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Maggie Jover: Hunters should know food safety

Wild game is a low-fat, high-protein alternative to farm-raised beef, pork or poultry. But it is important that the hunter makes sure the meat is handled and processed safely.

Improper handling can lead to an unpleasant and sometimes even deadly foodborne illness. Wild game is likely to carry bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, as well as parasites, which can be passed on to humans through contact or consumption.

Food safety issues can arise before the first shot (if the animal is diseased) all the way through transport, aging, butchering and preparation of the meat. With hunting season just around the corner, below are a few tips to keep your harvested food safe this season.


In the field

First, never shoot, handle or consume any wild animal that appears sick. Contamination can occur at any point during the processing of wild game.

Take extra time and handle carcasses with care when field dressing. Some things to consider: Wear gloves when field dressing. Remove all internal organs, and discard any meat that is bruised, discolored, contaminated with feces or intestinal contents, contains hair, dirt or bone fragments. Re­move any bloodshot areas or meat that was in contact with the bullet. Also, avoid contact with intestines, spinal tissues and lymph nodes of animals while you work.

Do not use household knives or utensils; use knives designed for field dressing. Be sure to remove all foreign particles and loose hair.

When cleaning up in the field, be sure to properly dispose of the hide and remaining parts of the animal in an offal pit or in an approved area.


Processing and storing

Be aware of cross contamination and temperature abuse, as both will cause the meat to go bad. Cool carcasses quickly, keep them cool during transport and keep them out of direct sunlight.

Cool the carcass by propping the chest open with a clean stick and allowing air to circulate. Thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment used in the processing of the animal. Wash your hands, knife and cutting boards often with warm soapy water.

Packaging and storing meat is very important in the overall quality of the product. For immediate use, store meat in the refrigerator and use within a few days. If freezing, divide the meat into smaller portions then package. It is recommended to use moisture-proof wrap such as heavy wax paper, laminated freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer-weight polyethylene bags for freezing meat products. Make sure to get all the air out of the packages prior to sealing them. Be sure to label the packages with contents and date. 

Being a responsible hunter requires attention to safety from the hunt to how the meat is handled at each step. Being prepared and knowledgeable of proper guidelines will help ensure the quality, safety and ultimate satisfaction in eating one’s catch.

For more information about food safety, call the Denton County office of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 940-349-2882.

MAGGIE JOVER is the family and consumer sciences extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. She can be reached at 940-349-2882.