Tailgate Safety Topics: Safe Grilling While Tailgating

How to plan and have a safe tailgating party. Learn how to pack, store, and cook foods safely for your party.

The most important part of a safe tailgate grilling party is food safety. In fact, the quickest way to spoil the festivities and great memories is to ignore some simple safety precautions. Many times, people put so much effort into planning their party that they completely overlook the possibility of unwanted guests showing up - harmful microorganisms. They can develop in a very short amount of time if food is not kept at the proper temperatures, and proper hand and surface washing is not practiced.

Here are some helpful hints, tips, and ideas for keeping the unwanted guests away:


Make a list of everything you'll need beforehand. Some things you'll want to bring are a meat thermometer, cooking utensils such as spatulas, tongs, and spoons, coolers, lots of ice, hand sanitizing wipes, paper towels, disposable plates, utensils, and cups, and garbage bags. Double check your list to make sure everything is packed before you leave. You wouldn't want to spoil the party by forgetting something important! You might also want to plan on leaving early - at least 3 or 4 hours - to get a great party location.


Choose foods that will be easy to cook and prepare, as well as be less prone to harboring microorganisms. Some yummy ideas would be fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, chips, bread, and cold cuts. Wash and cut fruit and vegetables ahead of time. Prepare mayonnaise and egg based salads no more than 24 hours prior to the party, and store them in air-tight containers. Keep all meats, fruits, vegetables, and salads chilled to 40 degrees or lower until right before eating or cooking. Store all beverages, such as soda, juice, and milk at the same low temperatures, but in a separate cooler from the food. Raw meats should also be kept in a separate cooler from cooked and prepared foods to prevent cross-contamination.

When it comes time to pack up the car and head out to the party, keep coolers inside the car rather than in the trunk. Trunk temperatures can rise too much and compromise the necessary cool temperatures to keep food safe.


Extra care should be taken in the handling and cooking of all raw meats. Microorganisms are much more likely to be present in uncooked and under-cooked meats. Be sure to wipe work surfaces with an anti-bacterial cleaner or warm, soapy water. Also, wash hands with soap or sanitizing wipes.

Any food that falls between 40 and 140 degrees is susceptible to bacterial growth. This is what is known as the "danger zone." So, keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Food should not be kept out of coolers or off the grill for more than an hour. This is especially important when outside temperatures rise above 90 degrees.

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (FSIS), these are the internal temperatures meats should be cooked to at least:

*hamburgers, sausages, and other ground meats such as veal, lamb and pork- 160 °F

*ground poultry - 165 °F

*beef, veal and lamb steaks and roasts - 145 °F (medium-rare doneness)

*poultry breast meat - 170 °F

*poultry dark meat - 180 °F

*all cuts of pork - 160 °F


Tailgating can be a fun and safe experience with a little planning and common sense. Don't forget to clean up your messes, don't leave any trash behind, and, most importantly, have fun!

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