These simple precautions will ensure the dressing is safe to eat this holiday season.

By Donna Florio
October 31, 2003

Ah, for the good old days, before we knew about food safety. We could blithely stuff and cook the bird without realizing it might send our nearest and dearest to the emergency room the next day. But now we know a few simple precautions will avoid after-dinner disaster.

Dressing must reach 165° at its center in order to be safe. Use an instant-read thermometer to check it.

It's best to cook the dressing in a separate dish. The cavity of a turkey is a bacteria-laden place, and if the dressing doesn't reach the desired temperature, the bacteria can cause food poisoning. And you may have to cook the bird to the point of dryness before the stuffing reaches the required temperature.

If you simply must bake the stuffing inside the bird, then be sure to:

  • Chill the dressing thoroughly before putting it in the bird. Cook immediately.
  • Pack the stuffing lightly―it needs room to expand.
  • Use a moist dressing―heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.
  • Test both the turkey and the dressing with an instant-read thermometer. The turkey is done when the thermometer reads 180° when inserted into the innermost part of the thigh. The dressing may not reach 165° by this time, so you'll have to continue cooking the bird until it does.
  • Refrigerate the turkey and stuffing in separate containers. Eat or freeze them within four days.