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USDA: Cook Stuffing Separately for a Safe Feast

New Jersey

By: Richard L. Smith 

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is serving up a crucial food safety tip that might come as a surprise to many: avoid stuffing your turkey.

AdThe practice not only increases the risk of cross-contamination but also extends the cooking time of the turkey. Instead, the USDA recommends preparing stuffing separately.

However, for those who choose to stuff their turkey, the USDA offers the following guidelines to ensure a safe and delicious holiday meal:

1. Avoid stuffing the turkey the night before**: Bacteria can multiply in the stuffing when a stuffed bird is refrigerated overnight.

2. Prepare wet and dry ingredients separately**: Keep the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separate and refrigerate them until ready to use. Mixing these ingredients creates an environment where bacteria can thrive, especially if prepared hours before cooking.

3. Fully cook raw meat, poultry, or seafood ingredients**: Before adding them to the stuffing, make sure that any raw meat, poultry, or seafood ingredients are fully cooked.

4. Combine ingredients just before cooking**: Stuff your turkey with the prepared ingredients immediately before placing it in the oven. Avoid stuffing the bird with cooked stuffing.

5. Ensure the stuffing reaches 165°F**: In addition to the turkey itself, the center of the stuffing must reach a safe temperature of 165°F to kill harmful bacteria.

For those planning their Thanksgiving meal, here are the recommended roasting times for turkeys based on a 325°F oven temperature:

**Unstuffed:** - 8 to 12 pounds — 2¾ to 3 hours

- 12 to 14 pounds — 3 to 3¾ hours

- 14 to 18 pounds — 3¾ to 4¼ hours

- 18 to 20 pounds — 4¼ to 4½ hours

- 20 to 24 pounds — 4½ to 5 hours

**Stuffed:** - 8 to 12 pounds — 3 to 3½ hours

- 12 to 14 pounds — 3½ to 4 hours

- 14 to 18 pounds — 4 to 4¼ hours

- 18 to 20 pounds — 4¼ to 4¾ hours

- 20 to 24 pounds — 4¾ to 5¼ hours

For additional Thanksgiving food safety tips, the USDA encourages everyone to check out their fact sheet and read their latest study on safe food handling.

AdShould you have any questions or require further information, you can contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to speak with a food safety specialist.