Safe Preservation of Venison

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Posted: November 14, 2012

Safe preservation of venison begins in the field.

Care must be taken to avoid contamination of the meat while dressing, handling, and transporting it. Field dress the deer as soon as possible and quickly cool the carcass to 35 to 40°F. Transport the carcass to a processing facility as soon as possible and keep it cool during transport. Practice cleanliness; wash your hands, knife, and cutting boards frequently with warm, soapy water.

As of October 2012, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has not been detected in Pennsylvania’s wild deer population. However, CWD has been detected in a captive deer in Adams County Pennsylvania, as well as in wild deer in other states, including ones bordering Pennsylvania. Harvest only healthy looking deer and avoid eating the eyes, brain, spinal cord, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of any deer.

Freezing is the easiest way to preserve venison. Catherine Cutter, associate professor of food science and food safety Extension specialist at Penn State, gives the following suggestions for freezing venison. Cut and package into meal-size portions. Wrap the meat tightly in heavily waxed paper, freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil, or plastic freezer storage bags. Remove all the air from the bag or wrap before sealing. Space packages in the freezer to allow proper air circulation so that the meat freezes quickly. After packages are solidly frozen, restack them to save space.

Properly wrapped venison can be stored in the freezer for 9 to 12 months. To avoid quality deterioration, do not refreeze thawed products. Thaw all frozen meats in the refrigerator or microwave and use immediately. Cook venison, including jerky, to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

Many people enjoy canned venison because the processing breaks down the muscle tissue making it very tender. Venison, like all meats, is a low acid food and must be processed in a pressure canner at the proper pressure and time. Boiling water bath processing, even for an extended period of time, will not provide enough heat to destroy bacterial spores that can cause illness.

Venison is canned like beef. Choose high quality, chilled meat. Remove excess fat. Strong-flavored wild meats can be soaked for 1 hour in brine made from 1 tablespoon salt per quart of water. Rinse the meat. Cut into 1 inch wide strips, cubes or chunks. You have a choice of packing it into jars hot or raw. To raw pack the venison, simply pack the raw venison in hot jars allowing 1 inch headspace. Do not add liquid. To hot pack venison, pre-cook it to the rare stage by roasting, stewing or browning in a small amount of fat. Pack the hot meat loosely into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace. Fill the jar to 1 inch from the top with boiling meat juices, cooking broth, water, or tomato juice. Tomato juice is especially desirable for masking the strong flavor of venison. Another option is to add a slice of onion. One-half teaspoon salt per pint may be added for flavor if desired. Remove air bubbles; wipe jar rims; and adjust lids. Process in a dial gauge pressure canner at 11 pounds pressure or a weighted gauge pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure. Make pressure adjustments for high altitudes. Process pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes.

Ground venison may be canned, although freezing gives a higher quality product. Add one part high quality pork fat to three or four parts venison before grinding. Shape the ground meat into patties or balls and cook until lightly browned. It may also be sautéed without shaping. Remove excess fat. Pack hot meat loosely into hot jars and cover with liquid and process the same as for venison strips or chunks.

Venison that you plan to use fresh must be refrigerated and used within two or three days. Marinate all meats in the refrigerator and not at room temperature.

For more information read “Proper Care and Handling of Venison from Field to Table” and “Proper Processing of Wild Game and Fish”. You can also obtain a copy of the “Field Dressing Deer Pocket Guide”.