7 Safety Tips for a Terrific Tailgating Experience

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Pre-game tailgating gives us the chance to bond with fellow sports fans over the grill and cold beverages, but it also presents a few hazards that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Before you head off to the big game, take our crash course on tailgating safety to learn how to take care of yourself and your tailgating teammates with these seven areas of focus: avoiding food poisoning, grilling guidelines, first aid, sun protection, party safety, and knowing when to toss food out.

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1. Meat requires stellar sanitation

Nothing ruins a day at the stadium like food poisoning. Because tailgating and grilling burgers, chicken, and other meats go hand in hand, be especially careful to prevent cross-contamination. If you’re in charge of the meat, keep these things in mind:

  • Always wash utensils, cutting boards, and other surfaces every time raw meat comes in contact with them. Using bleach or dish soap with disinfectant is essential! If you’re not at a place where you can wash it right away, make sure you use a different surface or utensils.
  • Wash your hands before and after touching raw meat, and dry them with paper towels (not dishtowels!).
  • Have lots of paper plates on hand, so you never make the mistake of placing grilled meat on a plate that held raw meat.
  • Pack raw meat in individual containers (so don’t mix the beef with the chicken) and place them in an ice-packed cooler until you’re ready to grill.
  • Designate one cooler to store extra bags of ice so you’ll always have enough on hand to keep raw meat cold. Your meat should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered safe!
  • Keep drinks and other snacks in a separate cooler.

2. Grilling guidelines

Image: Luis Quintero, Pexels

Your guests are hungry and begging for your famous barbeque chicken; it’s tempting to take it off the grill before it’s done, but doing so is a recipe for disaster. Although meat will continue to cook or a short while after it’s removed from the flame, you should follow well-established guidelines to be sure it’s fit to eat.

Keep an instant-read food thermometer with your tailgating kit and follow temp guidelines to make sure your food is cooked:

  • Ground meats should reach an internal temperature of at least 160°F
  • Steaks should reach at least 145°F
  • Pork chops need a temp of at least 160°F
  • Chicken should reach at least 180°F.

If you don’t want to remember these temperatures, just arm yourself with an instant-read food thermometer and download the MeatTemps App; you’ll never have to worry about undercooking meat again (and your guests will thank you!).

3. Keep a fire extinguisher and first aid kit on hand

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You never think it will happen to you. After all, you’re a grill master! But even veteran tailgaters know to be prepared for the worst.

When you’re grilling, be sure you have a fire extinguisher close by. Don’t leave it packed in your truck, but put it within hand’s reach. Besides, even if you don’t need it, another tailgater might. Here are some of the best fire extinguishers for all types of situations.

If you’re grilling with coals, be sure to douse them with water and let them cool completely before placing them in a container to discard or pack in your vehicle. And be sure the container is one designed to store coals, not a random box or bag you found in the truck. You don’t want to come out of the game to find your vehicle has been destroyed.

Packing a first aid kit is always a good idea, too. You never know when a friendly game of Frisbee or a sharp knife might lead to a cut or injury. Looking for a new first aid kit to keep in your vehicle? Here are a few kits that might fit the bill.

4. When in doubt, toss it out

Make “when in doubt, toss it out” your tailgating mantra. We all hate throwing food away, but getting you or your game buddies sick is even worse. As you wrap up your tailgating extravaganza, it’s time to throw away perishable foods that have been left out for more than an hour in hot temperatures or more than two hours in moderate conditions. Not sure how long it’s been out? Remember that mantra!

5. Count on a designated driver


Image: Kampus Production, Pexels

Let’s face it: tailgaters are notorious for having too much to drink. If your party includes alcohol, be sure to have one or more designated drivers.

Here are a few tips to help things go smoothly:

  • Offer to buy the DD non-alcoholic drinks during the game and maybe pitch in for a few snacks as a thank you.
  • Always offer your tailgating companies non-alcoholic drinks—water is a failsafe!
  • Encourage drinking partygoers to have plenty to eat and drink a non-alcoholic beverage in between drinking alcoholic ones.

6. Party in numbers

Tailgating and socializing are nearly synonymous, but avoid gallivanting through crowds of rowdy tailgaters alone. Because alcohol impairs decision-making, it’s important to stick with a buddy if you have been drinking. If you head off on your own, make sure your friends know where you’re going and when to expect you back. Check in with your friends if they plan on leaving, too!

7. Sun protection and hydration

The sun might not be sizzling like it was during the summer, but even under a cloud-covered sky it’s easy to get scorched while tailgating. If you’re hosting a tailgating bash, have plenty of sunscreen available for your guests. And don’t forget to slather a bit on yourself! Set a timer for an hour or two and reapply.

Dehydrating is another potential tailgating villain. Mild dehydration symptoms include headache, dizziness, sleepiness, strong-smelling urine, and thirst. Drink water to battle dehydration, not soda, juice, or alcohol. Drinking water in small amounts throughout the day helps guard against hydration. Find a favorite water bottle in your team's colors, and keep it with you all the type as a reminder to drink more water.

If you’re sweating over a grill, you’ll need to be particularly vigilant about consuming water. Take a sip with every turn of the meat, and you’ll be ready to go.

You’ve put a lot of thought into game day, don’t ruin an otherwise festive day by being unsafe. Follow our crash course in tailgating safety, and you and your guests will enjoy a healthy and entertaining day of pre-game partying that won’t soon be forgotten.

Go team!


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Alexia Chianis
Written by
Alexia Chianis
Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics.

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