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What are the safety rules about cooking stuffing outside the turkey?

IMG_5331At holiday dinners, we usually put the stuffing in the turkey and cook the two together.

However, at a recent holiday event, the topic came up about what to do if you cook the stuffing separately.

In the back of my mind, I seemed to remember that even if you don’t put the stuffing in the turkey, you shouldn’t make it and put it in the refrigerator to cook later. However, I had to go and look it up.

Yes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends:

If you don’t plan on stuffing the bird, but preparing the dressing as a side dish, you can prepare uncooked stuffing ahead of time as long as you freeze the stuffing immediately after mixing the wet and dry ingredients. The USDA recommends that you never refrigerate uncooked stuffing. Why? Stuffing can harbor bacteria, and though bacteria grow slower in the refrigerator they can cause problems because stuffing is a good medium for bacteria growth, therefore a higher risk food in terms of cooking safely.

It’s safe to freeze uncooked stuffing; however, the ingredients need to be combined, put into a shallow container, and frozen immediately. To use it, don’t thaw before cooking. Cook from the frozen state until the stuffing reaches 165° F.

My daughter, who reads all my articles, said she didn’t remember me writing about this stuffing question, hence an entire article on stuffing.

Here are other tips from the USDA on cooking turkey:

  1. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325° F. Preheating isn’t necessary.
  2. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Cooking times are based on fresh or thawed birds at a refrigerator temperature of 40° F or below.
  3. Place the turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.

      Optional steps:

  • Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of bird.
  • Add one-half cup water to the bottom of the pan.
  • Place a tent of aluminum foil loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours, then remove for browning. Or, a tent of foil can be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown color.
  1. Cook stuffing in a casserole for optimum safety.If stuffing your turkey, mix ingredients just before stuffing it; stuff loosely. Additional time is required for the turkey and stuffing to reach a safe minimum internal temperature.
  2. Check the internal temperature for doneness with a food thermometer. The temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing needs to reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
  3. Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the bird to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily.

Happy holidays. Enjoy that traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings.


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