You’ve got the right stuff(ing)! Tips to handle stuffing with care.

Stuffing is a big favorite around the Thanksgiving holiday. Regionally in the U.S., it’s called by various names: stuffing, filling, or dressing.  The ingredients used in stuffing are often regional as well.  Usually based on a bread mixture, other ingredients such as grains, pasta, fruits, vegetables, shellfish, sausage, giblets, and nuts are also used.  Stuffing is spooned into the cavity of whole poultry or a pocket cut into a solid piece of meat, or spread on a flat piece of meat and then rolled.  Because stuffing is an excellent medium for bacterial growth, it’s important to handle it safely and cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer.  Here are some common questions consumers ask:

How do you safely prepare stuffing?  According to the USDA, stuffing should not be prepared ahead.  The dry and wet ingredients for stuffing can be prepared ahead of time and chilled.  However, the USDA cautions against mixing wet and dry ingredients until just before spooning the stuffing mixture into a poultry cavity, in/on other meat, or into a casserole.  If stuffing a whole turkey, chicken, or other bird, spoon the stuffing in loosely – about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.  The stuffing should be moist, not dry, because heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.

 How do you safely cook stuffing?  The stuffed meat, poultry, or stuffing in a casserole should be placed immediately after preparation in an oven set no lower than 325°F.  As cooking progresses, a food thermometer should be used to ensure that the stuffing reaches the safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  If stuffing does not reach 165°F when the meat itself is done, continue cooking until the stuffing reaches 165°F.  When cooking a stuffed turkey, once the stuffing and meat both reach at least 165°F, remove the bird from the oven and let stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.  Refrigerate cooked turkey and stuffing within 2 hours.  For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing separately.  The USDA suggests that one way to do this is to cook stuffing in a slow cooker.

USDA guidelines for making stuffing in a slow cooker:

  • The stuffing needs to be very moist.
  • Fill the slow cooker loosely, no more than 2/3 full.
  • The lid should fit tightly on the slow cooker.
  • Start cooking on the high setting for at least 1 hour before reducing the setting to low.
  • Cook until the center of the stuffing reaches 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Consult your slow cooker manual for approximate times.
  • NOTE: Never place frozen stuffing or other frozen food in a slow cooker.

For leftovers, remember the 2-hour rule and refrigerate cooked turkey and stuffing within 2 hours to avoid bacteria from multiplying in room-temperature food.  Leftover stuffing should be consumed or frozen within 3-4 days.

A handy fact sheet on Turkey Basics: Safe Stuffing is available in English (pdf) or Spanish (pdf).

Remember, if you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (also available 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central Time on Thanksgiving Day!) at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert.  You can also chat live at, available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.

Next topic: Cooking the Thanksgiving Bird in the Oven or the Deep Fryer.

Stay food-safe!

Authored by: Barb Ingham,
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