What's on your dinner plate?
Fall is fast approaching and for many hunting enthusiasts in the commonwealth, the season can't come soon enough, particularly if you like to hunt deer. Venison as a protein source is gaining ground in many households. The nutritional value of venison out performs red meat in leanness, less fat and overall calories. Venison is high in essential amino acids and in addition, a rich source of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, iron, and zinc. Venison meat is a perfect choice of protein for those who suffer from cardiovascular disease and are searching for low cholesterol and saturated fat protein choices.
Much of the venison consumed in Pennsylvania is harvested annually through hunting. In order to ensure the meat is of wholesomeness quality, hunters should prepare in advance to keep the meat safe. So how is wild game at risk for contamination? It starts at the time of harvest from the field. Field dressing any wild game requires important pre-planning strategies. For example, harvesting deer in the fall requires attention to temperature control of the warm carcass when outside temperatures rise above 41 degrees. Improperly handling or lack of temperature control will allow those natural pathogens the opportunity to grow, resulting in highly contaminated meat that may impose serious health risks.
In addition to monitoring and maintaining temperature control, we need to focus on cross contamination. Understandably, the environment that we make the harvest from is a source of contamination. There are actions to minimize this risk during field dressing wild game. One should plan to take paper towels or plastic to place down as a barrier between the ground and tools, minimizing the risk for cross-contamination. A plastic drop cloth serves as a great barrier. Carrying a pair of disposable plastic gloves is a good practice. Always consider protecting yourself from the possible risks of contracting a foodborne pathogen, especially if you have any open wounds on the hand. Carry some prepackaged alcohol wipes to wash your hands before, during and after removing the entrails.
When the outside temperature is above 41 degrees, consider taking coolers packed with either bags or blocks of ice. If you're working with small game remove the hide as quickly as possible to allow the carcass to cool quickly when surrounded by ice. Large game should have the hide removed quickly after harvest if the outside temperature is above 41 degrees F. The worst practice to perform and often seen is wrapping large game in plastic or a tarp to keep it clean when transporting it. Wrapping the carcass only traps the heat leading the internal temperature of the meat to remain in the temperature danger zone of 41-135 degrees F. If at all possible, try packing the internal cavity with bags of ice to cool the carcass down. The longer you let the carcass remain at temperatures above 41 degrees F from the time of harvest till the time of processing, the greater risk for foodborne pathogens to grow and become dangerous.
The carcass should be cut within seven days after harvest if it was chilled rapidly and sooner if warmer temperatures prevail. For best flavor, limit fresh venison to eight months of frozen storage and seasoned and cured venison to four months of frozen storage. The next time you go hunting, plan for the safety of the meat you harvest. As you know, it takes a lot of work, time and patience to be successful in your hunt and the last thing you would want is to mishandle the meat, leading to a foodborne illness.