Care and Handling of Venison
This fact sheet serves as a reference for the safe preservation of venison, defined by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as meat from deer, elk, moose, caribou, antelope, and pronghorn. Venison is typically a very lean meat and may contain a “gamey” flavor. Because wild game is more active, it may be less tender, and the fat may have an unpleasant taste, which you may want to remove before storage or use.
Food Safety Concerns During Harvest and Transport
Proper field dressing of wild game, such as deer, is the first step in reducing the risk of food borne illnesses caused by pathogens such as E.coli, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma. E.coli, for example, is found in the intestines of wild game and can be easily transferred to the meat during butchering.
Also be aware that parasites and tapeworms are commonly present in wild game. One common parasite is Toxoplasma gondii, the cause of the disease toxoplasmosis. Symptoms of illnesses caused from consuming parasites can range from mild discomfort to severe illness and possibly death.
How do I keep the unprocessed venison safe?
Planning ahead is the key to having a safe meat supply. Here are a few things to consider before the hunt to make sure that your meat is properly cared for.
Time/temperature on the day of the hunt: During warm hunting seasons (over 40 F), meat will need to be chilled within three to four hours of the kill. Refrigerate as soon as possible for best quality. Freezing the carcass may cause the meat to toughen. Cool the meat quickly by filling the cavity with bags of ice. Keep meat in the shade with good air circulation. Use of ground pepper and cheesecloth to cover the meat can help with deterring flies. DO NOT use tarps or wrap tightly in material that would hold heat which could cause the meat to spoil.
Transporting the meat: Wrap the carcass in a clean sheet but do not tie to the hood of a car or keep in the trunk. Keep the meat cool until processed and out of direct sunlight while allowing for good air circulation.
Aging the Meat: The process used to tenderize and enhance the flavor of venison is called aging the meat. Temperatures must be controlled between 34 F and 37 F from seven to 14 days for the process. DO NOT AGE meat harvested during warm weather and not chilled, as the meat is not safe for human consumption. If the animal was severely stressed prior to the kill, if gunshot wound was extensive, or if under one year of age, the quantity of usable meat will be reduced.
Other Safety Precautions
The Centers for Disease Control recommend that “hunters should avoid eating meat from deer and elk that look sick or test positive for chronic wasting disease.” Some symptoms of chronic wasting disease include loss of body condition, listlessness, blank facial expression, excessive salivation, and drooling. If you suspect the deer is unhealthy, check with the local game warden or a commercial venison processor to determine if the meat is safe to consume.
Parasites and tapeworms are common in venison. Freezing for 24-48 hours prior or cooking to internal temperature of 160 F will destroy parasites. If you are planning to pressure process the meat, both raw pack and hot pack methods will safely destroy parasites.
Have questions on how to safely field dress an animal? The Ohio Department of Natural Resources publication "Field Dressing Your Deer," (ODNR #111) wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/portals/wildlife/pdfs/publications/hunting/pub111.pdf provides a step-by-step guide for safely handling venison once the animal has been harvested. It also addresses aging the meat and how to create various cuts of meat. You may decide the simplest and safest way for you to handle the previously listed food safety concerns is to have the venison commercially processed at a licensed meat processing facility.
Preparation of the Meat for Long-Term Storage
In order to reduce the wild game taste of the meat you may want to try one of these two methods.
- Soak the meat in salt-water brine made using 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of cold water.
- Soak the meat in a vinegar solution made using 1 cup of white vinegar per quart of cold water.
Regardless of which brine solution you choose, soak the meat for at least one hour to overnight in the refrigerator. Meat needs to be completely covered with the solution. Discard solution after soaking.
Storing Raw Venison
If you decide to home process the venison, whole cuts of venison may be stored in the refrigerator for three to five days (at 40 F or below) before canning or freezing. Ground venison may be stored in the refrigerator for one to two days (at 40 F or below) before canning or freezing.
Food Safety Concerns During Processing
Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) bacteria grow in a reduced-oxygen environment. Precautions need to be taken regardless of whether you are vacuum-sealing venison for freezing or canning venison, since both of these methods provide part of the conditions needed for pathogen growth.
Freezing venison in vacuum-sealed packaging increases the risk of C. botulinum growth when thawing the meat. Be sure to use one of the approved methods of thawing such as thawing in the refrigerator, thawing in the microwave and then immediately cooking, or thawing as a part of the cooking process. Be sure to remove venison from the packaging prior to thawing it in the refrigerator or microwave.
When canning venison (or any other food product) it is important to make sure the canner is operated correctly and has been tested for accuracy. Because venison is a low-acid meat, it must be processed in a pressure canner. If the canner is not functioning correctly, it may result in an under-processed product which has an increased risk for C. botulinum.
Venison must be processed in a pressure canner. For more information on pressure canning, refer to the “Canning Basics” fact sheet at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5338.
Strips, Cubes, or Chunks
Choose quality chilled meat. Remove excess fat. Remove large bones. Cut into uniform strips, cubes, or chunks.
