As we roll into the middle of August, it's time to start thinking about fall. For me this means pumpkin spice everything. For the fiance it meals football (Cue Hail to the Redskins) and tailgating. Brief personal side note: In highschool we won our homecoming tailgating contest. We served bagels and lox as well as local BBQ venison. 

Tailgating is the culinary and social peak of fall in many areas. In the South they bring out the team color game day dresses and corn-hole. In the midwest the brews are chilling with fresh sausages. Wherever you're living, what could be better than regional cuisine specialties and an easy cocktail mix? I'll tell you what: Not getting food poisoning. So please, do yourself and your fabulous guests a favor and follow these tailgating safety tips from


  • Wash hands before, during and after preparing food for a tailgate. Sing your favorite team’s fight song – while lathering with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always defrost meats in the refrigerator or in the microwave – never at the tailgate. Marinate meat in the refrigerator and don’t reuse the marinade unless boiled.
  • Pack food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or icepacks to keep temperatures below 40° F.
  • For the trip to the tailgate, tightly seal raw or thawed meat in plastic wrap to prevent juices from contaminating other food items. Consider packing meat products in one cooler and additional foods in another
  • In cool-weather climates, transport coolers in your trunk rather than in a heated car – the cold temperatures outside will help keep food chilled. For warmer climates, do the opposite. Transport coolers in the backseat of your air-conditioned car instead of the hot trunk, especially for long road trips.
It's Game Time:
  • Be sure to pack moist towelettes for guests to clean up before digging in.
  • Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate. Pack extra or color-coded plates or utensils to help prevent cross-contamination. Use one set for raw foods and another for cooked foods.
  • Cook to proper temperatures. A meat thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure foods are safe to eat.
  • Tailgating favorites like hamburgers and bratwurst should be cooked to at least 160°F and chicken breasts to 165° F.
  • Keep a refrigerator thermometer inside the cooler at all times to monitor the temperature.
  • Don’t forget that carry-out and/or pre-prepared foods are also susceptible to food poisoning.
The Post-Game Show:
  • Throw away perishable tailgate items before entering the game. Foods should not be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours. In hot weather (90 ° F or above) this time is reduced to one hour.
  • After the game, serve and eat only non-perishable foods unless foods packed in the cooler remain stored at 40° F or below.
So what snacks will you pack?
  • Make sure you take into account food allergies and preferences. If someone in your party is vegetarian, realize you can offer more than grilled veggies. Try some marinated tofu or black bean burgers!
  • Be true to your region. Take advantage of seasonal and local produce in your area to help your farmers and your budget. Fall in Virginia yields beautiful, crisp apples. Use football shaped cookie cutters to punch out shapes for fun snacks!
  • Multi-tasking ingredients rule. Use several similar ingredients across your tailgate. Picking up lemons for cocktails, a zesty dessert topper, and zingy dressing picker-upper will cut down on things you have to remember to bring. Zucchini can be made into zucchini cakes for a vegetarian option or made into 'noodles' for a spin on pasta salad. Multi-tasking ingredients help use all parts of the food and cut down on waste!
What's your favorite tailgate dish?

Disclaimer: For helping spread the word about the importance of home food safety, I was entered into a drawing for a $15 Starbucks gift card and an iPad through Summertime Food Smarts, a contest run by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods' Home Food Safety program. Home Food Safety is dedicated to raising consumer awareness about the seriousness of foodborne illness and providing solutions for easily and safely handling foods. Learn more at