ORVALLIS - Many types of stuffing can be served with roast turkey. The basic ingredients are usually dried bread cubes, onions and celery, some kind of liquid and seasonings. Apples, sausage, oysters and nuts can add variety.
Stuffing has traditionally been cooked inside the turkey. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture now cautions that roasting a turkey with stuffing inside creates a potential food safety problem, according to Carolyn Raab, Oregon State University Extension foods and nutrition specialist.
Research has shown that stuffing lengthens the roasting time and prevents uniform cooking. If the stuffing inside the bird fails to reach a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria, holiday diners could become victims of severe food poisoning.
A meat thermometer is a must if the stuffing is cooked in the turkey because there is no way to visually check whether the stuffing has reached a safe temperature. "The turkey could be done before the stuffing is safe to eat, in which case you should continue the roasting process even though you risk overcooking the bird," said Raab.
If you do stuff your turkey, follow these basic rules to do it safely.
-Prepare the stuffing just before it goes into the bird. The stuffing should be moist since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a wet environment.
-Stuff the bird loosely (about three-fourths of a cup of stuffing per pound of turkey) just before putting it in an oven preheated to at least 325 degrees F.
-Use a meat thermometer to determine doneness. The center of the stuffing must reach at least 165 degrees and the innermost part of the thigh should be at least 180 degrees.
To eliminate the risk of food poisoning it's best to bake the stuffing separately from the turkey. Place the stuffing in a tightly covered baking dish and start baking it 60 to 90 minutes before the turkey will be done. The stuffing should reach a temperature of 165 degrees whether it is inside the bird or baked separately.
For more information about safe preparation of holiday meals, call OSU Extension Service's Holiday Food Safety Hotline at 1-800-354-7319. Home economists and certified volunteers will answer questions weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Dec. 31.