October 4, 2013

Vanderbilt dietitian offers healthy tailgating tips

by Dianne Killebrew, MEd, R.D., LDN

As tailgating time moves into full swing, there are great chances to visit with friends in the crisp fall air and enjoy the ambiance of the season. Of course, nobody wants to get sick while out having a good time, and by taking a few precautions, nobody has to.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million people a year (one in six Americans) get sick from foodborne illness each year.

Here’s how to keep this from happening to you, or to others you’re feeding at your tailgate.

Some foods are almost always safe: Dry foods or those high in sugar, breads, rolls, cakes (without cream filling), fresh fruits and vegetables, cookies and crackers fall into this category.

Some foods need extra attention: Common foods in this group are some things you might expect, such as meat, eggs, poultry, fish and shellfish; milk and milk products; slaw; and pasta or potato salad. But the same group of foods requiring extra care and attention also contains some that might be a surprise: sliced melons, sliced tomatoes, potatoes, rice, and, for those who are catering to vegetarians at your tailgate, tofu.

Keep it clean: Bring waterless hand sanitizer to keep hands clean and pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning surfaces.

Separate the raw from the cooked: marinate meat in the refrigerator prior to traveling and keep it chilled in a cooler before you grill; when transporting raw meat, tightly seal the meat in a plastic wrap or zip bags to prevent juices from contaminating other food items in your cooler; and when taking food off the grill, put it on a clean platter, not back on the same one it was on when raw.

Cook to proper temperatures: Cook raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to 160 degrees F. and all poultry to 165 degrees F. Keep hot foods above 140 degrees F. Cook only the amount of food to be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature.

Keep cold foods cold: Pack food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice, icepacks or frozen gel packs, and use a thermometer in the cooler to make sure food is at 41 degrees F. or below.

Throw away perishable tailgate items before entering the game: Foods should not be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours. In hot weather this time is reduced to one hour.

Think about some healthy alternatives: Some tasty items for a tailgate include fresh fruit, sliced or in salads or kabobs; assorted vegetables with low-fat dips, salsas or hummus; low-fat snacks such as pretzels, baked chips, trail mix; lean meats, seafood and low-fat cheeses; whole-grain breads and buns; salads made with light dressings; and thin crust pizza with Canadian bacon, pineapple and mozzarella.

Stay hydrated: Safe hydration is important and bottled water is the best hydration around.

(Killebrew is a licensed, registered dietitian and certified health and wellness coach at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. These recommendations come from sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)