Tailgating Traumas to Avoid

Get your party on and get home safely.

Medically reviewed in March 2020

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Football season is here! Dedicated tailgaters are hitting stadium parking lots across America, braving the cold or the heat, tossing around a football and knocking a few back. Just follow these safety tips so you don’t miss the big game because you’re in the emergency room.

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Food Storage Safety

What’s a tailgate without grub? Get lunch or dinner from the fridge, to the game, to the grill safely by keeping your cooler at 40°F or below. Wrap meats so the juices don’t drip onto anything else, and avoid having perishables out of the cooler longer than two hours, or one hour if it’s over 90°F. The same goes for leftovers: get them back in the cooler within two hours—or one hour if it’s hot—and eat them within four days.

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Cooking Safety

You need a full stomach to support your team; what you don’t need is to be violently ill because your food wasn’t cooked well enough. Undercooked meats can harbor salmonella, E. coli, listeria and a host of other bacteria. Cook steaks to at least 145°F, ground meat like burgers to 160°F and hot dogs and chicken to 165°F.

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Grill Safety

You’ve stored your food properly and grilled it to the perfect (and perfectly safe) temperature. Nothing else to worry about, right? Wrong. More than 16,000 people went to the ER in 2014 from grill accidents.

Burns are a danger with both gas and charcoal grills, and charcoal grills come with the added peril of carbon monoxide. Make sure your grilling area has proper ventilation and check for leaks in gas grill hoses.

And it’s not just the grill that can hurt you—a 2016 study estimated that almost 1,700 people since 2002 went to the hospital because they accidentally ate wire grill brush bristles that ended up in their food. 

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Weather Concerns

Preseason professional football starts in August and the championship game is in February, so football season goes from the dog days of summer to the dead of winter. That means you need to be prepared for any weather.

Dress appropriately and don’t drink too much alcohol—it’ll raise your chances of dehydration when it’s hot, and lower your core temperature and increase the risk of hypothermia when it’s cold.

  • In the heat, be able to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion.
  • In the cold, wear gloves, a hat and two pairs of socks to prevent frostbite.
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More on Alcohol

Let’s face it: cracking a few brews is an essential part of tailgating for a lot of people. But alcohol was a factor in nearly 31,000 deaths in 2014, and that’s not even including car accidents. Those killed almost 10,000 people the same year, making up nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths.

There's also the 2011 study that looked at attendees of 13 baseball games and 3 football games. It found tailgaters were 14 times more likely to have a blood alcohol content over the legal driving limit than people who hadn’t been tailgating. So, if you’re going to have alcohol at your tailgate, make sure there are sober drivers to get everyone home safely. 

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