COLUMBIA, Mo.–Despite outbreaks of hemorrhagic disease in deer across Missouri and concerns about chronic wasting disease, handling and eating venison poses very little risk if people observe common-sense safety precautions when harvesting, processing and preparing deer.
Humans are not at risk from the viruses that cause hemorrhagic disease (HD) in deer, and currently there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease (CWD) can spread from deer to people.
“However, deer may develop secondary bacterial infections due to HD and thus may not be suitable for consumption,” says Bob Pierce, University of Missouri Extension wildlife specialist.
For that reason, it’s best not to eat meat from an animal that was visibly sick or was behaving abnormally, says MU Extension veterinarian Craig Payne.
“Any time an animal is dealing with some sort of disease challenge, there’s a chance another condition might creep in that may make pieces of the carcass or the whole carcass unfit for consumption,” Payne said.
A new MU Extension guide, “Potential Diseases and Parasites of White-tailed Deer in Missouri” (G9489), written by Pierce and Missouri Department of Conservation biologist Emily Flinn, provides an overview of the various infectious diseases that may cause deer mortality. It is available at extension.missouri.edu/G9489.
While venison from a healthy-looking deer is most likely safe, people need to exercise care when field dressing, transporting and processing the carcass to prevent contamination and spoilage.
Payne offers the following recommendations:
-Contact the Missouri Department of Conservation if you observe a deer that appears to be sick or is dead from an unknown cause. (To find out how to contact your local conservation agent, call 573-751-4115.)
-Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing.
-Wash your hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing.
-Avoid handling or consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested deer.
– Using leaves or grass to wipe blood out the carcass can increase the possibility of contamination and is not recommended.
-Dress the deer as soon as possible so the carcass can begin cooling. To speed the cooling process, use a stick to prop open the chest cavity or fill the cavity with bags of ice. If the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, try to get the carcass to the processor within 12 hours.
-Bone out meat rather than sawing through bone. Avoid cutting through brain and spinal tissues. Trim out meat containing bone fragments.
Tammy Roberts, MU Extension nutrition specialist in Bates County, strongly recommends freezing venison for at least 24 hours—preferably 48 hours—before eating or making sausage or jerky.
“Eating fresh venison is not recommended because parasites and tapeworms are common,” Roberts said.
E. coli is present in the intestinal tract of deer and can survive in homemade jerky and fermented sausages like pepperoni, she said. When making jerky, you should steam, roast or boil the venison to 160 degrees before drying.
“Similarly, when cooking sausage, deer bologna, ground venison, chops, steaks and roasts, the meat should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees,” she added. Cook soups, stews, casseroles and meatloaf to 165 degrees. Make sure reheated leftovers also reach 165 degrees.
For more information on the management of white-tailed deer, go to extension.missouri.edu/deer.
For more information on food safety, preparation and preservation, go to extension.missouri.edu and select the “Nutrition and health” tab.