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Food safe practices for hunters

October 6, 2018

In culinary terms, “venison” can be meat from deer, elk, moose, caribou, antelope, and pronghorn. Deer live in woodlands all over Europe, Asia, northern Africa and America. The meat is lean and has a gamey flavor that can be made milder if soaked overnight.

Elk meat tastes like mild (almost sweet) beef, with only a very faint venison flavor. Elk can be substituted equally for venison in most standard venison recipes. Elk are from North America, Europe, and Asia.

Because their diets and activity levels are not the same as that of domestic animals and poultry, the meat of farm-raised game animals has a different flavor—stronger than domesticated species and milder than wild game. The factors that determine the meat’s quality include the age of the animal (younger animals are more tender), the animal’s diet, and the time of year the animal was harvested. (The best is in the fall, after a plentiful spring and summer feeding.)

Equally important is how the animal was handled in the field. The animal should be eviscerated within an hour of harvest, and the meat refrigerated within a few hours. Meat is damaged (and sometimes ruined) if it is not dressed, transported, and chilled properly.

In general, wild game is less tender than meat from domestic animals because the wild animals get more exercise and have less fat. Any fat is generally bad tasting and should be removed. For maximum tenderness, most game meat should be cooked slowly and not overdone. It can be cooked with moist heat by braising or with dry heat by roasting. Ways to keep game moist include basting, larding, or barding, which is wrapping a piece of fat around the meat to add fat while cooking.

Food safe practices:

As with any perishable meat, poultry, or fish, harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7, can be found on raw or undercooked game. They live in the intestinal tracts of game, livestock, poultry, dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded animals, and must be eaten to cause illness.

Bacteria multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone” — temperatures between 40 and 140 °F. Cross-contamination can occur if raw meat or its juices come in contact with cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as salad. Freezing does not kill bacteria. Cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature kills bacteria: cook steaks, roasts, and chops to “medium” (160°F) or “medium well” (170°F) and ground meat to 160°F testing with an instant-read or digital thermometer.

Wild game is relatively simple to preserve for later meals. Pressure canning, drying, and freezing are all food safe methods to prepare venison for later use. Contact your local extension office for recipes and guides to purchase or visit National Center for Home Food Preservation for more details. Source: Big Game for Hunt to Home PNW517.


Julie Buck, EdD, RDN, is a registered dietitian, food safety and health educator employed at the University of Idaho Extension, Bingham County. She can be reached at (208)785-8060 or jhbuck@uidaho.edu.