Thanksgiving: why you may not want to stuff your turkey this year

Did you know stuffing ingredients may differ depending on where you are? If you’re Canadian or live in the northernmost U.S. states, you may use bread crumbs or rice. Southern regions sometimes use cornbread, and eastern coastal areas often use oysters.

Regardless of the recipe you use, the great thing about stuffing is that it’s warm, delicious and adds a kick to the typically holiday turkey. The not-so-great thing is that stuffing makes a pretty good bacteria nest.

Stuffing struggles

Stuffing is typically porous, moist and warm — i.e. the perfect environment for bacteria to flourish. When stuffing cooks inside your turkey, juices from the still-raw meat may soak into the crumby mixture. These juices could contain a number of dangerous pathogens that come with raw meat, like Salmonella.

With the stuffing in the center of the bird, it takes longer for it to heat up to the bacteria-killing temperature of 165°F, and it may not reach that temperature at all, especially with deep-fried turkeys. If the center of your turkey does get that hot, you’ve got another problem: the outside of the turkey is likely tough and overcooked!

Experts recommend cooking your stuffing separately in a casserole dish, then placing it inside the turkey once both are cooked.

Other turkey tips

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have loads of advice for Thanksgiving turkey-preppers. Here are some key tips:

  • Don’t wash raw turkey! The splash-back will send raw meat juice flying all over your sink and kitchen counter. As we mentioned above, that juice may contain pathogenic bacteria.
  • When cooking turkey, your oven should be set to no less than 325°F. Use a food thermometer to ensure proper temperature of the cooked meat.
  • You can’t refrigerate uncooked stuffing. It either needs to be totally frozen, or cooked immediately after preparation. It’s too easy for bacteria to grow within to keep it at moderate temperatures.
  • Using meat in your stuffing? Pre-cook the meat before mixing it into the stuffing.
  • Don’t let your Thanksgiving meal sit out for more than two hours. Clostridium perfringens, a bacteria that grows in cooked foods left at room temperature, is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. Outbreaks occur most commonly in November and December — around the holidays.
  • Break up your turkey into different containers when storing leftovers. A whole turkey may not reach the safe temperature of 40°F in the fridge quickly enough.
  • If you simply must cook your turkey with stuffing inside, pack the stuffing loosely, using around ¾ of a cup per pound of meat.

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