For avid sports fans, the best part of fall is the return of college and pro football as fans dust off their portable grills, pack up trunks with coolers full of burgers and beverages and host tailgate parties outside of stadiums.

Americans spend more than $12 billion on tailgating activities each year, and an estimated 50 million people partake in the pre-game reveling, according to Nationwide Insurance. The quintessential tailgater hands off more than $500 per season on food and supplies, tailgates 6 to 10 times per season and starts the pre-game party three to five hours before kickoff.

But with hot grills, public drinking, fleets of vehicles and crowds of people, there is risk in this uniquely American football pastime. Here’s how to make sure the only risks being taken are by the players getting pummeled on the field.

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Ban the illegal motion. Tailgating means fun, food — and often lots of alcohol. Assign a designated driver, who will be your quarterback to carry you and others home safely after the game.

Know where your line of scrimmage is. Your tailgating area is your meeting point, so make it your safety zone. Tailgating events are crowded, so if you don’t have a mammoth RV that can be easily spotted from far away, consider an identifiable awning or flag. Create a small perimeter using tables or other items to help keep unwanted guests out.

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Go for the man-to-man defense. Intoxicated tailgaters, in your group or others, may risk injuring themselves or others. Be on your guard, and if the crowd is particularly rowdy, travel in pairs when leaving your group.

Don’t burn your time-outs. Using charcoal or propane grills near your car or truck creates the risk of damaging your vehicle or burning yourself or a fellow tailgater. Keep your grill away from foot traffic and six feet away from your car, advises the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Always bring a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. If you have to throw away charcoal and ash before they’ve completely cooled, put them in heavy-duty foil and soak them with water before putting them into a non-combustible container, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. Drive with your propane tank disconnected from the grill and secure it so it doesn’t roll around.

Intercept bacteria and food-borne illnesses. Food-borne illnesses can occur if your raw meats and salads aren’t properly stored in coolers at 40 degrees or below, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Keep raw meats in water-tight containers to prevent juices from leaking, and store beverages in a separate cooler. For more tips on packing a cooler, read this.

Don’t forget covers or wrap to keep flies, bugs and airborne particles off your edibles.

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Don’t get sacked. Sometimes criminals are on the offense at tailgating bashes, so keep your vehicle locked when you’re not with it. Don’t leave smartphones, purses and other valuables on tables and areas where they can be easily seen and snatched. Talk to your auto insurance agent about your policy to make sure your comprehensive insurance covers you adequately in case of theft, fire and vandalism.

Don’t forget the sweep. Stash your trash properly, and scan the area for bottles, cans, trash and other debris that can damage your tires before you drive away.

Ronald Agrella is a freelance writer and former editor of The Boston Globe’s