Is it Safe to Stuff your Turkey: Dressing on the inside or cooked on the side?

by Ellen Ambrose in General / 11.25.08

photo credit- David Lat

photo credit- David Lat

Last night, while on the phone with my father, I was itemizing all the things that need to be done before Thanksgiving. When I got to the part about actually stuffing my turkey with dressing, he asked me if I thought it was safe to do so. When I further inquired, he came out with a whole story about how you can get Salmonella from this type of cooking practice.

I immediately thought back with horror to all the dressing that I have consumed during my 38 years on this planet. I believe that this very man, who just questioned my cooking method, is the one who taught me how to stuff a turkey and every year we have had dressing that was cooked in the cavity of a bird. My answer was “I don’t know Dad. I have done it 38 times in a row and have not contracted any vile illnesses, so far. But now I can add ‘researching Salmonella and cooking dressing’ to my huge list of things that needs to be done before Thanksgiving.”

Thanks Dad.

What is Salmonella by the way?

Salmonella is a bacteria that can wreak havoc on your intestines. Salmonella usually lives in the intestinal track of animals and birds. They get transmitted to people when we eat food transmitted with animal feces. Very gross and definitely requiring investigation.

So here is what I found: The USDA does not recommend cooking dressing inside a turkey. They recommend using a casserole dish. However, if you must do it, be sure that the internal cooking temperature of the stuffing is at least 165′ F to safely consume. The challenge is that the turkey and the stuffing often reach safe temperatures at different times. If your stuffing/dressing is not yet at the safe temperature, but your turkey is, you risk overcooking your turkey and vice versa. The other tip is to keep the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery, chicken broth etc.) separate from the dry ingredients until the very moment that you are planning to stuff the turkey. Further, it takes longer to cook a bird that is stuffed with dressing.

While I was researching the Salmonella/Dressing issue, I found out that the US Government actually has produced a very helpful consumer guide to safely roasting a turkey. It is called Let’s Talk Turkey. This guide answers some excellent questions such as:

  • Is it safe to eat pink turkey meat?
  • How do you thaw a turkey in the fridge, water and microwave?
  • How long does it take to thaw a turkey?
  • How many pounds of turkey should I buy for my family?
  • How long does it take to roast a turkey that is stuffed and unstuffed?
  • Where should I place the meat thermometer in my turkey?

I was very pleased to find the information and will definitely use it as a reference. If you have futher questions, you can call the folks at USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline.

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