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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

To stuff or not to stuff, that is the question
Thanksgiving cooking tips from URI’s food safety expert

KINGSTON, R.I. -- November 1, 2001 -- As the holiday season approaches, one of the most frequently asked questions by callers to the URI Gardening and Food Safety Hotline concerns the safety of stuffing a turkey.

According to Martha Patnoad, URI Cooperative Extension food safety education specialist, the question of whether to cook the stuffing inside the bird or not has been debated for several years. "Yes, it is riskier to cook the stuffing inside the bird because harmful bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached the safe temperature of 165 degrees, possibly resulting in foodborne illness," she said.

Patnoad said the safest method is to cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish in a 325 degree oven. As with stuffing cooked in the turkey, the internal temperature must reach 165.

Those cooks choosing to stuff the turkey can prepare the dry ingredients a day ahead. "Mixing moist ingredients ahead of time may allow harmful bacteria to grow. So just prior to stuffing the turkey, mix the dry and wet ingredients together and use only cooked ingredients in the stuffing," said Patnoad.

Seafood, meat and vegetable ingredients should be thoroughly cooked before combining with the other ingredients. Patnoad suggests placing the prepared stuffing in the turkey just before it is placed in the oven. Loosely stuff both the neck and body cavities of the completely thawed turkey, allowing 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey, then place the turkey in a 325 degree oven.

To ensure that the turkey has reached the proper temperature, use a food thermometer on the innermost part of the thigh and in the center of the stuffing. Do not assume that because one part of the turkey has reached the desired temperature that the rest of it has, too. "The innermost part of the thigh may have reached the safe internal temperature of 180 degrees, but the center of the stuffing inside the turkey may not have reached 165 and could cause foodborne illness. So continue to cook the stuffed turkey until the stuffing has reached 165."
When the turkey is removed from the oven, allow about 20 minutes for the juices to set. If the turkey has been stuffed, the internal temperature will continue to rise. Remove all the stuffing from the turkey immediately after the standing time.

Patnoad notes that there are several alternative methods of cooking turkey, including microwaving, grilling, smoking or deep fat frying, all of which require a shorter cooking time. When using these cooking methods, the turkey should be cooked unstuffed because the shorter cooking time does not allow the temperature of the stuffing to reach a safe level.

After the meal, within two hours after cooking, all the foods served, including the turkey, stuffing and gravy should be divided into smaller amounts and refrigerated in separate containers. If these foods sit at room temperature for an extended period of time, conditions could allow for the growth of disease causing bacteria. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days, gravy within 1 to 2 days or freeze these foods. Reheat all foods thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees or until hot and steaming.

Ten Food Safety Rules for a Food-Safe Holiday Season

1. Wash hands with warm water and soap thoroughly before handling and preparing foods. Practice good personal hygiene.

2. Practice good sanitation. Keep food preparation and serving areas, food preparation and serving equipment including plates, silverware, bowls, pans and utensils clean.

3. Separate, do not cross contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry or seafood away from cooked and/or ready-to-eat foods.

4. Cook meat, seafood and poultry to the correct internal temperature. Use a food thermometer.

5. Avoid partial cooking because it allows bacteria to grow. Cook meat, poultry and seafood thoroughly at one time.

6. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Cold food should be kept at 40 degrees and hot food should be kept at 140 degrees, especially during buffet service.

7. Do not cool leftovers on the kitchen counter. Divide them into smaller portions place in the refrigerator so they will cool quickly.

8. Reheat all foods thoroughly to a temperature of 165 or until hot and steaming.

9. Store foods in the correct place. Read the labels if unsure.

10. When in doubt, throw it out.

For more information on food safety, call the URI Gardening/Food Safety Hotline at 1-800-448-1011 Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For Information: Martha Patnoad 874-2960, Todd McLeish 874-7892

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