Planning wild game for a fundraiser dinner?

Knowledgeable volunteers preparing and cooking wild game properly can prevent foodborne illness at a fundraiser.

Is your organization planning to host a wild game dinner? There are some things you need to consider.

Game animals include wild animals and birds. Venison, antelope, American elk, boar, pheasant and other game animals are now being farm raised in the United States. The wild game farms are under a voluntary inspection by the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Using culinary terms; venison refers to the meat that comes from deer, elk, moose, caribou, antelope and pronghorn. Game birds include grouse, Guinea fowl, partridge, squab, quail, pheasants, ratites (emu, ostrich, and rhea), wild ducks, wild geese, wild turkey and other species.

Just as with any perishable meat, poultry, fish product – harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 can be found on raw and undercooked game. Since foodborne illness bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature, it is important to keep the meat out of the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cross-contamination can occur if the raw and undercooked meat juices come in contact with cooked foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as a salad.

Freezing does not kill foodborne illness bacteria. Freezing just slows the reproduction down. Cooking game meat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit will kill foodborne illness bacteria.

Fresh game meats need to be refrigerated immediately at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below or frozen at zero degree. Game birds and ground game meat have a shelf life of one to two days in the refrigerator. Other game animals have a shelf life of three to five days in the refrigerator. If frozen, the meat will be safe from foodborne bacteria for an extended amount of time.

When planning an event, you need to plan for about one to 1.5 pounds of raw, whole game bird meat per person. For menu planning purposes, raw boneless meat will yield about three servings per pound after cooking. The serving size per person is three to four ounces of fully cooked product.

There is a distinct game flavor to either the birds or the game animals. This flavor can be lessened by soaking the meat in the refrigerator overnight. There are two solutions that can be used:

  1. A salt solution can be made of one tablespoon of salt per quart of cold water
  2. A vinegar solution of one cup of vinegar per quart of cold water.

Michigan State University Extension recommends three safe ways to thaw frozen game meat: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw meat on the counter! Frozen whole birds or ground meat may take one to two days to thaw in the refrigerator. Roasts will take longer to thaw in the refrigerator. Once the meat is thawed in the refrigerator, it should be cooked within one to two days.

To thaw game using the cold water method, make sure it is in a water tight packaging or a leak proof bag. Put the product in the cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. A whole large game bird (three or four pounds) or a package of parts will take two to three hours to thaw, while larger amounts of game will take up to four to six hours or longer to thaw.

If thawing by using the microwave, the game meat must be cooked immediately.

Fresh game muscle meat must reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill foodborne bacteria and parasites. Whole game birds must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the foodborne bacteria. Use a calibrated food thermometer to take the internal temperature by sticking it into the thickest portion of the game meat.

If you are considering wild game for dinner at a fundraiser, volunteers should take part in the program entitled Cooking for Crowds. Cooking for Crowds is a food safety program designed for volunteers, who use food events as fundraisers. For more information on “Cooking for Crowds” programming go to

Remember the steps to have a safe wild game dinner: prevent time and temperature abuse; cross-contamination; wash hands and wash them often; and train your volunteers in food safety.

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