Wildcat faithfuls are familiar to the scene of massive tailgates with dedicated fans, an enthusiastic atmosphere, delicious food and ice cold beverages. It’s the moment Wildcat supporters get to enjoy those juicy burgers right off the grill, fresh cut watermelon and scrumptious potato salad, before they head into Bill Snyder Family Stadium to cheer on their beloved team.
Amidst the excitement and family atmosphere, however, lies a potentially fatal risk of foodborne illnesses that are not visible to the naked eye.
According to Londa Nwadike, assistant professor in food safety and K-State food safety specialist, improper handling of food at tailgates could lead to fatal consequences.
“People have died from not cooking or handling food properly,” Nwadike said. “People are not aware of how serious food illnesses can be, because they may use poor safety food practices and never get sick, so they don’t think it is a big deal.”
The possibility of getting foodborne illnesses is a big risk with today’s tailgating traditions. From the start of a tailgate right to the very end, the chance of catching a food illness is very high.
Fadi M. Aramouni, professor of food science, said that there are a variety of food illnesses that are associated with tailgating, the most common being Salmonella and Staphylococcus.
“Salmonella is an infection of a series of bacteria, which can be found in meat, eggs, chicken and vegetables,” Aramouni said. “Staphylococcus is a toxin produced by bacteria that can be found in pre-cooked items.”
In order to prevent these illnesses and reduce safety risks, students should take the extra step to ensure they prepare their food properly while using safe food practices throughout their tailgating experience.
Elizabeth Clark, senior in food science, said her knowledge of food illnesses allows her to implement important food safety practices.
“I am very particular about making sure my food is stored and prepared properly so I don’t put myself at risk for a food borne illness,” Clark said. “Some may think I go a little overboard, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Both Aramouni and Nwadike said the first safety practice is making sure that meat is cooked thoroughly. This can be done by using a thermometer to check the meat internally, as color is not a strong indicator for doneness. Both also advised against leaving perishable foods out for more than two hours during the temperature danger zone, which falls between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is above 90 degrees, that time frame is reduced to one hour.
Separating raw meats from cooked foods in coolers, using clean utensils and washing your hands before cooking can also help reduce the risk of cross contamination.
“Cook, cool and clean,” Armouni said. “Use a thermometer to check your meats, cool your leftovers before bacteria multiplies and sanitize properly before, during, after.”
With due diligence, food safety practices can be easily applied by K-State students. With the proper preparation and planning, tailgating can be just as enjoyable, while being safe at the same time.