By: Pooja Sharma
With the hunting season under way, there is a need for hunters and retail food establishments to follow safe procedures to handle, process and prepare deer properly. By following safe handling and processing protocols, you can easily minimize your risk of foodborne illnesses.
What is Venison?
Venison is basically the meat of the deer. It can be used to refer to any part of the deer as long as it can be consumed, including the flesh and the internal organs. Venison can be eaten as roast, jerky, sausages, steak, minced meat, etc.
If you are going hunting – it is a good idea to pack these items with you:
- A sharp knife
- A small hatchet
- Rope or nylon cord
- A whetstone or steel for sharpening
- Rubber bands
- Clean cloths / paper towels
- Disposable gloves for dressing
- Clean drinking water
- A large cooler full of ice or snow; and
- (Most importantly) sealable storage bags.
Wear disposable gloves and make sure you have clean hands always while handling the deer. It will help reduce the risk of cross contamination of potential pathogens. Have a washing station near you with a disinfectant, water, and paper towels as a part of your hunting gear.
Use clean water, alcohol swabs, or some disposable wipes to clean off the knife as you cut down. This will avoid cross contaminating bacteria into the meat.
Start with the cutting by putting the carcass in position. Spread the hind legs, elevate the front legs, and start to cut around the backside. You need to tie it off with some rope, cord or rubber bands to prevent the feces from contaminating the deer meat. The feces are a home to many pathogens, like E. coli. So, this step is too important to ignore.
Frequently cleaning the knife, make the cut along the middle from the breastbone. Do not cut the paunch and intestines as they are a source to pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses, too.
If the organs look fishy – produce green discharge, black blood, or have blood clots in them, then discard the carcass altogether and safely.
Wipe the cavity with paper towels and hang the carcass for proper air circulation. If you are washing the cavities, then dry it off immediately to prevent spoilage. Keep the carcass out of direct sunlight.
Next, pull out the variety of meats and store them in a storage bag. You should refrigerate or store them in an ice box immediately at around 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The hide should be left on carcass during transportation to protect the meat from contamination and drying.
Transporting and Processing Tips
- Keep the carcass cool while processing.
- Keep it out of sunlight.
- Allow for adequate air circulation.
- Processing should be done by businesses who are equipped with fully refrigerated facilities.
- Frequently clean your knife to avoid any cross contamination.
- Keep the facility area clean, always.
To freeze the meat, cut it into small meal size portions. Use proper plastic storage bags, freezer wraps, or vacuum bags to store the meat. Wrap it tightly and remove all the air before freezing.
Label the packages and then space them out to allow proper air circulation.
Once the packages are properly frozen (within 24 hours), it is better you restack them within the freezer.
You should not refreeze thawed products.
You should always store raw meat away from fruits, vegetables, cooked foods etc. It is very easy to contaminate the fresh food by the juices from raw food. This is why it is also not advised to wash raw meat in your sink or counter.
Marinades are actually very important as it helps to cover up the ‘gamey’ flavor of the venison. It also helps to tenderize and enhance the flavor of the venison. Use a high acid liquid for marinating – like lemon juice, tomato juice, vinegar, wine etc.
Marinating should not be done at room temperature. You should marinate the meat in a closed container in a refrigerator.
Thawing the meat should not be done at room temperature too just like marinating. It should be done in ice water, refrigerator or in a microwave. Many pathogens multiply mercilessly at room temperature, so it is never safe to leave meat around at room temperature for a long time even after cooking.
Venison should be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. You should check the temperature using a thermometer. You can have the meat after it has reached 160 degrees regardless of what color it still has, which might be a little pinkish.
Venison stews, soups, casseroles must reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cooking tips for Venison
Deer meat is comparatively leaner, less tender and drier than the beef. Meat along the backbone and high on upper hind legs are the tenderest. Cook tender cuts using dry cooking methods like frying, boiling or grilling. Cook tougher cuts using low moist cooking method like braising.
If you are cooking using a slow cooker, make sure to divide the meat into small pieces and heat for one hour to maintain proper temperature. Do not lift the lid in the middle as slow cooker takes 20 minutes to recover the heat.
Diseases That Can Spread Through Venison
Bovine TB is an infectious disease that affects the lymph glands of throat and lungs of affected animals. The bacteria can pass out from the animal’s body through breath or discharges from nose and mouth. And thus, can transfer to humans by inhalation or ingestion of the bacteria.
Human Foodborne Illnesses – E. coli, Campylobacter, etc.
These are food poisoning diseases which can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps etc. These pathogens generally live inside the intestine of the animals and can infect the meat if it is not handled or cooked properly.
Chronic Wasting Disease
Chronic wasting disease is a contagious neurological disease that affects cattle, deer, elk, moose, etc. There is still research going on to detect whether the disease has the potential to spread to humans. Even CDC advises the consumers to avoid meat from deer infected by this disease.