Football season is back in full swing. Stadiums are filling up with fans again, and grilling in stadium parking lots and at backyard cookouts are back with the gridiron season. The food fun includes fans at high schools, colleges and NFL games.

And just like sports fans need to take certain precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19, the same is true of foodborne illness.

Here are some tips for making sure your game day doesn’t end in a loss to food poisoning.

PRO Grilling

You can reduce and avoid foodborne illnesses from cooking meat or poultry on the grill by following these three PRO tips from the USDA.

  • P — Place the Thermometer

When you think your food is cooked, check the internal temperature by inserting a food thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, usually about 1.5 to 2 inches deep.  If you are cooking a thinner piece of meat, like hamburger patties, insert the thermometer from the side. Make sure that the probe reaches the center of the meat.

  • R — Read the Temperature, in due time

Keep the thermometer in place for about 10 to 20 seconds for an accurate temperature reading. Use the following safe internal temperature guidelines for your meat and poultry.

  • Beef, Pork, Lamb, and Veal (steaks, roasts, chops) and Fish: 145 degrees F (63 degrees C) with a 3-minute rest time.
  • Ground meats: 160 degrees F (71 degrees C)
  • Whole poultry, whole and cut pieces of poultry, and ground poultry: 165 degrees F (74 degrees C)
  • O — Off the Grill

Once the meat and poultry reach their safe minimum internal temperatures, take the food off the grill and place it onto a clean platter. Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Also, remember to clean your food thermometer probe with hot, soapy water or disposable sanitizing wipes between uses.

Take the right equipment

Make sure to game plan and have all the proper cooking and cleaning supplies.

  • Clean utensils for preparing and serving cooked food
  • A food thermometer, vital for knowing that your meat and poultry reaches a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria.
  • An insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, frozen water bottles, or containers of ice to carry cold perishable food like raw hamburger patties, sausages, and chicken.
  • Take extra water for cleaning if none will be available at the site.
  • Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

Keep cold food cold and hot food hot
Keeping food at a safe temperature between home, a store or restaurant, and the tailgate location helps prevent foodborne illness.

  • Place an appliance thermometer on the food in the cooler so you can check to be sure the food stays at 40 degrees F or below.
  • When packing the cooler for an outing, be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent their juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food such as raw vegetables and fruits.
  • Perishable cooked food such as luncheon meat, cooked meat, chicken, and potato or pasta salads must be kept refrigerator cold, too.
  • If taking hot, eat it within 2 hours — 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees F.
  • To keep food like soup, chili, and stew hot, use an insulated container. Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. If you keep the insulated container closed, the food should stay hot at 140  degrees F or above for several hours.
  • If you can’t keep hot food hot during the drive to your tailgate, plan ahead and chill the cooked food in the refrigerator before packing it in a cooler. Reheat the food to 165 degrees F on the grill as measured with a food thermometer. For foods such as baked beans, disposable aluminum pans work well on grills.
  • Transport marinated meat and any reserved marinade in a cooler, and keep it cold until grilling.

Safely marinate
Have a backup marinade that hasn’t touched raw meat or poultry.

  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter at room temperature.
  • If some of the marinade is to be used for basting during smoking or as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade. Don’t put raw meat and poultry in it.
  • Don’t reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry on cooked food unless it’s boiled first to destroy any harmful bacteria.
  • Transport marinated meat and any reserved marinade in a cooler, and keep it cold until grilling it.

Avoid cross-contamination
Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meat or poultry touch ready-to-eat foods, like vegetables, fruits or cooked food.

  • When taking food off the grill, use a clean utensils.
  • Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.
  • In hot weather — above 90 degrees F, food should never sit out for more than 1 hour.

Saving the leftovers
Make sure you take the time to properly handle the food that isn’t eaten.

  • Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness.
  • Store perishable food in the cooler except for brief times when serving.
  • Cook only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature.
  • Discard any leftovers that are not ice cold — 40 degrees F or below — after two hours.

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