Don't be a jerk when making wild game jerky

Safe handling of wild game will lower the risk of food borne illness when making jerky.

After a successful hunting season one of the first things you ask yourself is what to do with the venison. A great answer would be to try making venison jerky. Jerky is a lightweight, dried meat product. It does not need refrigeration. Jerky can be a snack for the backpacker, camper, outdoor sports fan or just anyone who loves jerky.

When working with raw meats there is the concern of the meat being contaminated with microorganisms that can cause foodborne illness. These harmful pathogens grow easily in the temperature danger zone. If the meat is not handled properly, these pathogens will grow quickly and cause illness. When making jerky from wild game, the meat needs to be treated to kill trichinella parasite before it can be sliced and marinated. Trichinella causes the disease trichinosis. To kill the trichinella parasite, freeze a portion of meat that is six inches or less in thickness at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 days. This treatment should kill the parasite.

Freezing does NOT kill nor eliminate bacteria from meat.

For the safe handling of meat Michigan State University Extension suggests you follow these recommendations:

  1. Wash hands and wash them often. Wash hands with soap and hot running water for a minimum of 20 seconds. This is the time it takes to sing the ABC song. Hands should be washed before and after handling raw meat.
  2. Wash, rinse, and sanitize cutting boards, equipment, and utensils.
  3. Keep meat refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
  4. Only thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator. NEVER on the kitchen counter.
  5. Marinate meat in the refrigerator. Never save or re-use marinade.

When making jerky from wild game, the location of the wound and the skill of the hunter will impact the safety of the meat. If the animal’s intestinal tract is damaged so that the contents come in contact with the meat or the hunter’s hands, fecal bacteria will contaminate the meat. If the contamination takes place the meat can only be used in a manner that will get the minimum internal temperature of the meat up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature needed to kill E. coli O157:H7. Be sure to use a food thermometer to check the minimum internal temperature of the meat. The contaminated meat should not be used to make jerky.

Once the deer carcass is dressed, it should be chilled rapidly to avoid bacterial growth. There are two methods to help decrease the risk of foodborne illness from home-dried jerky. One method is to heat the meat strips in the marinade to an internal temperature of the meat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. When the strips are heated in the marinade before drying, the drying times are reduced. The color and the texture of the jerky will be different from the more traditional jerky. The other technique is to heat the dried strips in the oven after the drying process is complete.

Making venison jerky can be fun. It can be an enjoyable treat while watching those football bowl games. Just be sure to use safety food handling practices when making it.

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