Rita Hodges

Extension service

When it comes to football, defense matters. When it comes to planning a tailgate party, a good defense against foodborne illness matters even more.

According to USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, “This year we are urging people to follow the food safety playbook at the tailgate parties they host.”

Large gatherings can increase the chance of becoming ill, but by following a few simple rules, everyone can enjoy the game and their food safely.

Avoid penalties for “illegal use of hands.” Unclean hands are one of the biggest culprits for spreading bacteria and finger foods are especially vulnerable. Chefs and guests should wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. If running water is located far away from your tailgate, have sanitizing wipes available throughout the day. Also, be sure to clean eating surfaces often and wash serving platters before replenishing them with fresh food.

Think of your tailgate fare as two different teams – uncooked versus ready-to-eat foods. Prevent “encroachment” at all costs and keep each team in its own zone. The juices from raw meat can contain harmful bacteria that cross-contaminate other food. Use one cutting board for raw meat and poultry and a different cutting board for vegetables or other foods. If you use only one cutting board, wash it with hot soapy water after preparing each food item. As you take cooked meat off the grill, be sure to place it on a clean platter and not the dish that held the food when it was raw. The juices left on the plate from raw meat can spread harmful bacteria to safely cooked food.

Call a “time out” and use a food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry are safely cooked. Remember that internal temperature, not meat color, indicates doneness. To be sure harmful bacteria are killed, whole cuts of fresh beef and pork should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit followed by a three-minute stand time, while ground beef and pork should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (no rest time is necessary). Ground, whole or pieces of poultry, as well as casseroles, should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Holding” may be one of the most likely offenses your referee encounters during long football games. Never hold perishable foods out for more than two hours or for more than one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Put leftovers back into the cooler promptly to block offensive bacteria from multiplying. When in doubt, throw it out of the game – and your tailgate!

When it comes to foodborne illness, there is no opportunity for an instant replay. To avoid these infractions, make sure you understand the rules completely.

For more information, contact Rita M. Hodges, county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, 701 S. Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie; call 972-825-5175; or email rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu.