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Important food safety, grilling tips for tailgating season

Sept. 29, 2022

By Rebekah Hall
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast Facts:

  • Keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold
  • Use a thermometer to avoid over and under-cooking meat
  • When grilling, use seasonings and spices

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LITTLE ROCK — No matter the score, football season brings plenty of opportunities to enjoy tailgating and outdoor fun with family and friends. To make the most of game day, be sure to follow food safety guidelines by keeping and cooking meat at the proper temperatures.  

TAILGATING SNACKS — It's important to follow food safety guidelines when preparing and enjoying food outdoors. Bryan Mader, extension assistant professor and health specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said it's key to "keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold." (Division of Agriculture photo.) 

A critical element of food safety is keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Bryan Mader, extension assistant professor and health specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said not having sufficient sources for refrigeration is a common mistake when preparing food outdoors.

“While the typical on-the-go option to keep food cold or frozen is a cooler, I would suggest making sure the cooler is rated for the length of time you plan to have food outside of a refrigerator or freezer,” Mader said.

For example, if planning to cook burgers 3 hours after removing them from the fridge at home, ensure the cooler is rated to keep foods cold for at least that long. Keeping food at a safe temperature is key to preventing foodborne illness.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cold perishable foods – such as raw hamburger patties, sausages and chicken – should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth.

When packing a cooler, be sure any raw meats are securely wrapped to prevent cross-contaminating other food. Other perishable cooked foods, such as luncheon meat, cooked meat, and potato or pasta salads must also be kept refrigerator cold.

Mader said to remember the “two hour” rule. “Any foods that would normally require refrigeration or heating to maintain should be discarded after it’s spent two hours outside of a refrigeration or heat source,” he said.

To keep food such as soup or chili hot during game day, use an insulated container. Prepare the container by filling it with boiling water, letting it stand for a few minutes, then emptying it before putting in the piping hot food. If the insulated container is kept closed, the food should stay hot – 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above – for several hours.

It’s important to never partially cook meat or poultry ahead of time. When cooked partially, food does not get cooked to a safe temperature, which allows harmful bacteria to survive and spread.

Be sure to pack a food thermometer to ensure meats are cooked to a safe temperature. According to the USDA, all raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. All poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Derico Setyabrata, assistant professor of meat science for the Division of Agriculture, said using a meat thermometer also helps prevent overcooking meat, which impacts its texture and flavor.

“Make sure you put your thermometer in from the side of the meat and measure at the very center of the product,” Setyabrata said. “Also, lift your product off the grill when you are doing it.”

Setyabrata said that if making one’s own burger mixture, be sure not to overmix it, especially after adding salt.

“Salt will extract the protein in the meat, which helps make your burger stay together,” he said. “But overmixing it will extract the protein too much and make your product really tough.”

Another key to grilling delicious meats is to “not be afraid of seasoning,” Setyabrata said.

“Adding spices a few minutes before you grill will really improve the flavor,” he said. “I think you can never go wrong with salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powder, but don’t be afraid to explore. There are many ready-to-use seasonings and spice mixes in stores, and that could be an easy way to improve your product’s flavor. Marinating your meat will also help to improve the flavor, tenderness and juiciness of your meat.”

For people who may be new to grilling, Setyabrata suggests cooking on medium heat, as “this will help you make a more evenly cooked product.”

“You can use high heat to finish your product, making a seared crust that will greatly improve your eating experience,” he said.

It’s also important to allow cooked meat to rest for between five to 10 minutes before eating. Setyabrata said this “allows the muscle fibers to relax and reabsorb the moisture back into the structure,” resulting in a better eating experience.

Setyabrata said using the correct cooking method for specific cuts of meat is also key.

“Cuts like ribeye, striploin, tenderloin or top sirloin are good cuts for grilling, and a bit more forgiving,” he said. “You can use cuts from the hind legs as well, but it would be best to cut them smaller – like kabobs – or cook them low and slow to make sure that the product has good palatability. They are awesome cuts, but just need a little more love and attention.”

For more information about tailgating food safety, visit the USDA’s tailgating food safety Q & A or check out the Cooperative Extension Service’s five tips for tailgating.

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.


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 to all eligible persons 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:
Rebekah Hall