Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 15, 1997. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Keep Food Safe At Tailgate Parties
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- With the arrival of football season comes another popular activity -- tailgate parties. Don't let these special times with family and friends turn into an experience with food poisoning.
Dr. Melissa Mixon, extension human nutrition specialist at Mississippi State University, said too much sun and heat can make perishable foods unsafe to eat. Mishandled food can become contaminated with bacteria and cause food poisoning.
When planning tailgate parties or other outdoor events, keep the following food safety tips in mind to ensure a safe and pleasurable event.
"Keep perishable foods, like lunch meats, cooked chicken, tuna salad, and potato or pasta salads in a cooler," Mixon said. "Pack coolers with several inches of ice or use frozen gel-packs. Store food in water-tight containers to prevent contact with melting ice water."
Mixon said not all foods need refrigeration. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, trail-mix, canned meat spreads, and peanut butter and jelly can be safely left at room temperature. Once canned meats are opened, put them in the cooler.
If a cooler is not available for the outing, the nutritionist recommended freezing sandwiches. Use coarse-textured breads that do not get soggy when thawed. Take the mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato separately to add at mealtime.
Proper care of the ice-filled cooler is a must. Keep the cooler out of the direct sun, covered if possible. Keep the lid closed as much as possible to slow down the melting of the ice and to maintain the internal temperature of the cooler.
Keep foods that require constant access such as soft drinks and other non-perishable foods in another cooler.
Return any leftovers to ice chests as soon as possible. Food sitting at outside temperatures more than two hours is not safe to eat. At 90 degrees or above, food should not sit out more than one hour. Food spoils quickly at high temperature.
"If you have any doubts, throw it out," Mixon said. "The few dollars of expense associated with the discarded food is far less that the expense, discomfort and threat to one's health with a case of food-borne illness."
If insects are a problem, there are netting devices available to place over food to keep it bug-free. Keep insect sprays away from the food.
If there are leftovers after the game, take precautions to ensure safety. There should still be ice in the cooler, and the food should be refrigerator cold. If the cold source has melted or is only cool, do not use any of the perishable items.