Don't sideline your guests before the game even starts! Foodborne illness is preventable by paying attention to the rules of food safety.

Too Many Bacteria on the Food

Harmful bacteria have no place at the party! Safe food temperature during transport and at the tailgate location helps prevent foodborne illness. Tips from the USDA:

  • Carry cold perishable food like raw hamburger patties, sausages, and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, or containers of ice. Wrap meat securely to prevent juices from contaminating ready-to-eat foods. Better yet, pack raw meat in a separate cooler. Cold food safety zone: 40 °F or below.
  • Perishable cooked food such as luncheon meat, cooked meat, chicken, and potato or pasta salads must be kept refrigerator cold, too.
  • If bringing hot take-out food, eat it within 2 hours of purchase (1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F).
  • Keep hot foods hot in an insulated container warmed with boiling water, emptied and refilled immediately with piping hot food. Kept closed, the food will stay hot for several hours. Hot food safety zone: 140 °F or above.
  • If you can't keep hot food hot during the drive to your tailgate, plan ahead and chill the food in the refrigerator before packing it in a cooler. Reheat the food to 165 °F.
  • Include lots of clean utensils for preparing and serving the safely cooked food.

Personal Foul

Clean hands are important even on game day!

  • Towelettes or hand sanitizer will do.
  • But there’s nothing like soap and water. Impress your guests with a handwashing station!

False Start

  • Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside.
  • Use a food thermometer to be sure food has reached minimum internal temperature before serving.


All poultry 165 °F

Burgers and brats 160 °F

Steaks and chops 145 °F


Bacteria can easily cross the line from raw meat or poultry to cooked. That’s offensive!

  • Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter.
  • Take extra clean utensils for grilling and serving.
  • Don't reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry on cooked food.
  • Pour sauces from the bottle into a bowl. This avoids double dipping the brush into sauce that may be reserved for later use.

Delay of Game

Some people have so much fun at the tailgate, they never actually go to the game! But that doesn't mean it's safe to keep the food out unrefrigerated before, during, and after the event.

  • Store perishable food in the cooler except for brief times when serving. Cook only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature.
  • Discard any leftovers that are not ice cold (40 °F or below) after the game. Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill more than 2 hours (only 1 hour if it happens to be a warm fall day and temperature gets above 90 °F)

Excessive Celebration

  • Good sportsmanship is the Spartan way.
  • Have fun at the game!
  • Go Green! Go White!


Tailgate Party Penalties

Football-themed handout on food safety


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