Healthy Tailgating Tips: Make sure your food is safe this football season!

Megan Smith, @meganmichel33, University of Maryland Dietetic Intern

The end of summer and start of fall is always a little bittersweet. To stay optimistic, I like to think about the positive things the fall season brings. The leaves begin to turn brown and pumpkins become a staple crop, humidity levels decrease and my hair starts to look normal again, and most importantly--football and tailgating season is underway!

Football, friends, and food are what define a great tailgate.  While football and friends are what draw you to a tailgate, the food is what makes you want to stick around. In fact, healthful and delicious food is the secret to keeping rowdy fans a little less, well, rowdy. If they have food in their mouth, they can’t scream right? Don’t worry, it really isn’t the end of the world if your team isn’t playing very well. But someone getting sick because food wasn’t cooked or chilled to the proper temperature --that’s a big deal.

To keep family and friends healthy and happy, it’s important to keep food safety in mind on game-day. Below are tips to help you create a safe and delicious tailgate.

Pre-Tailgate Prep

  • Make an inventory list of the food you are bringing. List foods in the order they should be put in the cooler. Use a cooler that fits the foods snugly, this will keep foods cold longer.
  • Carefully package raw meat. Place raw meat at the bottom of the cooler to avoid drips and cross-contamination. Place pre-cut fruits and veggies in containers towards the top of the cooler or use a separate cooler.
  • Wait to pack your cooler until just before you leave. Use ice packs to maintain temperatures.  Place a thermometer in your cooler to make sure that foods stay at or below 40° F.
  • Upon arrival, place cooler in a shady spot away from the sun and leave all cold foods in the cooler (at 40° F or colder) until ready to be eaten.

Tailgating Time!

  • When it’s time to start grilling, keep raw meat away from produce and finger foods to avoid cross-contamination. Be sure to use hand sanitizer before and after grilling!
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure all meat is cooked to the proper temperature.
  • Place spoons in dips and tongs on meat platters. Use plastic utensils and paper plates. Be sure to provide paper towels!
  • Place hand sanitizer in an easily accessible spot.
  • Food should promptly be refrigerated after sitting out for 2 hours. On really hot days (90° F and above) food should be refrigerated after just 1 hour!

Make Food More Healthful

  • Substitute guacamole, hummus, and salsa for cheese dip and mayo-laden sauces.
  • Serve bite sized brownies and cookies to encourage smaller portions!
  • Make burgers smaller, serve sliders instead!
  • Grill fruit and veggies for added flavors, be sure to cook separate from any meats!

Following these tips may not make your team play any better, but it will ensure that your guests leave your tailgate healthy and satisfied. Any game-day hospital visits will not be a result of your food!


Check out these resources for more tailgating tips!