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Food Safety: A Guide to Avoiding Emergencies on Christmas Night

We’ve already said on the blog that what happens at home with your guests can become your responsibility, which is why you should pay special attention to food safety. Legal issues aside, we are sure you want your supper to be safe for everyone to enjoy without emergencies.

That’s why we’ve created a handy food safety guide, filled with tips to help you avoid any unnecessary drama on Christmas Eve or any other festive time of year.

Meal Prep

When shopping

Planning and taking care of the food that will be served at Christmas dinner should start when you go shopping.

  • Buy non-perishable items first.
  • Never choose torn, dented, leaking, rusty, protruding or otherwise damaged packaging.
  • Check expiration dates and buy fresh produce.
  • Look for information about unpackaged foods.
  • Be alert for local, national and international food recalls or alerts.
  • Ensure safe storage.

Safe food handling

Once everything is purchased in accordance with the rules, the rest is up to you! Handle your food very carefully:

  • Always wash your hands.
  • Sanitize foods that need to be washed, such as fruits and vegetables, and let them dry before storing in the refrigerator. Soak food in a solution of bleach and water (1 tablespoon for every 1 liter of water) for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse with filtered water.
  • Wash all food, no matter how clean it appears.
  • Wash each lettuce (or other vegetable) leaf separately.
  • Use soap and water for produce that can be peeled.
  • Always wash all surfaces, utensils and cutting boards that have come in contact with raw meat (especially chicken) and fish, before using again.
  • Keep sinks and counters as clean as possible at all times.
  • Beware of cross contamination. Keep raw and cooked foods separate.

Store Correctly

Remember that each food has a proper way to be stored and different shelf life times.

  • Follow storage and cooking instructions as described on labels.
  • Set the correct temperature for your refrigerator (40ºF / 4ºC or less) and freezer (0ºF/-18ºC or less)
  • Cook (or freeze) fresh meat or fish within 2 days; beef, lamb, pork and veal up to 5 days.
  • Preserve meat and poultry by wrapping them tightly; you’ll also prevent juices from leaking, littering the fridge, and contaminating other foods.
  • Canned foods with high acid content (tomatoes, pineapple syrup) can last 12 to 18 months safely on the pantry shelf.
  • Canned foods with low acid content (fish, vegetables, meat) can last up to 5 years if they are in good condition and in a cool, dry place.


  • To defrost meat, place it the day before in the refrigerator, protected by a plastic container so that liquids do not run out during the process, avoiding the risk of cross contamination.
  • Do not thaw meat or any other food at room temperature.
  • Soak food in cold water for faster defrosting; be sure to change the water every half hour and start cooking immediately when the food has been thawed.
  • Microwave defrosting is quick, but not the safest or healthiest way. If this is your only alternative, cook the meat immediately after thawing.
  • Defrosted food cannot be refrozen.

Fire Safety

If you’re thinking about cooking, whether it’s for an event at home or to be brought somewhere else, remember that many house fires start in the kitchen. Did you know that kitchen fires are the number one cause of fires and injuries in homes?

We did an entire article on how to prevent fires on Thanksgiving, but the measures are perfectly valid for any other time of year.

Cooking Times

Cooking time is crucial, especially at the end of the year when we have the tradition of roasting. Whole pieces are more difficult to control cooking and to get the oven timing just right. Undercooked food is a haven for harmful germs and bacteria, so it’s vital to know what you’re doing:

  • Cook your food well; make sure it is hot at all times. Preferably use a kitchen thermometer to find the internal temperature of your roast.
  • The USDA recommends cooking turkey at a minimum temperature of 325ºF with an internal temperature of 165ºF to 180º.
  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to at least 160º F.
  • Fish should be cooked until flaky (but not crumbly).
  • Shrimp should be pink and opaque.
  • Always wash your hands after handling raw or undercooked poultry.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and products to avoid cross contamination.
  • Store leftovers within 2 hours or dispose of them.

Baby Food 

  • Handle baby food with extra care. Babies and children have immune systems that are still developing and are more vulnerable to infections.
  • Opened baby food can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Do not leave baby food at room temperature for more than a few hours.

Your refrigerator is your best friend

Your refrigerator will be your ally from the beginning of your preparations, when storing all the fresh ingredients at the right temperatures, all the way to when you finally put away the leftovers. Understand how to properly store food away so that nothing goes to waste.

  • You must know which part of your refrigerator freezes the most and which area is the least chilled. 
  • Keep marinated meats (always tightly closed) and all perishable leftovers in the refrigerator.
  • For faster cooling, divide large portions into smaller sections.
  • Do not leave perishable food outside for more than two hours (or, if it is too hot, an hour at most).
  • Try to consume leftovers within 4 days.

Allergies, Intolerances and Food Restrictions

In these seasons of endless celebration, we eat dishes without even knowing the ingredients. Your cousin tests a new recipe, your co-worker takes his specialty to the end-of-the-year get-together, and a “secret ingredient” always appears. A person with food allergies, to ensure their safety, should always report their allergies to the host.

However, some allergies develop later and often first manifest themselves in times of overeating. In other words, the host can do their part to be on the safe side and not depend entirely on their guests.

Important to note are the most common food allergens:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Nuts of all kinds
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish and seafood in general

If your recipe contains any of these ingredients, let your guests know. And if possible, avoid using them.

Another key point is to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis (allergic reaction). They can manifest within 2 hours of contact with food.

Signs and symptoms of food allergies:

  • Itching, rash, hives
  • Swelling, especially around the face and throat
  • Breathing difficulty, congestion, shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Dizziness, fainting

If a reaction is suspected, take your guest to the nearest hospital. Most deaths are associated with delayed diagnosis and action.

Pet Care

Our pets are part of our families and we cannot forget to ensure their safety. That’s why we’re bringing food safety tips for your best furry friends:

  • Do not feed poultry bones, such as chicken and turkey, no matter what size your dog is. These bones can chip and suffocate your pet, or even puncture a digestive organ.
  • Avoid any dish that contains:
  • onion, leeks and garlic
  • raisins, avocado, peach, plum, persimmon, grape
  • dairy
  • fried foods and fat
  • any source of caffeine
  • chocolate

I know it’s hard to resist those pesky little eyes, but as always, it’s for their good. These tips apply to dogs and cats.

Bonus Tip!

The Red Cross First Aid app provides expert advice for common accidents or emergencies, including cuts, burns, and what to do if someone is choking.They also have a pet first aid app.

We at BRZ hope you have a safe Christmas and New Year without incident!

And never forget:


Luciana Sá

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