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Warning On Stuffing Proves Hollow Ag Department Eases Up On Danger Of Stuffing Turkey

Back in August, the Agriculture Department tried to knock the stuffing out of Thanksgiving turkeys, warning Americans that improperly cooking the dressing inside the bird could cause serious illness or even death.

But with Thanksgiving Day drawing near and the turkey industry up in arms, the agency has pulled back. Now it’s telling cooks: Go ahead and stuff. Just make sure everything’s very well-cooked.

In its latest advisory, the agency recommends sticking a meat thermometer into stuffing to make sure it reaches 165 degrees, enough to kill bacteria from either the turkey or any eggs used in the stuffing.

That’s a much weaker warning than in August, when the department’s Food and Safety Inspection Service warned in bold letters in fliers that it “strongly advises against stuffing the turkey.”

Citing new research and other data, it said at the time, “Improperly cooked stuffing can cause serious illness or even death.”

The turkey-and-dressing folks didn’t care for that - though the University of Georgia study that formed the basis for the warning was paid for by their own National Turkey Federation.

Georgia researcher John Carpenter says the initial advisory exaggerated his findings. And that was the message the industry carried when it met with officials who run the department’s Meat and Poultry Hotline.

So on Oct. 31, the department put out a new flier. It says “cooking a home-stuffed turkey can be somewhat riskier than cooking one not stuffed.”

No mention of serious illness or death. And not until about eight paragraphs down comes the advice, “If you are not prepared to use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the stuffing in the bird, then the stuffing should be cooked outside the turkey.”

The department denies it was forced to eat crow. The safe-cooking message remains the same, and it’s true that undercooked stuffing can cause illness or death, said Susan Conley, the official in charge of the turkey bulletins.