To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

turkeyThe holidays are almost here and the question I get every year is, I really want to stuff my turkey, but is it safe?  Here are some points for you to consider:

* Cooking a turkey with stuffing is higher risk for you and your family than one that is not stuffed.  The bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165 degrees F., using a food thermometer is essential.

*USDA does not recommend purchasing a turkey that has been “pre-stuffed” as the time for bacteria to grow is unknown, unless it has been frozen and stuffed with directions to cook from a frozen state per USDA approval.

If you choose to stuff your turkey, consider the following tips:

*Prepare your stuffing and spoon it directly into the cavity of the turkey.  Don’t pack the stuffing tightly. Don’t stuff the bird and refrigerate overnight.  Immediately cook the bird after stuffing.

*Moist stuffing will allow the heat to destroy bacteria more effectively. Don’t put dry stuffing into the bird.

*If you are planning to grill, smoke or fry your bird, stuffing it is not recommended due to variations in the cooking temperature.

* When using a food thermometer, make sure that the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. in the middle of the stuffing.

*If you want a nice juicy turkey, let it set for about 20 minutes after taking it out of the oven to let the juices set before removing the stuffing and carving it for serving.

The leftovers are one of the best parts of the holiday, so make sure you take care of them quickly and properly.  Remember that the sooner you can get the leftovers into shallow containers the safer they will be.  The guideline is no more than 2 hours at room temperature. So when guests are done eating, get the food back into the refrigerator as quickly as possible.  Most leftovers are safe for 3-4 days, making sure to reheat them to at least 165 degrees F.  If you have more leftovers than you will eat in that time, prepare and freeze them for meals at a later time.

For a moist alternative for your stuffing, try cooking it in a slow cooker or crock pot.  Remember it needs to be a moist recipe to conduct the heat.  Don’t fill the cooker more than 2/3 full and start it on high for at least one hour, before turning it down to low.  The lid needs to remain on (no peeking) and cook until the center of the stuffing reaches, 165 degrees F.

For more information on your food safety concerns, check out


Author: Melinda Hill, Ohio State University Extension, Wayne County

Reviewed by: Linnette Goard, Field Specialist, Food Safety, Selection and Management, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

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