A familiar sight in rural America — using the tailgate on the pickup as a serving table for meals in the farm field — is likely to be replicated in parking lots surrounding athletic fields across the country this fall.
Whether a harvest meal or pre-game feast, however, keeping food safe to eat need not be difficult, according to Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist, who also happens to be an avid football fan and veteran tailgater. Since September has been designated as National Food Safety Month, here are Blakeslee¬¥s timely tips to keep tailgate foods safe — and guests healthy:
* Purchase and prepare enough food to feed guests, but not so much as to have leftovers that will spoil during the game and need to be discarded.
* Prepare as much food as possible at home. For example, prepare chilled foods in advance; wrap and chill well before placing the chilled food in an ice chest or cooler shortly before leaving for the party and game.
* Ask out-of-town guests to bring non-perishable foods such as beverages, chips, fruit or disposable tableware to reduce opportunities for party foods to spoil.
* Keep raw foods and cooked foods in separate coolers to prevent cross-contamination, and dedicate an additional cooler for easy access to beverages without jeopardizing other cooled foods. Note: The temperature in a cooler can change each time the cooler is opened.
* Wash hands before and after handling raw and cooked foods, and before and after eating, playing catch, etc. If water is not readily available, pack a jug of water, bar of soap and paper towels, single-use packaged towelettes, hand sanitizer gel, or and old terry towel cut into squares, moistened and used with a bar of soap.
* Transport food coolers in the air-conditioned passenger area, rather than a trunk or truck bed; and once you arrive at the tailgating area, cover the cooler with a blanket and place in shade, out of direct sunlight.
* Keep hot foods hot, and check recommended internal done temperatures with a food thermometer. Do not judge meat doneness by color. An internal temperature of 160 degrees F is generally considered safe for hamburgers; 165 degrees F is recommended for poultry, and brats and hot dogs should be piping hot.
* If bringing carry-out foods such as premade hoagie sandwiches or fried chicken, keep them at appropriate temperatures for safety, as they, too, are susceptible to contamination that can cause foodborne illness.
* Use separate utensils and serving plates for raw and cooked foods to prevent cross contamination.
* Know the rules — if the outside temperature is 90 degrees or above, perishable foods should be discarded after sitting out for one hour; in temperatures of less than 90 degrees, the food safety window extends to two hours, unless the food has been sitting in direct sunlight or otherwise looks suspect.
* Make plans for protecting leftovers (wrapping and storing in an ice chest out of the sun is an example) or discard them.
* If planning a post-game meal or snack, choose non-perishable foods and pack them separately. Examples include a snack mix, fruit, cookies or dessert.
"Discard suspect foods," said Blakeslee, who explained that foodborne illness can become apparent within as little as 30 minutes after eating a suspect food, but may not become apparent for several days or weeks. Symptoms of foodborne illness, which are often mistaken for the flu include an upset stomach, diarrhea, chills, fever or headache. If foodborne illness is suspected, seek medical advice.
Check out the Friday Food Safety Mythbusters every Friday in September on my blog at SWKTalk.com/livingwell.