Bringing home the wild game

Tips for safe food handling practices when hunting.

When hunters set out to hunt they set their sights on the wild game that they are preparing to bring home. They are sighting in their guns, stocking their hunting camp and preparing their gear before venturing into the woods.

Food safety is just as important to the hunt as the preparation and anticipation of bringing home meat.  E.coli and Salmonella are two bacteria that could be potential foodborne illness threats if meat is not handled properly.  Another food safety issue is the Bovine Tuberculosis, which has a negative impact on the health of the animal and the potential harvest.

For the best possible flavor of the meat, Michigan State University Extension recommends following some important guidelines with handling the meat in the field, as well as butchering and storing the meat carefully.  The quality of the game meat depends largely on how well prepared and efficient the hunter is in the field.

For deer, it is important to eviscerate the animal as soon as it is dead. This will start the cooling process.  It is important to be careful not to cut into the intestines because this will be a source of E.coli contamination.  By eviscerating the animal, it will become lighter and easier to handle.

Cooling the deer quickly and keeping it cold are both vital in preventing foodborne illnesses.  Ideally, cool the meat to an internal temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to do this is to get the carcass to a meat cooler the day of the kill.

MSU Extension recommends following safe food handling practices such as:

  1. Wash hands, utensils and food contact surfaces often with hot soapy water, rinsing with hot water and sanitizing the area, especially before and after handling the meat.
  2. Hold the meat at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. If the meat will not be consumed or processed within three to five days, the meat should be frozen.
  3. Frozen meat should be thawed in the refrigerator. Never thaw at room temperature.
  4. Use a meat thermometer when cooking meat to be sure the food has reached an internal temperature hot enough to destroy any harmful microorganism that may cause foodborne illness. Ground and fresh venison should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has compiled a venison-processing booklet to aid hunters in minimizing the risk of contamination by foodborne illness pathogens. A food safety information guide is also available. By keeping food safety in mind while bagging, handling and processing the game you hunt , you will ensure that the meat is safe to serve at the family table.

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