Tailgating 101: How to Party and Picnic Safely

Summer is synonymous with baseball, tailgate parties and picnics but that means careful attention to menu planning and coordination. Since you’re without a refrigerator and running water, keeping your food safe all day requires safe food handling practices.

What to Pack

  • Picnic_iStock_000016712596XSmallLots of clean utensils for preparing and serving safely cooked food.
  • Insulated coolers to keep food protected and cold.
  • A food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry are cooked at high enough temperatures to destroy harmful bacteria and foods are reheated to safe-to-eat temperatures.
  • An appliance thermometer for coolers.
  • Clean, wet, disposable cloths and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
  • Water for cleaning.  

Danger Zone for Cold Foods – Above 40ºF

  • Place an appliance thermometer in your cooler. Be sure your food stays at 40ºF or below.
  • Cold food should be stored in a well-chilled cooler. Do not leave the food out for more than two hours (one hour if weather is above 90ºF). Keep food in the shade and out of the sun.
  • Keep perishable cooked food, such as luncheon meat, cooked meat, chicken, and potato/pasta salads refrigerator cold.

Danger Zones for Hot Foods – Below 140ºF

  • Do NOT partially cook meat or poultry at home ahead of time, then transport the half-cooked food to the party/picnic. Doing so allows harmful bacteria to thrive and multiply.
  • Hot foods like chili, soup and stew need to stay hot (140ºF or above).
  • Eat hot food within two hours.
  • To transport and store piping hot foods, use an insulated container* like a cooler.

*How to prepare a hot insulator: Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, and empty. Line the insulator (e.g., a cooler) with thick towels to further insulate and prevent melting the plastic if inserting a hot pot off the stove. Keep the insulated container closed and the food should stay hot (140º or above) for several hours.

How to cool large pots of hot food: Food needs to chill quickly to avoid bacteria growth during the cooling process. To do so, separate into smaller containers and set the containers in an ice bath. When cool, refrigerate.

Handling Raw Meat, Poultry and Fish

  • Cooking raw meat is risky unless all food handlers are diligent about keeping utensils, hands and surfaces clean to prevent cross-contamination.
  • If transporting perishable raw meat (e.g., hamburger patties, sausages, chicken, fish), place it in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, or containers of ice. Wrap it securely to prevent juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food. Ideally, keep these raw foods in a separate cooler.
  • Use a food thermometer to measure internal cooking temperatures.
  • Safe minimum internal temperatures:
    • Beef, pork, lamb, veal steaks, roasts, and chops (145ºF)
    • Ground meats (160ºF)
    • Poultry (165ºF)
    • Leftovers (165ºF)
  • If cooking marinated raw meat at the tailgate site, be sure not to reuse the marinade unless it’s boiled first to destroy harmful bacteria.
  • Be sure cooked food is placed on a clean platter free of any raw meat juices.

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: If you can’t keep the food hot while transporting it to the picnic/tailgate party site, cook the food the night before, and cool it in the refrigerator. On the day of the party/picnic, pack the food in a well-chilled cooler and reheat it on a camping stove to 165ºF.

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