To stuff or not to stuff?

To prevent foodborne illness cook the stuffing to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Traditionally the holiday season is when the stuffing controversy comes into play. Do you stuff the bird or roast or do you put the stuffing in a casserole? Whether you call it dressing, filling, or stuffing it should be prepared carefully to prevent the potential growth of food borne illness bacteria.

The ingredients used to make the stuffing vary regionally in the United States. Generally the mixture has a bread base to it; other ingredients that can be used include grains, pasta, fruit, vegetables, shellfish, sausage, giblets, and nuts. When chopping one of these ingredients, the cutting board and utensils need to be washed, rinsed, and sanitized to help prevent food borne illness.

Whether stuffing meat, poultry, or putting stuffing in a casserole, it is best that the oven temperature be no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a food thermometer is the best way to ensure that the temperature of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

To safely prepare stuffing, it should be prepared just before putting the meat or poultry or casserole into the oven. The dry and wet ingredients for the stuffing can be prepared separately and chilled ahead of time. If meat, poultry, or shellfish is going to be added to the stuffing, the raw ingredients need to be cooked ahead of time to reduce the possibility of foodborne illness bacteria growing. 

Then just before the bird or meat goes into the oven, the dry and wet ingredients are mixed together and put into the bird or meat to roast. When stuffing a whole turkey, chicken, or other bird, put the stuffing loosely in the bird. Allow about ¾ cup of stuffing per pound of bird. The stuffing should be moist because it is easier for heat to kill food borne illness bacteria rapidly in a moist environment.

The only way that stuffing can be prepared ahead of time is to mix the dry and wet ingredients, place in a shallow baking dish, and immediately freeze the stuffing. To use this stuffing safely, it should be cooked from the frozen state. Do not thaw ahead of time. The stuffing should cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Cooking stuffed poultry, pork chops, and other meat can be riskier than cooking them unstuffed, not to mention that a stuffed poultry, pork chop or other meat takes longer to cook to get the internal temperature of the stuffing to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Michigan State University Extension recommends using a cooking thermometer to test the stuffing for doneness. 

For this holiday season how will you decide to answer the question to stuff or not to stuff? No matter what you decide the minimum internal temperature of the stuffing needs to be 165 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent food borne illness.

The holiday season is a time for family and friends not food borne illness. Have a safe and happy holiday season.

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