Wild Game Safety & Handling

With wild game season upon us and seasonal weather, it is important to take precautions in handling your game meat. Teton County Environmental Health professionals say proper handling will result in "safe food" for your family.

Bleeding and evisceration of the game animal should occur as quickly as possible. The body temperature of the animal may be 100°F or higher, if the animal has been stressed. The goal is to get the animal dressed, skinned, trimmed, washed and cooled down to 41°F (or less) as soon as possible to ensure safe food for your family. Environmental Health Technician, Sara Budge, comments, "Large game animals, such as elk and moose, can be challenging to cool down quickly due to their thick body mass. It is important to have adequate air circulation around the carcass to aid in cooling." If the cool-down process takes too long, spoilage can occur.

If a person processes their own meat, then clean hands and equipment are the first step. "It is critical to trim away any questionable areas of blood, bone, or bullet fragments, and contamination," says Budge. Packaged meat should be placed in a freezer as soon as possible.

Meat Processor

If a person does not process their own game meat, a reliable licensed meat processor should be selected. A licensed meat processing establishment will have the proper facility to be able to handle game meat in a sanitary manner. "Beware of friends or associates that say they will process your meat cheaper," states Budge. They may not have a proper facility to control the growth of bacteria, which can cause illness.

Handwashing

Proper meat processing facilities, which follow Wyoming Food Safety Rule requirements, are equipped with walk-in coolers, walk-in freezers, handwashing sinks and product washing sinks; all which aid in controlling bacterial growth. Budge states, "Bacteria, such as E. coli, must be controlled to prevent food borne illness." A person can ask a meat operator to see their food license, issued by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.

Budge says, "Also, to ensure safe food when preparing and cooking game meat, avoid cross contamination with other foods by washing hands and surfaces that have come into contact with the raw meat." Budge continues, "Clean hands and equipment are important when preparing any meal."

Cooking Meat Thoroughly

The last step in ensuring safe meals is to thoroughly cook all wild game meat to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher. Food thermometers are available locally at hardware, grocery, and discount stores.

Further Information

When a hunter considers these factors in handling the game animal, his/her family are sure to enjoy the meal. To learn more about safe food handling and local education available, contact Mary Martin at the County Extension office, 307-733-3087, or Sara at Teton County Environmental Health, 307-732-8490.

Extension Column: October 15, 2002 by: Guest Columnist, Sherry Maston, Consumer Health Specialist, Wyoming Department of Agriculture

Freezers will soon be filled with wild game meat. There are some important steps to take to ensure the game meat remains safe. First, hunters need to choose a healthy-looking animal to bag. There is a potential for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer and elk. The disease is more prevalent in the southeast Wyoming areas. A testing program is available for CWD and should be utilized for safety precautions.

Preparing Fresh Game Meat

Hunters need to wear disposable gloves while eviscerating (gutting) the animal. Also, in order to prevent the spread of the prion that causes the disease, knives or saws used to sever the spinal cord need to be cleaned and sanitized with a 50/50 bleach water solution. After removing the head, place the knife or saw in a container of bleach water. Mixed properly, the bleach solution will sanitize equipment.

Wash hands and wear gloves to remove the hide, using a clean sanitized knife. Trim any visible contaminants such as hair or debris from the carcass. Wash the carcass thoroughly after trimming.

Wild game carcasses need to be cooled quickly to prevent microbial growth. Cooling can be quite challenging for larger animals such as elk and moose. Proper air circulation around the carcass will aid in cooling. If hunters process their own deer or elk, it is better to make all boneless cuts because of Chronic Wasting Disease. Bone-in cuts are acceptable with other game species.

Remove any lymph nodes within the game meat, while processing. Deer and elk have lymph nodes in the neck and hind round area.

Freezing Meat

Package and freeze game meat immediately after processing. When thawing meat, do not leave it at room temperature. Room temperature thawing promotes the growth of microorganisms, which could cause food borne illness. Placing frozen meat on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator is the best method for thawing.

Personal Hygiene

Wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat. Practicing good personal hygiene is always important in food safety. Cross contamination must be prevented. Raw meats or soiled surfaces from raw meats must not come into contact with other foods. Equipment and surfaces can be cleaned and sanitized by washing with soapy water, rinsing, and then sanitizing with a chlorine sanitizing solution, mixed at one tablespoon bleach per gallon of water. Note that this bleach solution is at a different strength than what is required to sanitize equipment that might come into contact with a prion-causing Chronic Wasting Disease.

Cooking Temperature

Wild game meats must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate microorganisms that cause illness. Proper cooking is important for any food. If there are leftovers, be sure to place them in the refrigerator immediately to start the cooling process. Leftovers need to be cooled quickly when passing through the temperature danger zone, 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

If hunters and their households practice these food safety tips, family meals are sure to be enjoyed without the unpleasantness of food borne illness. This column is provided by the Wyoming Food Safety Coalition which is dedicated to promoting Wyoming's safe food supply.

For additional information, contact your local consumer health specialist, Sherry Maston at 307-322-9671.