Wild Game Meat
What is wild game?
Game are wild animals and birds. Large native game animals living in America include antelope, buffalo, bear, deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and wild boar. Small game includes alligator, rabbit, squirrel, beaver, muskrat, opossum, raccoon, armadillo, and porcupine. Some common game birds include partridge, squab (young pigeon), quail, pheasant, wild ducks, wild geese, and wild turkey.
What are the pathogens that can be present in wild game meat?
Wild game meat may carry certain bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella. Other bacterial diseases like brucellosis and tuberculosis can be carried by wild game in some areas of the United States. Wild game also can carry parasites which can be passed on to humans through contact or consumption.
What are the symptoms that may result from some infections caused by eating wild game meat?
- E.coli – The type of E.coli is called shiga toxin producing E.coli. These are foodborne bacteria that can cause severe illness. This illness also can be acquired directly from contact with the animal and its feces. Symptoms include severe diarrhea (some bloody), and painful abdominal cramps. This illness usually resolves in five to 10 days. Severe cases can lead to destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia) and acute kidney failure (hemolytic uremic syndrome).
- Salmonella – These are bacteria that cause illness by reproducing in the digestive tract. It can be acquired directly from animals or from eating their meat. Symptoms include headache, muscle aches, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, chills, fever, nausea and dehydration. Symptoms usually appear six to 72 hours after ingestion of the bacteria. Salmonellosis is seldom fatal (fatality rate is less than 1 percent).
- Trichinellosis – People can develop trichinellosis by eating raw or undercooked meat from animals infected with the microscopic parasite Trichinella. The first symptoms of trichinellosis are gastrointestinal; usually occurring one to two days after a person consumes raw or undercooked meat from a Trichinella-infected animal. Other symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. The classic symptoms that often occur within two weeks after eating contaminated meat, and can last up to eight weeks, are muscle pain, fever, swelling of the face, weakness or fatigue, headache, chills, itchy skin or rash, cough, diarrhea, and constipation. Persons have become infected in the United States after eating bear or wild boar meat.
Persons who become ill after consuming wild game should contact their health care provider.
Prevention and Proper Cooking Guidelines
- Hunters should not handle or consume deer or other wild animals that appear sick or act abnormally, regardless of the cause.
- Hunters should wear gloves while field dressing and butchering. Clean water and soap are important in the field for cleaning knives and being careful not to puncture the intestines. When cooling wild game it needs to be cooled to 40 F as quickly as possible to slow the growth of the bacteria on the carcass. Wash hands thoroughly after dressing and butchering the game.
- For immediate use, store meat in refrigerator (under 40 F) and use within two to three days.
- Keep raw meat and cooked meat separate to prevent cross-contamination.
- Game will keep nine to 12 months in the freezer if properly wrapped. Refrigerator-thawed meat should be used within one to two days.
- Fresh game should reach an internal temperature of 160 F when measured with a food thermometer.
- Whole game birds should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F when measured with a food thermometer.
- Freezing venison jerky for 30 days before eating will reduce or eliminate parasites in the meat.
- Certain Trichinella species can be reduced in meat by freezing, but other species are resistant to freezing.
- Equally important is how the animal was handled in the field. The animal should be eviscerated within an hour of harvest, and the meat refrigerated within a few hours. Meat is damaged (and sometimes ruined) if it is not dressed, transported and chilled properly.
For more information on field dressing, processing, or storing wild game, contact your local University of Illinois Extension office and ask for the pamphlets Guide to Care and Handling of Deer and Guide to Care and Handling of Game Birds.
To learn more about foodborne illness and ways to prevent it, talk to your health care professional, your local health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Food, Drugs and Dairies.
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