With the arrival of fall comes football season. What’s more fun than gathering with friends for a tailgating party?
However, don’t let cooler weather fool you into thinking you don’t need to consider the possibility of food-borne bacteria spoiling your party. Be proactive and follow a few simple procedures for safe food handling, then you’ll be sure to go home healthy from a fun day with friends.
* Before, during and after preparing your food, be sure to wash your hands, lathering them with warm soap and scrubbing for a full 20 seconds. Set up a large drink container with a spigot as your water source.
* Include moist towelettes or hand sanitizer for guests to use.
* Keep two separate insulated coolers: one for drinks and one for food. This will keep your food well chilled since the drink cooler is likely to be opened more frequently. Place coolers in the shade and cover them with blankets to help hold in the cold temperature.
* Place cold and frozen foods into coolers. Don’t assume your cooler can chill foods adequately if the food is at room temperature prior to packing.
* Pack foods in reverse order so the last ones packed will be the first ones used, allowing food at the bottom to stay chilled longer.
* Meat and other similar raw foods should be packed in sealed plastic bags or containers in a chilled, insulated cooler. This will prevent contamination of other foods from leaking juices. Store raw foods separately from ready-to-eat foods.
* Take meat out of the cooler just in time to place on the grill. Never place cooked meat, fish or poultry back in the container the raw meat, fish or poultry was in. Use a clean pair of tongs and a clean plastic plate or platter when removing the cooked items from the grill. When marinating meat, fish or poultry, discard the leftover marinade after you place the items on the grill. Never use this marinade on the cooked item.
* Use a meat thermometer to judge the safe internal temperature of meat and poultry over two inches thick (160o F or higher for meat, 180o F or higher for poultry). For meat or poultry less than two inches thick, look for clear juices as signs of being done.
* Use separate cutting boards to prevent cross contamination of raw and cooked foods. Wipe them clean with paper towels at the barbecue and toss them in your dishwasher to sanitize when you return home.
* Perishable foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, sandwiches with mayonnaise and salads should not be kept at temperatures above 40o F for more than two hours. When the outside temperature is 90o F or higher, food should be left out for no longer than one hour.
* If deli or takeout foods like fried chicken, potato salad or coleslaw are on the menu, make sure they are eaten within two hours of pick-up.
* Hot food should be kept at 140o F or hotter until served. Try wrapping your hot casserole or other item in several layers of aluminum wrap, followed by newspapers and a towel.
* Cover all food with plastic wrap, aluminum foil or lids, or keep foods and supplies in their original packaging to prevent contamination.
* If you’re not sure if food is still safe to eat, resort to the rule, "When in doubt, throw it out."
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local County Extension office.