"Are you planning a tailgate party?" asks Holly VanHeel, Iowa State University Extension Nutrition and Health Program Specialist. If you are, a few well-planned steps may mean the difference between a food safety nightmare and sure success.
Although you can't see or smell them, and often can't taste them, bacteria are everywhere - especially on foods of animal origin. Under the right conditions, bacteria can grow, food may spoil, and food borne illness may occur.
Which foods are safe to serve? Single-serving, pre-packaged portions are the safest. Consider offering sandwiches, cookies, or other food items in individual, food-grade plastic bags or film wrap. This will minimize the number of people who come in contact with the food. Dry foods or those high in sugar are almost always safe. Breads, rolls, cakes (without cream filling), fresh whole fruits and vegetables, cookies and crackers are safe. Use caution when serving cooked or processed foods such as lunch meat, hot dogs, vegetables and salads.
High-protein foods like meat, milk and dishes containing egg are potentially hazardous. Potatoes, rice, custards, puddings, pies, gravies and stuffings should be served with extreme caution. Time and temperature control of these foods is extremely important to minimize bacterial growth.
Here are some simple tips to ensure safety for your next tailgate party:
* Be cautious with marinades. Use fresh marinade on cooked foods. Do not reuse the marinade in which you soaked the raw meat.
* The life of most deli meats and foods is short. Roast beef, chicken breast, and turkey have a shorter refrigerator life than processed meats or cold cuts. When you get home, properly wrap and freeze deli meats that won't be eaten within two to four days.
* Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a different one for meats. Having two different colored cutting boards, such as green for produce and red for meat is a helpful way to keep them separated. Wash all cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops with hot, soapy water.
* Buy reasonable quantities.
* Never place cooked food on a plate that once had raw meat on it without washing it in hot, soapy water first.
* Place raw meat, seafood, and poultry underneath your ready-to-eat foods in your refrigerator to prevent the meat juices from leaking onto these foods.
* If food won't be served soon, store in a cooler immediately.
"REMEMBER most food poisoning bacteria can NOT be seen, smelled, or tasted" says VanHeel. Bacteria multiply fastest between temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit; it's what we call the Danger Zone. If in doubt, throw it out! Keep hot foods HOT (above 140° F) and cold foods COLD (40° F or below).
Following these simple rules and sharing them with others who also bring food to the tailgating functions can be the difference between a great social outing and one that is forever remembered for the wrong reasons.