Man vs Germs

Fans is short for Fanatics, enthusiasts, ardent supporters.  Want to know a secret? Registered Dietitians (RDs), the ultimate food and nutrition fanatics (I mean that in a good way) are also sports fans who eat REAL tailgate foods. I know this because… when interviewed on tailgate food safety for Man vs Germs podcast, listen to it here:, I asked the RD podcast proprietors what their favorite tailgate foods were:


Laura Poland, my nutrition entrepreneur mentor: her Grandma’s Potato Salad

New connection, clinical dietitian Amy Keller: Buffalo Chicken Dip

Mine: Brats! Make that singular. One brat, hot off the grill, slathered with spicy mustard. 

Q & A


Q. Some of KeepSafe Food’s products, such as the Outdoor Eating Food Safety Kit focus on tailgates, picnics and cookouts. Why is that?

A. Food is central to tailgate experience, 2nd only to the game, right? Well yes ...and the beverages.

Tailgates have lots of moving parts, lots of plays and players.  The game create distractions. All increase the opportunity for food to become unsafe. Have a Tailgate Foods Safety Game Plan so everyone can celebrate and cheer without worrying about getting sick from unsafe food.


Q: What’s on the Tailgate Menu that we should worry about?

A: Some foods are especially hospitable to germs. Ones where germs grow rapidly given enough time and at the right temperature. I did a search for “most popular tailgate menu items” and, many of them, including the ones we’ve favorited already, are on the high risk list.

·       Meat:  burgers, hotdogs and my grill choice, brats.

·       Milk and Dairy: cheese plates, dressings and dips. Amy’s favorite, Buffalo Chicken,  has cheddar and cream cheese on its ingredient list

·       Heat treated plant foods...what?: mac and cheese, pasta salad, Laura’s must have potato salad and other cooked rice and bean combos and casseroles


Q: What else?

A.    Well let’s go through the rest of the list

·       Poultry: wings

·       Eggs: deviled eggs

·       Produce: sliced tomatoes, leafy green garnishes

·       Fish and shellfish: You might not think of seafood as tailgate food, but at one of the BEST tailgated I’ve attended ever, the OSU /Penn State White Out game of 2018, hosted by terrific friends (and unfortunate Penn State fans) Bruce and Annette, their seafood boil was the bomb! As a food safety expert, I especially like that the boil was boiled.


Penn State OSU.jpg

Q: Tell us about the times and temperatures, because we are still going to eat these foods, right?

A.    Right!

The Temperature Danger Zone is an approximate 100 °F temperature range. Roughly between 40 and 140 °F. Room temperature and outdoor temperatures are in danger zone. One cue to remember the zone: 100 degrees/100 yards. The precise range is 41°F to 135 °F. That’s why your refrigerator should be set  at or below 41 °F  and minimum safe cooking temperatures for low risk foods is above 135 °F.

Time: Is 2 hours maximum to have food sitting out on a table in the danger zone. Time out an hour earlier, if the weather is  especially warm, say 90 °F.

Tip: Use your cell phone as a reminder. Set an alarm for 2 hours to notify you it’s time to pitch or replace.


Q: Do you really need a timer? Can’t you tell “bad” food by how the food looks or tastes?

A. No, your senses won’t help you out here.  The germs can have multiplied to an unsafe level but will remain undetectable. You won’t be able to see or taste them, but they still can make you sick. Be sensible, don't’ trust your senses when it comes to food safety.


Q: A question on the burgers, why is there such a focus on grilling them to medium  or medium well?

A .  Beef and cattle are a source of E.coli

E.coli is a germ causes food poisoning, even in small amounts. 

When beef is ground, the germs on the surface are mixed inside the patty.

Cooking to an internal temperature of 155°F. for 17 seconds kills E.coli.

I cook burgers to 160 °F and verify with a good thermometer because

·       every grill is different

·       every fire is different

·       every hamburger or steak is different

·       every day’s weather is different

·       every grill master’s skill is different


Penn State OSU (1).jpg


Q : What makes a good thermometer:

A. I know this. I’ve collected and tested many. Some are painful to use. And, if they are a hassle to use, you won’t use them. Use a thermometer that

·       Quickly registers the temperature, in under 5 seconds

·       Has “large print” so you can read it without your glasses

·       Has an easy to clean probe

And of course, it should be accurate. I chose the Javelin gourmet thermometer for KeepSafe Food’s food safety kits because it has all these things.


Q: Besides the menu and temperature, what else is important?

A: Transportation and Separation are important. If tailgating offsite, transport the food safely. It’s better to do so in an air conditioned back seat than a hot trunk. If it’s in the 40 to 140 °F degree range during transportation, transport time counts towards the 2 hour limit. I use a cooler thermometer (create hyperlink) and am offering a free one with any Outdoor Food Safety Kit purchased during Football Tailgate Season (or while supplies last).

For tailgates there are 6 Degrees of Separation

You might think of the movie. You might think of the point spread. But do think of these 6 ways to keep things separate to prevent cross contamination., when germs from food, hands, plates, anything are spread by coming in contact with another.

1- Package raw foods that you will cook later separately from ready to eat (RTE) foods and beverages that will be not be cooked.

2-  Have separate coolers for separate purposes. I recommend 3: 1 each for raw foods, 1 for cooked/RTE foods and a 3rd for beverages.

3 -Use separate ice for beverages. Don’t use the ice in the beverage cooler for any other purpose but to keep those cans and bottles cold.   If that ice becomes contaminated, if juice from a package of raw hamburger leaks into it, every juice box, water bottle, beer or soda can, and every hand that handles them, can be at risk.

4-If you’ve marinated your meat prior to grilling it, separate the uncooked marinade, and any container it was marinated in, from what you use to serve it  At home I might boil the marinade and use it as a sauce it, but I at a tailgate, I wouldn’t bother, I’d pitch it.

5. Have enough serving dishes, plates  and utensils so there is a separate one for each for each item.

6. Replace, don’t replenish.  Don’t batch foods. If one pan is empty, replace it with a new pan instead of adding more food into the same pan. Pack you food in separate, smaller size containers. Put out what you think will be eaten in a reasonable amount of time. Keep the rest in cold storage.


Q. Any other tips?

A. Here’s some hot and cool tips:

Hot tips

·       Heat precooked foods to a safe hot temperature  before putting them in a crock pot.

·       Pour hot water in warming pans. Tiny Sterno cans are intended to keep things warm, not heat them up.

Why? Because otherwise, foods will reheat so slowly that they remain too long in the danger zone.

Cool Tips:

There are so many fun gadgets and serving items available now to keep foods cool: Inflatable ice bath tubs, portable condiment bars, snack trays with freezer chill pack liners, double decker salsa bowls with ice cubes on the lower deck. I’ve created a tailgate food safety supply checklist (create hyperlink) with suggestions for many of these items. It’s more fun and less worrisome with the right supplies.

Q Game over. What now?

A. I often say that “I live on leftovers” and it’s true that I typically make more than one meal out of a meal. But, I don’t live on tailgate leftovers. There’s a fine line between taste and waste…

tailgates are an event that I would pitch the remains rather than repackage and take home for later use.


KeepSafe Food Tailgate Reminders: the Best defense Man has against Germs

Keep foods separate

Keep food at the right temp whether you are carrying it, cooking it or serving it

But don’t Keep it afterwards...not in this instance.


Listen to the Man vs Germ Podcast on Secret Life of Dietitians

Order your  Outdoor food Safety Kit Here and receive a bonus cooler thermometer while supplies last

Download  the free Tailgate Food Safety Checklist when Subscribe to KeepSafe Food

food safetyMary MillerComment