GAME MEAT FIELD FOOD SAFETY
Harvesting quality game meat is usually at least part of the reason most hunters go out hunting. But under even the best conditions, game meat simply doesn’t have the same set variables that regularly processed meat gets.
Wild game isn’t monitored for health; they aren’t fed a steady diet by scientists and they don’t receive antibiotics like farm raised meat animals. Furthermore, the game we dispatch isn’t harvested in the perfect environment for top quality food safety. We are often in the dark, on the ground and in less than ideal environmental conditions when we are field dressing the game.
Planning is everything
Planning literally is everything. We should know how to do the field dressing work; we should understand what we plan to pack in and what we plan to pack out (which parts of the animal should be left, and which should be taken). We should have the proper tools for the field butchery before we even engage an animal. In many modern hunts, we can carry a full field dressed animal a short distance to a facility for processing, and this should be part of our planning too: what happens after we leave?
Proper equipment for safe game meat handling
· Disposable or rubber gloves
· Rope or Polycord
· A proper knife with a hook if needed for dressing
· Enough Game Bags
· Separate bags for offal
· Clean rags and paper towels
· A couple of tarps or something to wrap the meat portions
· A saw for game prep
Proper cooling and packaging of game meat for safety
Using game bags to transport to a cooling location will be important, as plastic can hold in heat and cause meat spoilage. Air circulation and cool transport is important: the drier the meat the better.
If you must process the meat in the open with insects, you can use spices like black pepper to discourage flies if you cannot immediately wrap the meat. You can also use citric acid which can be bought in bulk cheaply and which doesn’t really affect the flavor of game meats, to keep flies away and lower oxidization.
The main point here is to get the meat chilled as soon as possible. Commercial butchers under ideal circumstances have mandates that require many days of chilling/freezing the meat at the time of butchering, to avoid risk of bacteria. Hunters should utilize a similar approach in thought. As a rule of thumb the quicker you can get dry meat into the freezer the better.
The process of chilling the meat and then wrapping it properly is equally important. The threshold for stopping the growth of bacteria is lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some basic notes:
· The enemy to freshly killed game meat is the animal’s own blood; the animal’s organs and exposure to additional moisture
· We as humans can introduce bacteria to the meat by improper handling
· Do not puncture the stomach or allow intestines or internal organs to open up onto the meat – not only will it keep you breathing well, it will avoid the worst type of contamination there is: fecal matter and already active bacteria
· Don’t harvest meat with cysts or growths, use a wide berth, and cut them out of the meat you intend on packing out
· Avoid eating raw game meat in general
· Cool the meat to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit as quickly as possible and keep any portions you aren’t planning on preserving additionally, or eating right away, properly packaged and frozen until use
If we are with a guide, we know most of the work and experience is going to be supported heavily by their local understanding and their experience with the given animal. They may even do the butchery and field work themselves to save time and ensure a good outcome.
But for the times when we are the field butcher, we need to understand how important proper techniques, understanding of foodborne bacteria, and proper handling and transport of meat can affect the safety of the game meat we are eating.
Utilizing best practices and knowing beforehand what we expect to do and how we plan on doing it, will virtually eliminate most of the risk we face through consumption of game meat. Common sense when preparing the meat for eating later on, will ensure we are only eating meat we are confident in the safety of.