Tailgaters: Beware of unsanitary food handling at football games

By Linda Nguyen

Staff Writer

Football at Baylor means tailgating, an activity that means food, fun, friends — and foodborne illness.

Baylor fans who park at Floyd Casey Stadium to enjoy burgers and chips with their friends should watch and make sure food is handled properly to avoid the danger of food poisoning.

Cheryl Luptowski, NSF Food Safety Expert and Public Information Officer, recommends bringing a meat thermometer along in order to avoid taking meat off the grill too quickly.

“Most people are going to be grilling meat: sausage, ribs, etcetera,” said Dr. Janelle Walter, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences professor. “Every time you’re dealing with meat, you have to be careful because that’s where bacteria that cause food-borne illness grow and multiply.”

Walter said ensuring meat safety by keeping its temperature in a safe range is an important part of tailgating safely.

“Keep any meat at 40 degrees or less until the time you cook it,” Walter said. “If you have to thaw, it should be done in the fridge, not on the countertop, which means you have to plan ahead. And when you’re ready to cook, you have to get it above 160 as quick as possible, which is not real high heat but it’s enough to kill a lot of the bacteria.”

Keeping the food at the proper temperature can also help reduce toxins from bacteria caused by handling food multiple times with bare hands.

“Make sure the food has not been served at a previous time,” Walter said. “Your hands have Staph on them and Staph makes a toxin on the food that heat does not kill. Keeping the food above 160 or below 40 cuts down the amount of toxin that the bacteria produces.”

Luptowski stressed the importance of maintaining the proper temperature of other foods as well — both, during and after the game.

“It’s tempting to snack a little during and after, and that food could have been sitting there for three to four hours,” Luptowski said. “If the temperature is between 40 and 140 degrees, that’s the optimal temperature for bacteria to grow.”

According to a list of tailgating food safety tips authored by Luptowski and released by NSF international, food should not be left out for more than two hours during most days, and not more than one hour on days where the temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid bacterial growth.

“Over 90 degrees” is very possible during a hot Waco summer day — though we are currently heading for cooler temperatures as the seasons change.

Luptowski said fans still need to be careful. “Even though the weather is turning colder, you still need to be careful because even in temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s can cause bacteria to grow on food,” Luptowski said.

She also recommends bringing hand sanitizer and wet wipes to cleanse hands of germs in-between handling food.

Luptowski said one of the most important tips is to avoid cross-contamination between foods.

“For me, I’m a big believer in the two-cooler method: one for your drinks and one for perishable foods,” Luptowski said. “We go in and out of the drink cooler so the temperature is compromised, so that’s a biggie for me and that way you don’t have to worry about your perishable foods.”

The NSF list suggests a third cooler for any pre-made foods, like potato salad and vegetables. Food should be kept at the bottom of the cooler and ice at the top, to better insulate the food against shifts in temperature should the cooler be opened.