Extension Agent: Food safety tips for hunters
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Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly estimate that about one in six Americans will get sick from eating contaminated food either at home or at food service establishments. With hunting season in full swing, Food Protection Management specialists at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and our office in Victoria County, want to share 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 and when you are in the field, it is worth the effort to take extra time to handle carcasses with care when field dressing.
Some things to consider: wear gloves when field dressing, remove all internal organs, discard any meat that is bruised, discolored, contaminated with feces or intestinal contents, contains hair, dirt or bone fragments and remove any bloodshot areas or meat that was in contact with the bullet.
Also, as much as possible, avoid contact with intestines, spinal tissues and lymph nodes of animals while you work, and be sure to remove all foreign particles and loose hair. Household knives or utensils are not as well designed as knives specifically manufactured for field dressing.
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 similar approved area.
Processing, storing wild game
According to Rebecca Dittmar, program specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Food Protection Management, we need to be aware of cross contamination and temperature abuse during processing as both will cause the meat to go bad.
It is important to cool carcasses quickly, keep them cool during transport and keep them out of direct sunlight. One way to cool the carcass is by propping the chest open with a clean stick and allowing air to circulate.
Be mindful to always thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment used in the processing of the animal. Though it may take extra time and preparation, it is best to 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. If you are planning some of the meat for immediate use, store meat in the lower shelves of the refrigerator, protect other fresh products or produce from drips and spills and use within a few days.
If you plan more long-term preservation like freezing, go ahead and divide the meat into smaller meal-sized portions and then package with a recommended moisture-proof wrap, such as laminated freezer wrap, heavy duty aluminum foil or freezer-weight polyethylene bags for freezing meat products, taking care to remove as much air out of the packages prior to sealing them.
One thing that is very helpful and can come in handy as you begin to fill the freezer with the bounty of your hunts is the recommendation that you label the packages with contents and date of processing.
As you can see, this can be a complex process.
For more help and information on safe handling of wild game products, contact the Victoria County Extension Office at 361-575-4581 or email me at Erika.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erika Bochat is a Victoria County extension agent-Family and Consumer Sciences.