Avoid food safety penalties when you’re cooking for the game crowd

Penn State Extension

When tailgating or homegating be sure safe food handling practices are part of your game plan.

While tailgating has been around for years, the new kid on the block is homegating for those not able to be at the stadium.

Either one takes on a life of their own when it comes to setting up for the event, the variety of foods prepared and enjoyed, the comradery of friends, and friendly rivalry with the opponents.

Tailgating and homegating occurs over the course of the day with pre-game and post-game food, and for homegating during-game food. Either way there is a lot of food prepared, served and consumed. This creates some special challenges when it comes to food safety, especially during the warmer months of the season when food may end up in the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 degrees) over many hours.

Why is this of concern? Many of the foods served are considered TCS foods — foods that need Time and Temperature Control for Safety to keep them safe, such as sloppy Joe, barbecue chicken, potato and pasta salad, fruit salad, deli sandwiches and creamy desserts, to name a few. When these foods are in the temperature danger zone for two or more hours, if harmful bacteria are present, they can grow and multiply to high enough levels to cause illness.

Throw in the fact that people might not be washing their hands before handling food because of lack available handwashing facilities or are just caught up in the fun that they forget, and you have further chance of contamination of food.

Because of the pre, post and during game food activities going on it is probably a good idea for the host to have someone assist them with refereeing the food game plan — kind of like a “designated driver” for food safety. A few key plays include:

Set up and keep a handwashing station stocked if bathroom facilities are not readily available and encourage everyone to wash up before eating. Use a five-gallon container with a spigot to hold water, soap, paper towels, garbage bag and bucket for wash water.

Be sure the grill master checks the final cooked temperatures of food with a calibrated food thermometer. Cook fish, beef, pork, veal, lamb (roasts, steaks, chops) to 145 degrees; ground or shredded beef, pork, veal, lamb or fish to 160 degrees; whole and ground poultry, stuffed dishes, casseroles, soups, stews and leftovers to 165 degrees.

Keep hot foods hot (above 140 degrees) and cold foods cold (below 40 degrees) and throw out those TCS foods if they have been sitting out for two or more hours. When temperatures reach 90 degrees or above throw out food if it has been in the temperature zone for one hour.

Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods and use a clean plate when taking cooked foods off the grill.


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