You bagged the buck - now what?

Food safety is just as important as preparing for the hunt.

The crisp weather of November brings a stir to the deer hunter’s blood. It is almost time for the “big” hunt. Hunters have set their sights on the wild game that they are preparing to bring home. They are sighting in their guns, stocking their hunting camp, and preparing their gear before venturing into the woods for the elusive buck.

Food safety is just as important to the hunt, as the preparation and anticipation of bringing home some meat. E.coli and salmonella are two bacteria that could be potential food borne illness problems, if the meat is not handled properly. Another food safety issue is the bovine tuberculosis, which has a negative impact on the health of the animal and the potential harvest.

For the best possible flavor of the meat, there are some important ideas to remember about handling the meat in the field, as well as butchering and storing the meat carefully. A common food safety mistake is allowing the meat to become contaminated with fecal material during the gutting process. The quality of the game meat depends largely on how well prepared and efficient the hunter is in the field.

For deer it is important to eviscerate the animal as soon as it is dead. It is important to be careful not to cut into the intestines because fecal material, a source of E. coli, will contaminate the meat. By eviscerating the animal, it will become lighter and easier to handle.

It is important to start the cooling process quickly. Cooling the deer quickly and keeping it cold, is vital in preventing food borne illness. The carcasss needs to cool to 40 degrees Fahrenheit as soon as possible. If the outdoor temperature is warm, cool the body cavity by packing it with ice. The best way to cool the carcass is to get the carcass to a meat cooler the day of the kill.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has compiled a venison-processing booklet to aid hunters in minimizing the risk of contamination by food borne illness pathogens. The guide details how to avoid zoonotic diseases such as Bovine Tuberculosis.

The booklet, How to Field-dress a White-tailed Deer, is available at the Michigan Department of Agriculture website.

Michigan State University Extension recommends following safe food handling practices:

Wash hands, utensils, and food contact surfaces often with hot soapy water, rinsing with hot water and sanitizing the area, especially before and after handling the meat. Hold the meat at or below 40° Fahrenheit at all times. If the meat will not be consumed or processed within three to five days the meat should be frozen. Meat should be thawed in the refrigerator. never thaw at room temperature. Use a food thermometer when cooking meat to be sure the food has reached an internal temperature hot enough to destroy any harmful microorganism that may cause food borne illness. Ground and fresh venison should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F. With a little planning ahead of time, providing safe, freshly harvested, venison for the family table can be a satisfying experience.

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