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Deer hunters should keep food safety
in their sights

Eileen Yager, Communications Officer, Extension & Ag Information, University of Missouri,


Deer hunters devote hours planning for the hunt, scouting out the ideal spot and then spending hours in a stand waiting for a deer. If food safety is not part of those plans, however, hunters might as well have stayed out of the woods.

Hunters who train their sights on a few simple food safety steps will end up with a freezer full of venison instead of a breeding ground for food-borne illnesses, according to a meat scientist at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Andrew Clarke, an MU associate professor of food science, said the key is cooling the carcass as quickly as possible.

“Getting the carcass cooled is really simple,” said Clarke. “Hunters can purchase some big bags of ice and pack the chest cavity, or they can break up the carcass and pack the parts in a cooler filled with ice.

“I know from experience, there have been some pretty warm hunting seasons,” said Clarke, who is a hunter himself. The forecast for the first week of firearms hunting season, which begins Nov. 12, is for mild, sunny weather.

Hunters should have clean, potable water to clean the cavity. Clarke said hunters also can use an organic rinse containing 2 percent acetic acid to reduce bacterial contamination. The rinse can be made by diluting 2 parts of distilled white vinegar in five parts of clean water.

Deer should be field dressed on site, and hunters should examine the animal’s overall condition, said Sarah Janicek, an extension associate in food safety with MU Extension nutrition education programs.

Janicek said the meat should be firm, deep reddish-purple and free of blood spots -- a sign of previous gunshot wounds. Deer that lookly sickly or behave abnormally should be reported to a conservation agent, who can arrange for a replacement permit.

Hunters also should examine the organs for parasites while field dressing the deer. Clarke recommends wearing rubber gloves while handling the deer “to limit exposure to the small critters” -- a precaution against wildlife-borne diseases and parasites.

Though there are few official reports of food-borne illnesses caused by deer, Clarke suspects the number of cases are underreported, since many hunters process their own meat.

“Most people don’t get sick. But if it’s your deer, it’s your problem,” Clarke said, which is why he recommends taking the deer a commercial locker on the same day it’s killed. “They can get the hide off and get it into a cooler.”

But for many hunters, processing their deer is as much a part of the experience as the hunt itself. Clarke said hunters should take great care in processing the carcass to prevent spoilage.

Hang the deer and allow it drain, checking the cavity for any pockets where water may have collected during the rinsing process, he said.

He recommends that the deer be aged for no more than a week, especially if aging outdoors where conditions are poorly controlled.

Weather conditions can have the most impact on the meat’s quality. “Parking it in the sun on a 70-degree day is not a good idea,” he said. “If the temperature is too high, you could have some bacterial growth.”

Ideally, daytime temperatures should be in the 40s and 50s in the shade and in the 20s or low 30s at night. ‘You can even have a little temperature fluctuation during the day,” Clarke said, “because the carcass will retain some of the cooler temperature from at night.”

By keeping food safety in mind this deer season, hunters will be rewarded for those long hours in the woods with fresh venison on the table.



Andrew Clarke,

Sarah Janicek, Former Nutrition Extension Associate



Last Updated 10/25/2007










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