Tailgating & Food Safety Tips for Football

Renee Korczak PhD, RDN, CSSD, LD Sports Nutrition Specialist | October 30, 2018

We said so long to summer forever ago it seems. But thankfully, chilly temps bring one of the best seasons upon us. TAILGATING. 

According to a recent survey of 25,000 tailgaters from 25 cities across America, 46% of tailgaters tailgate between 6 to 10 times per season.  Interestingly enough,  of those tailgaters, 95% prepare their own food on the stadium grounds and use a combination of grills, stoves, and smokers to cook (1). While all that cooking is great, it is important to keep food safety in mind, when handling food and serving to others.  Here are my top four food safety tips for tailgating.

Top 4 Food Safety Tips:

1)   Keep it clean.

Keeping it clean is the number one food safety tip above all others.  Before handling or preparing food, you should start by washing your hands.  To properly wash your hands, you should first, wet your hands and arms, apply soap, scrub vigorously for 10-15 seconds (don’t forget to get under your nails), rinse hands and arms, and dry with a paper towel or hand dryer.  Also, you should plan to wash your hands after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, using a tissue, handling raw meat, touching your hair, face, body, etc. By now, hopefully you get the point that hand-washing is extremely important and can help prevent the spread of bacteria and other germs or viruses.     

2)   Keep raw and cooked proteins separate.  

Cross-contamination is one of the easiest ways to get food poisoning at a tailgate.  Make sure raw beef is packed on ice and separate from cooked and ready-to-eat food.  It is also important to make sure that plates, bowls, cutting boards and utensils that have touched raw meat are not used again once food has been cooked. To help keep things coordinated, consider using colorful cutting boards, plates and utensils to help you distinguish between clean and dirty dishes.  

3)   Cook your beef to a safe internal temperature.  

Before you enjoy your beef, you want to make sure it is cooked to a proper internal temperature.  I recommend bringing a meat thermometer (oven proof or instant-read) to your tailgate party so you can check temperatures.  To ensure proper cooking temperature, insert your thermometer into the thickest part of the meat (usually the center) for about 15 seconds.  Remember a safe, medium-rare temperature is 145 degrees F, medium is 160 degrees F and well done is considered 170 degrees F.  If your beef has not reached a safe internal temperature, allow additional cooking time and re-check.  For ground beef, it is recommended to cook to an internal temperature of 160F.   

4)  Follow the two-hour rule.  

Food that has been cooked can be served without refrigeration for about two hours as long as the temperature outside is below 90F.  After two hours, uneaten food can reach the temperature danger zone which promotes the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause unpleasant foodborne illnesses.  To keep everyone safe, I’d recommend placing a sign or card next to the food that displays the initial serving time.  Any food that is leftover after two hours should be discarded.   

Now that you are a food safety expert, let’s move on to some tailgating recipe ideas.  Below are my top three tailgating recipes that also offer nutrients that we need every single day including Iron, Protein, Vitamins B6, B12, Choline, Zinc, Phosphorous and so much more!  

Cheeseburger Sliders

Who doesn’t love a slider on game day?  These mini burgers can be prepared with lean ground beef (93% lean) or if you are creative enough you can even make mini meatball sliders.  One slider packs a whopping 29 grams of protein and provides about 25% of your daily value (DV) for Iron.  Pair this slider with some crudité plus dip and you will even have room for an adult beverage. Full recipe here

Mexican Style Beef Nachos

Mexican-Style Beef Nachos- Nachos are a classic football food and great for tailgating, since it serves a lot of people.  Follow this Mexican inspired beef nacho recipe and you will be fired up for the big game!  For a healthier swap, I recommend using blue corn tortilla chips instead of white chips and visiting your local butcher or supermarket to choose a beef sausage with a kick. One serving of nachos comes in right under 400 calories with 24 grams of protein and between 20-25% of the DV for key nutrients like Iron and Zinc. Check out the recipe here

Cheeseburger Mac

This recipe is great if you have any young children joining you on game day. My nutrition tip is to swap white pasta for whole wheat or whole grain pasta and add ground-beef (93% lean), plus one of your child’s favorite vegetables to the mix. Offering your children and family familiar foods on game day will keep them satisfied and excited for kick-off.  This recipe also includes key game day nutrients like Protein, Iron, and Zinc; which will help keep your family full and focused on the big game.  Check out the recipe here

Watch Renee's full Twin Cities Live segment below!


Tailgater Research-Tailgater Statistics and Information.  Accessed October 22, 2018. 

 United States Department of Agriculture. Basics for Handling Food Safely.  Accessed October 22, 2018.