Precook meat until rare by roasting, stewing, or browning in a small amount of fat. If desired, add 2 teaspoons of salt per quart to the jar. Fill jars with meat; add boiling broth, meat drippings, water or tomato juice, leaving 1 inch of headspace. The hot pack is preferred for best liquid cover and quality during storage. The natural amount of fat and juices in today's leaner meat cuts are usually not enough to cover most of the meat in raw packs.
If desired, add 2 teaspoons of salt per quart. Fill with raw meat pieces, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Do not add liquid. Adjust lids and process.
Ground or Chopped Meat
Choose quality chilled meat. Avoid flavoring sausage with sage; canning may cause a bitter, off-flavor. If desired, add 1 part high-quality pork fat to 3–4 parts venison before grinding. Shape chopped meat into patties or balls, or cut cased sausage into 3- to 4-inch links. Cook until lightly browned. Ground meat may be sautéed without shaping. Remove excess fat and fill jars. Add boiling meat broth, tomato juice, or water, leaving 1 inch of headspace. If desired, add 2 teaspoons of salt per quart. Adjust lids and process.
|Table 2. Recommended Processing Times for Venison
|Style of Pack
|Process Time (in minutes)
|Hot or Raw (strips, cubes or chunks of meat)
|Hot (ground or chopped meat)
|Note: Processing times will vary for elevations over 2,000 feet. See USDA Canning Guide for additional information: nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/GUIDE05_HomeCan_rev0715.pdf.
If not freezing immediately, the meat should be chilled without delay to 40 F or lower to prevent spoilage. Freeze meat using proper freezer wrapping materials (be sure freezer wrap is designed for freezing). Wrap meat tightly, pushing out as much air as possible. Consider packaging meat in portion control sizes to reduce waste. Freeze and store at 0 F or lower.
Deer, antelope, moose, and other large game can be handled for freezing like any other meats. Trim and discard bloodshot meat before freezing. Package the meat, seal, and freeze.
Most cuts of venison may be stored for six to nine months in a freezer with the temperature at 0 F or below. Liver, heart, kidney, or tongue may be frozen for six months for best quality.
If interested in making jerky, please reference the fact sheet “Making Jerky” at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-5362.
Preparation of Work Area
- Regular cleaning and sanitizing of the equipment, utensils, and work surfaces reduces the possibility of food contamination and the transmission of disease-causing organisms. Although cleaning removes the visible soil, sanitizing reduces the unseen microorganisms that might be present on cutting boards, countertops, knives, pans, and other equipment used for processing raw meats. They should be sanitized before use and allowed to air dry.
- Both wood and plastic cutting boards can be used. Nonporous surfaces are easier to clean and sanitize. Wash them in hot, soapy water, scrubbing vigorously. Rinse with clear water, sanitize, and let air dry. When a cutting board becomes excessively scarred and difficult to clean, it should be discarded.
- Chlorine bleach can be used to make a sanitizing solution for food-contact surfaces. Use standard chlorine bleach for this purpose rather than the scented varieties. For cleaning and sanitizing equipment and utensils:
- Add 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water.
- Add 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach to 1 quart of water.
- Change the bleach water solution often. Food particles will dilute the bleach.
- Wash hands with warm, running water and soap. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds and dried with a single-use paper towel. Be sure to clean cuticles and fingernails, as these are places that are more difficult to clean. Jewelry should not be worn while butchering.
- Cloths used for wiping down equipment and other surfaces should be wrung out frequently in a sanitizing solution and stored in the solution when not in use. Launder cleaning cloths daily or more, if necessary. Keep cloths used for food-contact surfaces separate from other cloths.
The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is another resource if you have questions regarding food safety and storage of venison:
- Chronic Wasting Disease and Potential Transmission to Humans. (2004). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/10/6/03-1082_article.
- Complete Guide to Home Canning: Preparing and Canning Poultry, Red Meats, and Seafoods. (2015). U.S. Department of Agriculture, nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/GUIDE05_HomeCan_rev0715.pdf.
- Field Dressing Your Deer. (2006). Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Publication #111, wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/portals/wildlife/pdfs/publications/hunting/pub111.pdf.
- Game from Farm to Table. (2011). U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, s3.amazonaws.com/assets.cce.cornell.edu/attachments/19032/Game_from_Farm_to_Table.pdf?1481131140.
- Goard, Linnette. (2015). ”Canning Meat, Poultry and Game.” Ohio State University Extension, ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5330.
- Goard, Linnette. (2015). ”Freezing Meat, Poultry and Game,” Ohio State University Extension, ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5334.
- Let’s Preserve Meat and Poultry (2015). Purdue Extension Health and Human Services, extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/HHS/HHS-801-W.pdf.
- Parasites and Foodborne Illness. (2017). U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/foodborne-illness-and-disease/pathogens/parasites-and-foodborne-illness.
- Proper Field Dressing and Handling of Wild Game and Fish. (2011). Penn State University Extension, extension.psu.edu/proper-field-dressing-and-handling-of-wild-game-and-fish.
- “Safe Handling of Wild Game Meats.” (2007, revised). Clemson Extension HGIC 3516, hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/safe-handling-of-wild-game-meats.
- Wild Game Meat. Illinois Department of Public Health.