The safety of eating wild game

I admittedly know little about this subject. This both makes me a very good source for trying to decipher information, and also a wildly unreliable source.  Take everything I have to say with a grain of salt.

OK, so conventionally produced meat for sale in the US has been monitored and treated to prevent parasites.  The whole trichinosis in pork stuff is a thing of the past if you’re buying pork from the grocery store.  Raw and rare beef tends to be “safe” if it was processed commercially.  Wild game has not been kept healthy by any people, and hasn’t been wormed.  While it’s not a sure-thing that any one animal has parasites, the likelihood of it being contaminated is far greater than something raised under controlled circumstances with access to vet care.
When looking into feeding raw venison (deer) to our dogs (we feed them raw meat), I happened across a link to a raw feeding website that suggested that 3-4 weeks in the freezer should be enough to kill parasites.  And that got me thinking.  If unfrozen raw or undercooked meat is enough to infect a dog with parasites, shouldn’t that same hold true with humans?  Yes.  Absolutely.  So I got to doing some additional research.  I have primarily found 2 different answers.  The most common answer that I find on hunting boards & the like (which generally lacks any level of logic, and instead is anecdotal evidence at best) is “Well I ate fresh backstrap rare right after I killed the deer and I don’t have parasites, so there’s no reason to bother or be worried.”  The other answer that I’m finding is “The beef jerky marinade package says that wild game should be frozen for at least 60 days.”  Now my understanding of science prevents me from believing that meat that hasn’t been treated for parasites isn’t capable of giving me parasites, but it also lets me know that temperature and time spent at that temperature is incredibly variable.  For example… to pasteurize an egg, you can either hold it at 131F for 90 minutes, 135F for 75 minutes, or 140F for 60 minutes.  The same holds true for breaking down and killing cold-sensitive goobers. A deep freeze that gets well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit should theoretically kill things much more quickly than a freezer that hovers around 11 degrees.
Unfortunately, the best information that I’ve come across is from a University of Minnesota Extension Office.  I haven’t found any more effective information, and this link from the Illinois Department of Public Health says that freezing venison jerky for 30 days will make it safe, with no mention of the temperature at which it is frozen.  The information from U of Minnesota says:
Parasites and Tapeworms
  • Parasites and tapeworms are common in all wild game.
  • Eating fresh venison is not recommended.
  • Freeze wild game down to -4 degrees for a minimum of 4 days before eating or processing it into jerky or sausage to help kill parasites or tapeworms.
  • Cooking venison to 160 degrees will also help to kill parasites and tapeworms.

E.coli O157:H7 – A Concern in Wild Game Venison Jerky and Sausage

  • E.coli O157:H7 has been found in the intestinal tract of wild game.
  • Research shows E.coli O157:H7 can survive in homemade wild game jerky and fermented sausages like pepperoni.
  • Researchers found that E.coli 0157:H7 survived more than 10 hours of drying at 145 degrees.
  • The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that jerky made from beef or venison be steamed, roasted or boiled to 160ºF before drying.

So this leaves me with questions.  I have to check the temp range of our chest freezer and see where that stands.  I assume it will hold negative 4 if I turn it down far enough.  The refrigerator freezer ranges from 11 to 1 degree above zero, so we will see.

I am wanting to make jerky and am now mildly concerned about e.coli.  Perhaps after marinating the meat, I could vacuum seal it and pasteurize it in a water bath before drying in the dehydrator.

Regarding cuts that we expect to be eating medium rare – I’ll get those in the coldest part of the freezer and count on leaving them there for a few weeks, and leave them in the sous vide water bath for a little longer than would normally be necessary to cook them to the desired temp.

What it really comes down to is if I am going to be not only eating this myself, but feeding it to friends and family, I want to be sure that the meat has been handled safely and isn’t going to give my loved ones food poisoning or parasites!

It feels silly that this is so difficult to get really effective information.  I am a skilled researcher, I have a firm grasp of food science, and I have the equipment to hold sustained temperatures, yet I can’t find ANY charts that will tell me what I need to be doing!

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