Keep venison safe from field to table
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 in deer, and currently there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease 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.
Chronic wasting disease in Missouri
Chronic wasting disease, a fatal degenerative brain disease of deer, moose and elk, has been found in a small number of deer in north central Missouri.
Since 2010, CWD has been diagnosed in 11 captive white-tailed deer at two private hunting preserves in Macon and Linn counties. Another five cases have been detected in free-ranging deer in the same area.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, statewide testing of more than 35,000 free-ranging deer since 2002 have not turned up any other cases of CWD.
Chronic wasting disease belongs to a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Other TSEs include bovine spongiform encephalopathy. A brain-wasting disease in humans has been linked to eating BSE-infected beef, but researchers have found no evidence that CWD in deer poses a similar threat to people or livestock.
Nevertheless, veterinarians and wildlife biologists caution against consuming meat from animals that have or are suspected of having CWD. To be on the safe side, avoid eating and minimize handling of the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of any harvested deer.
MDC has established a containment zone encompassing the two counties where CWD has been detected, Linn and Macon, as well as the adjacent counties of Adair, Chariton, Sullivan and Randolph.
Because chronic wasting disease can spread quickly through animal-to-animal and soil-to-animal contact, MDC has restricted certain activities in the containment zone that could concentrate deer, such as using grain, salt and other materials to attract deer. MDC has also issued recommendations on processing and transporting deer harvested within the containment zone. For more information, go to http://mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/regulations/deer-regulations.