Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN
football fans


From the End Zone: Touchdown Tips for Food Safety

Tailgating is a beloved football tradition. This season, a lot has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and while you may not be participating in the same fashion, you can modify your tailgating experience by cooking in your back yard, taking it indoors with your immediate family or having a small socially-distanced neighborhood tailgate outdoors.

Apply these tailgating tips to your modified version and keep them handy for next year to defend your pre- and post-game gatherings from food poisoning.


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


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


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


  • Pack food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or icepacks to keep temperatures below 40°F. Keep a refrigerator thermometer inside the cooler at all times to monitor the temperature.
  • In cool-weather climates, transport coolers in your trunk rather than in a heated car — the cold temperatures 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.
  • Don't forget that carry-out and/or pre-prepared foods are also susceptible to food poisoning.
  • 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.
  • After the game, serve and eat only non-perishable foods unless foods packed in the cooler remain stored at 40°F or below.

Get tips for attending sporting events safely from the Centers for Disease Control.

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