Making safe venison jerky

Avoid foodborne illness by properly preparing venison jerky.

It’s deer hunting season, which means many citizens are hoping to fill their freezers with fresh venison. Venison can also be canned, or dehydrated into jerky. All of these are great ways to preserve your harvest, but each also has special precautions that need to be taken in order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Some of those precautions are lesser-known when it comes to jerky.

There are two main food safety risks to consider when dealing with venison jerky: E. coli and parasites. E. coli is a bacteria that lives in the guts of deer and can get transferred to the meat during field dressing. Parasites are living organisms that live in many wild game species and include things like tapeworms and Trichinella. All of these can cause serious illness, thus venison needs to be handled properly.

The best way to prepare meat for venison jerky is a three-step process:
  1. Freeze (at 0 degree Fahrenheit) the meat in pieces less than 6” thick, for a minimum of 30 days. Freezing helps kill certain parasites and their eggs.
  2. Steam or roast the meat to an internal temperature of 160 F. This will reduce the risk from E. coli.
  3. Place the meat in a 140 F pre-heated food dehydrator for 10-24 hours.

Steps 2 and 3 can be reversed (dehydrate first, then heat treat), but the USDA has found that E. coli can become heat-resistant if dehydrated at lower temperatures first, so its recommended that venison is heat treated prior to dehydrating.

Once your jerky is done it can be stored in sealed containers at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Consider freezing your jerky to make it last longer. For more tips on how to preserve or cook with venison, visit Michigan State University Extension.

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