By April Sorrow
University of Georgia
"Grocery stores and restaurants are now making it easy to tailgate with a variety of foods that make your menu planning a breeze," said Elizabeth Andress, a food safety specialist with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
But even if someone else prepares the food, she said, plan a good defense and follow a few rules to keep it safe.
"If eating hot take-out food, either eat it within two hours of purchase or keep it hot, above 140 degrees Fahrenheit," Andress said. "Otherwise, plan ahead and use your home refrigerator to chill it down, and then keep it in a cooler below 40 F."
Always keep cold foods like potato salad, coleslaw, bean salads, pasta salads, cheese spreads and chip dips refrigerated. "Keep them refrigerated or in an iced cooler," Andress said, "as soon as they're purchased."
Serve them sitting in ice in a large dish or pan and keep them covered as much as possible. If you can't do that, put them back in the cooler within two hours. "Perishable cooked food such as luncheon meat must be kept cold, too," she said.
When the weather turns colder, you may want foods like soup, chili and hot stew. Look for containers that can keep hot foods hot for many hours.
"Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty it and then put in piping-hot food," Andress said. "Keep the insulated container closed to keep the food hot (140 F or above) for several hours."
Unless you know the food was kept clean and cold during the game, don't eat it. You could get sidelined with foodborne illness after the game.
If you plan to keep food for after the game or to take home, you might need an extra cooler filled with fresh ice for leftovers. Look for coolers that can keep ice for days, even in hot weather.
"Remember, you don't know the history of how your take-out food was prepared or held until you picked it up," Andress said. "Be extra careful with the food safety rules once it's in your care."
Bacteria multiply fast between 40 F and 140 F, or what is called the “danger zone,” she said.
"Never leave food in the danger zone more than two hours,” she said, “or one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 F.”
Year-round food safety tips:
* Keep it clean. Only use clean serving plates and utensils. If you plan to party after the game, too, bring enough plates and utensils to use new ones.
* Find out if there is a source of drinking water at the site. If not, bring water for cleaning. Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
* Separate. Keep foods well packaged to avoid cross-contamination. If you take ready-to-eat salads or vegetables from the store, keep them separate from any raw meat or poultry you plan to cook at the tailgate.
* Eat well-cooked meats, and keep hot foods hot. Chicken pieces or wings, barbecue or hamburgers need to be cooked thoroughly, or don't eat them. Don't eat pink meat and poultry that looks undercooked, even if you've paid money for it.
(April Sorrow is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)