Tips for putting high quality venison on the table

When preparing for deer hunting, remember food safety in addition to hunter safety.

Woman with deer
Photo by Katie Holcomb, Ionia County.

Many hunters are able to provide a nutritious protein source for their family while enjoying a recreational activity. Preparation for safely converting the deer to venison starts before you sit quietly in the woods waiting for the big buck to approach and successfully harvest the deer. Proper field dressing and butchering your venison is key to providing a wholesome product to eat. A series of videos are available to assist you in proper field dressing and butchering of venison. Here are some considerations to make before you head out and hunt.

Keep it clean while field dressing

Wearing disposable rubber gloves can protect you from coming into contact with harmful pathogens but they can aid in spreading contamination of dirt and fecal material. Avoid spreading contaminates by changing gloves throughout the gutting and skinning process as often as needed to keep the meat clean. When field dressing, make sure to avoid cutting through the intestines or internal organs when removing them from the animal. Additionally, cleaning your knife often between cuts using clean water or disposable wipes is also recommended.

Cool the carcass

Cooling the carcass quickly to less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F) is one of the most critical food safety steps that can be done to preserve the integrity of the meat. When the air temperature is warmer, gutting the animal will not cool down the carcass fast enough. Once the gutted carcass is transported back to the hunting camp or home, the carcass should be hung and consider removing the hide, especially during warm weather to facilitate carcass cooling. Bags of ice or clean snow can be inserted into the clean cavity of the animal after gutting. Most deer carcasses do not have enough fat cover to allow them to hang for long periods of time. Typically, two to three days is enough time to age the carcass if it is an older deer. If the air temperature is not consistently below 40 degrees F, the carcass should be cut into large pieces and refrigerated or put on ice immediately after skinning. If the air temperature is consistently below 40 degrees F, then the animal can hang in a shed or garage out of direct sunlight.

Keep a clean camp

Food safety should be considered at the hunting camp as well. Perishable foods should be kept in refrigeration. If coolers are being used, separate coolers with ice are recommended for raw meat and eggs, other perishable foods that are ready to eat (cheese, milk, juice, etc.) and beverages.

Don’t forget that beginning this year, deer hunters are required to report a successful harvest within 72 hours or before transferring possession of the deer to another person, processor, or taxidermist. Harvest reporting will allow the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to obtain real time data on the number of deer harvested which helps the department make decisions about deer herd management, better assess hunter activity, and will help in determining disease prevalence rates, such a s CWD, more accurately. Information that is collected from the harvest survey is not public and would only be utilized when specifically required by law. Hunters can receive technical assistance to report their harvest over the phone by identifying their closest DNR customer service center location and calling the phone number listed for that location.

For more information on safe home venison processing and other deer related topics, visit Michigan State University Extension’s chronic wasting disease website.

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