Set up the grill; it’s tailgating season. Chicken, burgers, corn, slaw, potato salad, chips – and maybe some fresh fruits and vegetables — are just some staples for the weekly ritual that coincides with football season. Some will win before the games start by eating Florida-grown foods.
College football enthusiasts nationwide can take comfort in tips from University of Florida experts who specialize in food freshness and variety.
Some tailgating foods come in the form of new fruit and vegetable varieties that grew out of years of research by UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty in labs and fields across the state. Those delectable delights include Tasti-Lee® tomatoes, Valquarius® sweet oranges, Sugar Belle ® mandarins and Sweet Sensation® strawberries, among other cultivars.
But just like shopping for and eating produce, food selection for tailgating often depends on what’s in season, UF/IFAS experts say.
“Food is best when it is fresh, so why not try a tailgate party using the rich bounty of Florida-grown foods,” said Nan Jensen, a family and consumer sciences agent with UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County. “From fruits and vegetables to seafood, beef or wine, Florida produces about 280 agricultural commodities.”
“Seasonal foods are fresher and tastier and have the most nutrition,” Jensen said. “Additionally, eating seasonally and locally tends to be more economical because food doesn’t have to travel as far.”
Jensen offers these ideas for your tailgating menu:
- Fix some sliders with Florida-grown beef or grouper. Top them with some Florida avocado and some freshly sliced tomatoes.
- Create fruit skewers using Florida fruits like strawberries, along with other fall favorites.
- Fall is the perfect time for citrus, so mix up a salad or salsa, using Florida oranges, tangerines and grapefruit.
- Mix a batch of guacamole with avocados or tomato salsa and serve with tortilla chips.
- Boiled, roasted or combined with your favorite trail mix ingredients, peanuts make a great snack for the tailgate crowd. Florida is one of 15 states where peanuts are grown commercially.
Whatever you eat for your tailgate party, you’ll want to make sure it’s safe for consumption. After all, if you’re tailgating, you’re eating outdoors.
Whether you’re preparing and eating food outside The Swamp or some other venue, keep plenty of ice and a cooler on hand, said Keith Schneider, a UF/IFAS professor of food science and human nutrition.
“It’s critical that fans keep food at the proper temperatures,” Schneider said. “Outdoors, they can’t control the elements, and food can turn unhealthy quickly if people don’t take appropriate measures.”
Since refrigerators and running water are not always available outdoors, tailgaters should familiarize themselves with safe food-handling practices and plan to bring enough coolers and/or ice and all the tools they need to keep and cook their food safely, according to a UF/IFAS Extension document.
Here are some tips from the UF/IFAS document:
- To ensure the food safety of the meal you are preparing, foods should be held continuously within safe temperatures (cold food at 40°F or below and hot food at 140°F or above) until you’re ready to prepare, cook and consume the food. Once prepared, leftovers shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours, especially on hot days.
- Pack raw meat and poultry separately from ready-to-eat foods. If juices from raw meat come in contact with food that’s not going to be cooked, it’s safer to throw it away.
- If you bring any hot foods, such as soup and chili, use an insulated container to keep them hot. If you bring hot take-out food, once it’s in the danger zone (40°F to 140°F), it should be consumed within two hours. Cooked foods have fewer microorganisms and don’t spoil quite as fast as raw items. If you have food that is not cooked (or won’t be cooked) like luncheon meats and other deli items, try not to leave them out for more than one hour, especially on game days where the outside temperature is above 90°F, Schneider said.
- Meat should be either cooked completely at home and then reheated at the event, or cooked completely at the tailgate location. Partially cooking meat or poultry ahead of time without reaching a safe temperature will allow harmful pathogens to survive and grow. When you reheat cooked foods, heat them to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.