Food Safety at the Tailgate


GAINESVILLE, FL – The season is upon us. The game, the camaraderie, the food. And before the game, many fans are going to be tailgating. Either on campus or on their backyards. The tailgate is the ultimate pre-game experience: fun, food and smack talk. But make sure that your pre-game plan includes food safety or you may find yourself on the bench.

Dr. Keith Schneider, Food Safety Expert with UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition, is super diligent when it comes to food safety for a tailgate. He says it all starts in the kitchen.

“I have access to my sink, my refrigerator and all those things that make preparing a safe meal easy. So while I’m at home, that’s where I do most of my prep work. This way, I can avoid cross-contamination which is a major source of food-borne illness.”

Prepping at Home

Dr. Schneider provides these steps to follow when prepping your food:

  • Wash your hands before doing any food prep! This is especially important when dealing with raw meats.
  • Use separate cutting boards: one for raw meats and one for fruits and vegetables.
  • Once food is prepped, keep it COLD! The goal is to keep foods below 40 degrees Fahrenheit so harmful bacteria can’t grow.
  • Best way to do this: use an insulated cooler. Use gel packs or bagged ice. If you have raw meats, pack the meat in it’s own cooler.
  • If only one cooler, pack raw meats in their own containers or bags so they cannot cross-contaminate other foods.
  • More than one cooler? Veggies, fruits, condiments and prepared sides can go in their own insulated cooler.
Photo by Tyler Jones

At the Tailgate

Once you’re at the tailgate, there’s some more important food-safety rules to observe:

  • When grilling, always use a meat thermometer.
  • For grilling hamburgers or pork, you want to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • And when grilling chicken, you need to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Hot items should remain hot until consumed and cold items should be kept at or below 40 degrees.
  • Perishable foods shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours. if it’s 90 degrees or hotter outside. that time drops to an hour.
  • All perishable items need to stay on ice until ready to serve. This is especially true for items with eggs or mayonnaise in them, like potato salad.
  • The rule is always the same: keep your hot foods hot and your cold foods cold.
  • When you’re done grilling and moving items off the grill, make sure that you’re using a clean plate and clean utensils to insure that you don’t cross-contaminate.


Pay attention to these simple rules and you should be on your way to a successful and safe tailgating event. As Dr. Schneider says:

There’s nothing better than tailgating with friends and family. By following just a few food safety tips, you can make sure that your next tailgate is a winner.

For more information, click to view Ask IFAS: Food Safety at Tailgating Publication

Video Producer: Robert Annis
Additional Photographs: Tyler Jones

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Posted: October 22, 2021

Category: UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Video, Work & Life
Tags: Food Preparation, Food Safety, Grilling, Tailgating

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