Keep Deer Hunting Fun: Don't Get Sick From Venison

By Lou Ann Jopp, University of Minnesota Extension Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Thousands of deer hunters enjoy the yearly ritual. But to keep it enjoyable and reduce the risk of foodborne illness, hunters need to pay attention to how they field dress, transport, process and prepare the venison.

When the weather is warm, the quality of the venison can be impacted quickly if it’s not handled properly. Harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli, can be found on raw or undercooked game. E. coli 0157:H7 is the strain that can produce a potent toxin that can cause severe illness, serious complications and even death.

Here are some food safety guidelines.

Field dressing/transporting/processing:

  • Wear disposable plastic gloves to reduce risk of disease exposure.
  • Remove entrails immediately.
  • Avoid cutting paunch and intestines; bacteria associated with foodborne illness may be found in these organs.  
  • Remove dirt, feces, hair and bloodshot areas.
  • Clean your knife frequently with clean water, pre-moistened wipes, or alcohol swabs; avoid dragging bacteria into the meat.
  • Wipe out the cavity with paper towels; aid air circulation by propping it open with a clean stick. 
  • If you wash the cavity with water, dry it quickly to prevent spoilage.
  • Cool quickly to 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit; bacteria multiply rapidly between 40-140 F.
  • Ice/snow sealed in plastic bags and packed into the cavity aid cooling.
  • Keep the carcass out of direct sunlight. 
  • Skinning helps cool the carcass faster.
  • When deboning, discard the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen and lymph nodes.

Care in the kitchen:

  • Store meat in a refrigerator; use within two to three days. 
  • Cross-contamination occurs if raw meat or its juices come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Freezing does not kill bacteria, but cooking to 160 F destroys most harmful bacteria and parasites.
  • USDA’s recommendation for making jerky: before dehydrating, heat meat to 160 F, maintain dehydrator temperature at 130-140 F.
  • Cook ground venison to internal temperatures of at least 160 F; and venison soups, stews and casseroles to 165 F.

Freeze game properly:

  • Freeze no more than four pounds/cubic foot of freezer space within 24 hours.
  • Use food grade containers/wraps -- no garbage bags.
  • Never thaw meat at room temperature.


Meat is a low acid food and must be canned by a pressure canner for a safe product.

Visit Extension’s Web site at and click on “living” for information on the safe home canning of fruits, vegetables and meats.

Lou Ann Jopp is a food science educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

Real Cooking

Did You Know?
Botulism is an intoxication of the bacteria clostridium botulinum. This bacteria is anaerobic meaning that it requires an environment relatively free of oxygen to multiply. It also requires a moist environment and temperatures in the danger zone. The symptoms of botulism are sore throat, vomiting, blurred vision, cramps, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and central nervous system damage (including paralysis). Symptoms usually occur within 12 to 36 hours. The fatality rate is up to 70%.

Salt, sugar, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are the commonly used curing compounds. Salt and sugar both cure meat by osmosis. In addition to drawing the water from the food, they dehydrate and kill the bacteria that make food spoil. In general, though, use of the word "cure" refers to processing the meat with either sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate.

Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are the basis for two commercially used products: Prague powders #1 and Prague powders #2.

Prague powder #1 is a mixture of 1 part sodium nitrite and 16 parts salt. The chemicals are combined and crystallized to assure even distribution. Even though diluted, only 4 ounces of Prague powder #1 is required to cure 100 lbs of meat. A more typical measurement for home use is 1 tsp per 5 lbs of meat. Prague powder #2 is a mixture of 1 part sodium nitrite, .64 parts sodium nitrate and 16 parts salt. It is primarily used in dry-curing.

One other commonly available curing product is Morton's Tender Quick. It is a mixture of salt, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate and sugar. Ask your local butcher or grocer to stock it for you. FREE Recipes