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 deer to venison starts before you sit quietly in the woods waiting for the big buck to approach and successfully harvesting the deer. Proper field dressing and butchering your venison is key to providing a wholesome product to eat. A series of videos are available from Michigan State University Extension 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 also 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, clean your knife often between cuts using clean water or disposable wipes.

Cool the carcass

Cooling the carcass quickly to less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit 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 is not sufficient enough to cool down the carcass fast enough. Once the gutted carcass is transported back to the hunting camp or home, hang the carcass 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 F, cut the carcass into large pieces and refrigerate or put on ice immediately after skinning. If the air temperature is consistently below 40 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.

For more information on safe home venison processing and other deer related topics, visit MSU Extension’s Chronic Wasting Disease website.

Did you find this article useful?