temperatures:

  • Poultry (ex. chicken, turkey, etc.) – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Ground meats, pork and lamb (ex. hamburgers) – 160 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fish – 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (ex. steaks, roasts and chops) – 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a three-minute rest time

More Information

Take down the competition, not your fellow tailgaters. Enjoy a safe, happy and healthy tailgate. For more information on food safety, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

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