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Tailgating? Food safety rules apply in the parking lot too

Sept. 7, 2018 

By Emily Thompson
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast Facts:

  • Keep perishable foods in coolers at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below
  • Look at the venue’s tailgating policies and the weather before heading to the game 

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TEXARKANA, Ark. – When football season cranks up, so does the tailgating. 

Tailgating is a big deal. More than 34 million people attended a college football game in 2017, according to the NCAA and  (See: ) 2003 University of South Carolina research found that 10 percent of tailgaters don’t even go to the game. 

8-31-2018 Tailgating 2
TAILGATING — When football season fires up, so do the tailgating parties. Food safety rules apply outside too. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Emily Thompson)

A few tips to be sure the tailgating fun doesn’t end in either the emergency room or with a ticket from the campus department of public safety: 

  • Keep food at the right temperature. Keep perishable items like hamburger patties, sausages and chicken in a cooler packed with several inches of ice or frozen gel packs. Put a thermometer in the cooler to make sure food stays at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Be sure raw meat is wrapped and kept separate from other foods to prevent contamination. “Two ice chests are essential,” said Carla Due, Miller County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Keep one for drinks and one for foods. This will keep your foods chilled until you are ready to cook or serve them, especially with guests utilizing the drink cooler more frequently.” 
  • Cook only what you need. Saves the hassle of dealing with leftovers. 
  • Dealing with leftovers. “If you have any leftovers, discard them after the game if they have not been kept on ice and may be in the temperature danger zone,” she said. “Foods should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill or other heat source for more than two hours – or just one hour when it’s over 90 degrees.” 
  • Know before you go. “Do your research. Be sure to check out the stadium’s website, as most have specific policies and guidelines about tailgating,” Due said. “Some venues have rules about open flames and how loud music can be and if appliances like grills and generators are allowed. Also, be sure to check what time the parking lots open on game day and what lots tailgating is allowed in to make sure you get a prime spot for your party.” Be sure to also look at the weather before you head to the game. “Don't forget to take the weather into consideration and bring some form of protection from the elements,” Due said. 

A handful of other tips to keep the tailgate fun: 

  • Prep the night before. Don’t spend the whole event doing food prep. Cut veggies to grill or for burger toppings up the night before. Assemble burger patties and freeze them between wax paper. 
  • Make your tailgate feel homey. Due suggests packing chairs, tables, cooking equipment like grills and utensils, trash sacks and games. “You can even add flowers and candles in your team’s colors, if you want it kick it up a notch, just be careful with the candles and know the stadiums policy on open flames,” Due said. “These can add a sense of luxury to your tailgating location.” 
  • Get to know your tailgating neighbors. Chances are you will tailgate near the same people all season long.
  • Leave your tailgating area in better condition than you found it. Gather all your trash and put bags near receptacles.

“Above all, have fun and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow fans,” Due said. “Our tailgate is usually 40-50 people and many times they are first timers we have struck up a conversation with and invited to join us.”

For more information about food safety visit,

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.   

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126