With the start of the new school year comes football season and tailgating. Make sure that food-borne illness doesn’t spoil the fun by following sound food-safety advice from Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“The biggest food-safety issues at tailgates arise from the fact that you are moving food from one location to another,” said Renee Boyer, consumer food-safety specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension. “When moving meats and other raw items, make sure that they are packed in sealed plastic bags or containers in a chilled, insulated cooler kept below 40 degrees. Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods.”

Boyer explained that this prevents leaking juices from raw meat and poultry from cross-contaminating other foods. Storing chilled drinks in a different cooler than the food one is a good idea because you will likely open the drink cooler more frequently.

“Be sure to bring a meat thermometer to any tailgates where you will be cooking meats or poultry,” Boyer added. To be safe, ground beef and chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

The rules for proper food handling and cooking are the same for tailgating as they are for cooking at home. The frequency of food-borne illnesses makes following sound food safety advice especially important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 76 million cases of food-borne illness each year in the United States.

“Bring hand sanitizer or a bleach solution to any tailgating event where you will be cooking, and be sure to wash your hands before and after you prepare the food,” Boyer said.

Remove meat from the cooler only when you wish to place it on the grill. Never put cooked meat back in the container with raw meat, and use separate cutting boards to prevent cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods. When removing cooked items from the grill, use a clean pair of tongs that have not come into contact with raw foods.

Use caution with marinades. Discard any leftover marinade after you place meat, fish, or poultry on the grill. This marinade should not be used on a cooked item.

Eat cooked foods immediately, or keep at a temperature of 140 degrees or hotter until served. Wrapping a hot item in aluminum foil will help keep it warm. As always, perishable foods such as meats and egg dishes should not be kept a temperature above 40 degrees for more than two hours. Deli foods such as potato salad and coleslaw--two popular items at tailgates--should also be eaten within two hours, Boyer said.

Virginia Cooperative Extension brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Through a system of on-campus specialists and locally based agents, it delivers education in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community viability, and 4-H youth development. With a network of faculty at two universities, 107 county and city offices, 13 agricultural research and Extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers, Virginia Cooperative Extension provides solutions to the problems facing Virginians today.