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Bacteria dampen tailgaters' spirits
By Tricia Hopper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Libby Walden of Jackson is an avid football fan who cheers her team through each battle on the turf, but she never dreamed that food from tailgating festivities could hit harder than an offensive lineman.
"There have been countless times when I've left dishes sitting out in the hot sun for hours. Just because food has been left out more than two hours doesn't mean it will be easy to throw away," Walden said. "Some food seems too good to just chunk in the trash."
But discarding uneaten portions is exactly what Peggy Walker, a registered dietitian and a nutrition and food safety area agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, recommends.
"Eating foods that have been sitting too long in the Food Temperature Danger Zone -- between 41 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit -- can very likely cause a food-borne illness," Walker said. "When foods are left in these dangerous temperatures, microorganisms that can make you sick begin to grow and multiply."
Walker said these microorganisms caused nearly 80 million cases of food-borne illnesses last year alone.
"Foods should stay no longer than two hours in the danger zone," Walker said. "This includes the time it takes to transport the food to the game and prepare the table, as well as the time the food sits out before and after the game."
When transporting foods from home to the tailgate, pack cold items in an ice chest. Walker said it might be best to rethink bringing certain hot food items because maintaining their temperature can be difficult while traveling.
Dietitians recommend against bringing leftovers back home if the food was left out for more than two hours throughout the course of the day. Walker said to pack a garbage bag to throw away any leftovers after the game.
"Don't try to save food to eat later," Walker said. "Take what you need to properly dispose of it."
Knowing which foods are can be hazardous will help tailgaters avoid consuming potentially dangerous foods.
"Foods such as chicken, beef, pork, dips, egg dishes, dairy products, and mixed foods such as casseroles need to be watched," Walker said. "Make arrangements to keep hot foods hot, meaning above 140 degrees. Pack hot foods in insulated thermoses, cook meats on the grill when you get to campus and serve from chafing dishes heated with canned heat. Another option would be to locate a power source so hot plates or crock-pots can be used."
There are plenty of foods that are easy to maintain in a tailgating situation. Popcorn, pretzels, nuts, crackers, cookies and cakes are always good. Sandwiches and meats can be prepared ahead of time and kept cold until time to serve.
"Fruits and vegetables, dips and meats to be sliced and served cold can be prepared at home and packed on ice to transport," Walker said. "However, they still need to stay cold as long as possible."
Walker suggested tailgaters serve meat cold, because it is easier to keep food cold than to maintain the proper temperature for a hot-food item.
"The key principle to remember is to keep hot food hot and cold food cold," Walker said.
Contact: Peggy Walker, (662) 563-6260