Elizabeth S. Reames | 8/28/2008 6:33:48 PM
If you're planning to tailgate this football season, a strong defense is your best protection against foodborne illness, says LSU AgCenter food safety “coach” Dr. Beth Reames. Microorganisms that cause foodborne illness are all around and, given the right conditions, can grow in foods and make us sick.
“To prevent foodborne illness, build your game plan around my food safety tips,” coach advises.
Begin at home by making sure that items you pack for your tailgate party are clean. Include lots of clean utensils, not only for eating but for serving the safely cooked foods.
In addition to your grill and fuel, pack a food thermometer to be sure the meat, poultry and casseroles reach a high-enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present.
If your tailgate site doesn’t have a source of potable (drinkable) water, bring water from home for cleaning and drinking. Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
Wash all fruits and vegetables, and store them in the refrigerator until you pack them. Wash the rind of cantaloupes and other melons thoroughly before cutting, and refrigerate them after cutting. Melons are not as acidic as other fruits, and improperly prepared and stored melons have been shown to cause foodborne illness.
Thaw frozen meats safely in the refrigerator before taking them to the tailgate party. Marinate meats in the refrigerator. If you want to serve marinade as a sauce with the cooked meat, prepare an extra batch of marinade to be used as sauce, and store it separately in the refrigerator.
Carry cold, perishable foods like raw meats, cooked meats, luncheon meats, pasta or potato salads in insulated coolers that you packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs or containers of frozen water.
Pack individual coolers – one with raw foods to be cooked, one with ready-to-eat foods and a third with beverages. Since people will be helping themselves to drinks, individual coolers allow foods, especially raw foods, to remain undisturbed at safe temperatures. Similarly, keep ice to be consumed separate from the ice that is used to cool the chests.
Coach says, “Infraction of these rules can result in cross-contamination, which can make you sick.” Cross-contamination occurs when harmful bacteria in raw meat, poultry and fish are transferred to other foods by hands, cooking tools and cutting surfaces that aren’t washed between uses.
Cook meat and poultry completely. Don't partially cook meats at home to finish later at the stadium. The second partial cooking may not kill disease-causing microorganisms. Cook the meats fully at home, transport them cold and reheat them at the stadium.
Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside, so use a food thermometer to be sure they are cooked on the inside. Cook hamburgers, sausage and other ground meats (veal, lamb and pork) to an internal temperature of 160 degrees and ground poultry to 165 degrees. Beef, veal and lamb steaks and roasts may be cooked to 145 degrees for medium-rare. Cook poultry to 165 degrees. All cuts of pork should reach 160 degrees.
Keep food in your cooler except for brief times when you are serving it. If you leave food out more than two hours (only one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees), bacteria will multiply rapidly in the temperature range known as the danger zone, which is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees.
“Leaving foods in the danger zone is an infraction, not a touchdown,” coach warns. Foodborne illness can result, and you’ll draw a penalty of diarrhea, nausea or worse.
With the danger in mind, cook only the amount of food you and your team will eat. After the game, discard any leftovers that are not ice-cold.
If you bring hot, take-out food, also eat it within two hours of purchase. Or, plan ahead, and refrigerate it to pack and reheat at the stadium.
For related nutrition topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter home page at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.