Caution And Cleanliness Helps Hunters Avoid Illness from Venison

Simple Steps Fight Contamination and Bacteria

In Michigan, almost 700,000 hunters enjoy the annual fall rite of deer hunting. While most hunters are aware of the risks involved with using firearms and tree stands, they also need to understand the risk of food borne illness from improperly prepared venison.

Bow hunting season is underway amid warm temperatures and there has been warm weather during firearm season the past several years. Warm weather can quickly make venison inedible if not handled properly. Deer can contain harmful bacteria such as the E. coli strain, which produces a potent toxin and can cause severe illness.

“This time of year media and hunters discuss hunting safety issues such as heart attack risks, falls from tree stands and basic firearm safety,” said Philip Henderson, MD, an internal medicine specialist for Spectrum Health Primary Care Partners. “However, you don’t hear much about keeping meat clean and cold. Last year more than 480,000 deer were harvested in Michigan, so it’s likely more than one hunter was sickened by poor handling techniques.”

An avid deer hunter, Henderson personally knows the importance of cleaning and cooling the animal after a kill. “Quickly and properly field dressing a deer then cooling it quickly to between 35 and 40 degrees is important. Poor field dressing can allow stomach or intestinal contents to contaminate the meat. Bacteria multiply rapidly above 40 degrees, so you have to cool your deer or get it to a processor with a cooler quickly.”

Hunters should keep in mind the following tips on venison preparation from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the Michigan State University Extension:

Field dressing/transporting/processing:

  • Wear disposable plastic gloves to reduce risk of disease exposure
  • Remove entrails immediately
  • Avoid cutting paunch and intestines; bacteria associated with food borne illness may be found in these organs.
  • Remove dirt, feces, hair and bloodshot areas
  • Clean your knife frequently with clean water, pre-moistened wipes, or alcohol swabs; avoid dragging bacteria into the meat
  • Wipe out the cavity with paper towels; aid air circulation by propping it open with a clean stick
  • If you wash the cavity with water, dry it quickly to prevent spoilage
  • Cool quickly to 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit; bacteria multiply rapidly between 40-140 degrees
  • Ice/snow sealed in plastic bags and packed into the cavity aid cooling
  • Keep the carcass out of direct sunlight
  • Skinning helps cool the carcass faster
  • When deboning, discard the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen and lymph nodes

Care in the kitchen:

  • Clean your hands, cooking utensils and surfaces frequently
  • Don’t cross-contaminate by using the same utensils and surfaces without proper cleaning for cooked and uncooked foods
  • Freezing will not kill bacteria.  Cook until internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees
  • Chill by refrigerating promptly

Freeze game properly:

  • Freeze no more than four pounds per cubic foot of freezer space within 24 hours
  • Use food grade containers/wraps-no garbage bags
  • Never thaw meat at room temperature

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and Priority Health, a health plan with nearly 500,000 members. Spectrum Health’s 14,000 employees, 1,500 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need.  The organization provided $111.1 million in community benefit during its 2008 fiscal year. As a system, Spectrum Health has earned more than 100 awards during the past 10 years.