Happy Labor Day Weekend. I hope you have some fun planned. For my family, this weekend is summer’s last hurrah, and the start of the fall season (even if the calendar says it’s still summer). Fall means the start of football, and plenty of tailgate parties outside of high school, college and professional stadiums all over the country.


Cheryl Luptowski, home safety expert at NSF International, sent me a list of food safety tips — specifically written for football season — but they’re great tips for any tailgate party or even the backyard barbecues that will be happening over the Labor Day weekend. Follow these tips to avoid foodborne illnesses.


  1. Avoid false starts: Bringing a meat thermometer to the game will help you avoid taking food off the grill too soon and serving it undercooked to your fellow fans. You can’t rely on your eyes alone, so use a certified food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to the proper minimum internal temperature:
         Whole or ground poultry — 165º F
         Ground meats (other than poultry) — 160º F
         Fresh fin fish — 145º F
         Fresh whole (not ground) pork, beef, veal — 145º F with a 3-minute rest time
  2. Put your marinade on the sideline: When preparing for the big day, keep your marinade in bounds. If you need some marinade for basting, do not use the marinade that has come into contact with raw meat. Instead, set aside a small amount of prepared marinade in a separate dish and bring it to the game.
  3. Play defense: Take defensive measures to protect yourself against germs by bringing wet wipes and hand sanitizer to the game. Make sure you sanitize your hands frequently, especially after putting raw meat on the grill and before eating. If grilling raw meat, bring two sets of utensils and dishes — one for use with raw foods, the other for cooked foods. Have a plastic bag handy to store dirty utensils or dishes that have touched raw meats to prevent spreading germs in a cooler or in your car after the pre-game meal.
  4. Prepare for kickoff: Cooking outside makes it challenging to avoid cross-contamination. Prepare for the big day by packing three coolers: one for your raw meats, another with your pre-made foods (e.g. potato salad, vegetables) and a third for your beverages. Pack the food at the bottom of the cooler and the ice on top to better insulate the food and keep it at a safe temperature of 40 degrees F. As partygoers often open coolers to get drinks, pack beverages in a separate cooler to avoid frequent opening of the coolers containing perishable foods.
  5. Don’t leave your food out for overtime: While it’s tempting to display your game day food spread, it should not be left out for more than two hours (or one hour on days over 90 degrees F) to avoid bacterial growth. Keep perishable foods in coolers to help keep them at safe temperatures as long as you can, and don’t take them out until right before it’s time to eat.
  6. Create a neutral zone: Come prepared with trash bags and create a neutral area to dispose of garbage, empty cans or bottles, and unwanted leftovers. Keep your tailgating area neat and avoid placing glass bottles on the ground where they could be tripped on or broken. When game time is over, throw out your garbage on your way out of the stadium if possible rather than leaving it in your car where bacteria can grow.  

NSF International is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides standards development, product certification, auditing, education and risk management for public health and the environment.


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