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Stuffing Safety

It is that time of year again.  I don’t cook –and I continue to provide food safety advice for those of you that do.  Ah, it must be Thanksgiving.  Last year I provided some tips on thawing and cooking your Thanksgiving turkey.  I encourage you to review those tips if you have any questions on safely preparing your turkey.

This year, I am adding counsel on safely preparing the stuffing.  The most important things to remember are: stuffing should be cooked separately from the turkey (you can add it to the bird after both have been properly cooked), the stuffing should not be prepared ahead (unless you plan to freeze it), and the stuffing must reach a temperature of 165°F to be safe.

The safest way to prepare stuffing is to mix the ingredients just prior to cooking and place them in a shallow baking dish. Moist stuffing is always better, as heat destroys bacteria better in a moist environment.   The oven should be set no lower than 325°F and the stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165°F.   The leftover stuffing should be promptly refrigerated within 2 hours of removal from the oven.  The leftover stuffing should be used within 3-4 days.

While we are all looking for those dishes we can prepare ahead to save time, stuffing is not one of them.  If you must prepare it ahead, you can prepare the stuffing and freeze the mixture in the shallow casserole dish that will be used for baking.  The stuffing can then be cooked from the frozen state (do not thaw) until it reaches 165°F.

If you add meat, poultry or shellfish to the stuffing (if I cooked, I certainly would add this), you should pre-cook the ingredient to 165°F before adding it to the stuffing.  This is true even when you are planning to freeze the stuffing and cook it at a later time.

Finally, if it is not clear by this point, the stuffing must reach an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure that it is safe.  Of course, you learned last year that a food thermometer is part of any “safe Thanksgiving.”  It is critical to use it to measure the temperature of both the turkey and the stuffing.

Have a Thankful and Happy Season.

Before joining OFW Law, Dr. Masters served as Acting Administrator and then Administrator for the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) from March 2004 through January 2007.

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