Whether you’re just out hunting, or find yourself in a wilderness survival scenario, there are a few things you should know about processing and cooking wild game to avoid disease or sickness.
We’ve tapped the knowlege and expertise of the American Veterinary Medicine Association for you. While some may turn to hunting or outdoors magazines, we thought we would turn to the AVMA for two reasons: 1) they are medical professionals who deal with sick animals daily and 2) they specialize in animal biology & disease process.
Since disease is the main topic of discussion here, we were pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of good knowledge on their site, specifically for hunters (and anyone else eating wild game) regarding the different types of diseases that exist, and how to mitigate that risk. Some of the AVMA’s common sense guidlines are:
Avoid hunting if you are feeling ill. People are more prone to disease if their immune systems are weakened by other illnesses or conditions.
Take precautions to minimize insect bites.
Do not handle or eat wild game or fowl that appeared ill or were acting in an abnormal manner before they were killed.
Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning wild fowl or game.
Always protect your hands with gloves (heavy rubber, latex, or nitrile) when field dressing wild game or fowl.
Do not use the same utensils to clean different species.
If there are any old wounds on the carcass, and especially if there is pus present, meat in this area should be removed and discarded.
A large area of tissue around the wound and pus pockets should also be cut away with the wound, even if the tissue looks normal, because it can still harbor infection.
If any abnormalities are seen in the chest or abdominal cavity of the carcass, consider disposing of the entire carcass.
Minimize contact with brain or spinal tissues. When boning out the carcass, keep both the head and spine intact.
Do not cut into the head of any antlered animal that showed abnormal behavior, even to remove the rack.
When removing antlers from a healthy animal, use a hand saw rather than a power saw, and always wear safety glasses.
Avoid abdominal shots because they lead to contamination of the meat and can cause the animal needless suffering.
If any intestinal contents of the game come into contact with meat, the meat should be considered contaminated and should be cut off and discarded.
Do not feed the contaminated meat to other animals, or they may become infected.
Large game should be shot with a clean, humane kill shot, preferably avoiding the abdomen, followed quickly by removal of the intestines; this minimizes the risk of intestinal contents contaminating the meat.
If any of the intestines have an abnormal smell or discharge, or if pockets of blood are seen in the muscle unassociated with the bullet/shot/arrow wound, the flesh should be considered unfit for eating.
The abdominal cavity should be cleaned, dried and cooled until the meat is processed. During warm weather (over 65° F, or 18.3 C), bags of ice should be placed in the body cavity to hasten cooling.
The carcass should be protected against flies.
Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer immediately after handling wild game or fowl, including the tissues and meat.
Wash tools, equipment and working surfaces (including tables and cutting boards) thoroughly with soap and water, followed by disinfection immediately after handling any wild game or fowl.
Adding a minimum of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water is usually adequate for use as a cleaning/disinfecting solution.
If you prepare your own ground meat, thoroughly clean and disinfect all equipment after use.
Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.
Always cook wild meat until the juices run clear and the meat is no longer pink in color (generally 150-180°F [65.6 – 82.2 C], depending on the type of meat). This will reduce the risk of food-borne disease.
Because the color of the meat is not always a reliable indicator of proper cooking, use of a meat thermometer is highly recommended for safety.
Extra attention to the internal temperature should be used when cooking with a microwave oven.
Cook wild birds thoroughly – any cooked bird should reach an internal temperature of 165°F (73.9 C) or higher to make sure that organisms and parasites are killed and are no longer infective.
Granted, some of the points on this partial list may not apply to a wilderness setting, and certainly not a bona fide survival situation, but let’s not squabble and split hairs about that. Let’s focus on the points that do, good to go?
One thing I’d like to see people take into the wilderness that the AVMA mentions, are nitrile surgical gloves. Not only are they good in a medical scenario, but they can be used when skinning/dressing to protect from disease, and worn under your regular gloves to trap heat in cold environments. (I use that last technique as a firefighter when its cold and we’re doing vehicle extrication of patients, trust me, it traps heat)
As always, these are suggestions, and its up to you to make good decisions in the wilderness. Be smart, be ready, and never, ever, give up.
Ne te quaesiveris extra.