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Food Safety Tips to Host a Winning Tailgate

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: June 23, 2020

Reviewed: December 22, 2023

Four smiling men standing in front of a grill full of food while one passes a paper plate with a roll on it  to another. They are next to a blue tent full of men, women and children.
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Tailgating is a beloved football tradition. Apply these tips to your next tailgate and keep them handy throughout the year to defend all your pre- and post-game gatherings from food poisoning.


  • Wash hands before, during and after preparing food for a tailgate. Try singing your favorite team's fight song while lathering with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Be sure to pack moist towelettes or hand sanitizer for guests to clean up before digging in.


  • Always defrost meats in the refrigerator — never at the tailgate. Marinate meat in the refrigerator and don't reuse the marinade unless you boil it before using it again.
  • For the trip to the tailgate, tightly seal raw meat in plastic wrap to prevent juices from contaminating other food items. Store meat products in one cooler and additional foods in another, if possible.
  • Keep raw meats, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods. Pack extra or color-coded plates and utensils to help prevent cross-contamination. Use one set for raw meat products and another for cooked and ready-to-eat foods .


  • Cook to proper internal temperatures. A food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure foods are safe to eat.
  • Tailgating favorites such as hamburgers and bratwursts should be cooked to at least 160°F and chicken breasts need to be cooked to 165°F.


  • Pack food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or icepacks to keep the temperature below 40°F. Always keep a refrigerator thermometer inside the cooler to monitor the temperature.
  • In cool-weather climates, transport coolers in your trunk rather than in a heated car — the cold temperature outside will help keep food chilled. For warmer climates, do the opposite. Transport coolers in the backseat of your air-conditioned car instead of the hot trunk, especially for long road trips.
  • Throw away perishable tailgate items before entering the game. Foods should not be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours. In hot weather (90°F or above), this time is reduced to one hour.
  • Don't forget that carryout and/or pre-prepared foods also are susceptible to food poisoning.
  • After the game, serve and eat only non-perishable foods unless foods packed in the cooler remained at 40°F or below.

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