Considerations for meat processors cutting venison to prevent spreading chronic wasting disease

Meat processors should follow these protocols when cutting and further processing venison this hunting season.

Chronic wasting disease is a disorder of the neurological system that affects cervids. Cervids are animals that are members of the deer family, such as deer, elk and moose. Chronic wasting disease is caused by a prion, or misfolded protein. Prions are mostly found in the brain. Cervids that contract chronic wasting disease may take months or even years before they show symptoms of having the disease. Symptoms can include extreme weight loss, lack of coordination, drooping head and ears, excessive drooling, excessive drinking and excessive urination. Chronic wasting disease is always fatal to infected cervids.

Chronic wasting disease is not known to affect humans, although the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization both recommend not eating infected meat from an infected cervid.

Michigan State University Extension has several best practice recommendations for meat processors to help reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease when accepting and handling deer, especially from known chronic wasting disease zones. The Michigan Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone includes the five counties in the Core Area—Kent, Ionia, Mecosta, Montcalm and Newaygo—plus an additional 14 counties: Barry, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham, Isabella, Jackson, Lenawee, Midland, Muskegon, Ottawa and Shiawassee. These practices are:

  • Wear rubber or latex gloves.
  • Change gloves between deer carcasses.
  • Isolate and do not cut or process the carcass or meat products that have been tested for chronic wasting disease until negative results are obtained. Process carcasses individually and avoid mixing meat from multiple carcasses into ground meat products if venison is from a zone where chronic wasting disease has been found. Keep it whole muscle.
  • Do not cut through brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes or spleen.
  • Use single-use, non-porous trash bags to line barrels and double line them for waste from chronic wasting disease suspect animals. Before cleaning processing areas, remove and dispose of solids such as meat and bone pieces. This will avoid spreading potentially contaminated material through drains and wastewater into the environment.
  • Remove and dispose of solids (including meat and bone pieces) before wet cleaning the processing area to avoid sending infectious material through drains.
  • Infected prions are not killed through traditional processing steps such as heating. They are only killed through incineration at temperatures of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Best practices for cleaning and sanitizing known at this time include:
    • Regularly clean and sanitize personal protective equipment (boots, gloves, clothing, etc.).
    • Keep equipment, including knives, moist between use (exposure) and cleaning/decontamination.
    • Use 50% bleach, 50% water sanitizing solution and soak processing equipment and surfaces for at least 1 hour.
    • Rinse all equipment and surfaces with hot, potable water after soaking in bleach solution.
    • Consider using separate knives and equipment when possible for wild game processing and regular meat and poultry processing activities. Always clean and sanitize equipment and processing surfaces between processing of wild game and meat or poultry products. A receiving protocol article is available to help stop the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Printer-friendly Meat Processor Deer/Venison Intake Recommendations and Meat Processor Deer/Venison Processing Recommendations are available from MSU Extension. Share this information with your employees.

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