Hello, here's a basic article on meat hygiene that I wrote for a Dutch hunting magazine. I thought I'd translate it and share. Perhaps it's useful to someone. Let me know what you think; additional tips and tricks would be great. Cheers Louis.

What would you do if you see abnormalities in your quarry, such as emaciation, white spots on the liver or faecal contamination of the meat? And which diseases can you get from eating it? This article will provide you with some basic principles and techniques of meat hygiene.

Written by Louis van Hövell, veterinarian and hunter from the Netherlands, living and working in Devon.

There are only a few things so rewarding as cooking and eating what you’ve shot after a day in the field. When it comes to meat hygiene, most of us successfully rely on common sense, gut feeling and experience.

Health risks?
Sometimes though, it's difficult to decide if an animal is fit for consumption. Also, errors can be made with butchering and conserving. What are the risks for your health? In most cases, if your immune system functions properly, you will get nothing more serious than diarrhea from fecal bacteria on the meat (most commonly E. coli O157, Salmonella or Campylobacter). Apart from fecal contamination, there are certain specific animal diseases that can infect people. These infections are rare, but do occur and are probably under-diagnosed as doctors don’t usually consider them. Examples are toxoplasmosis, tularaemia and tuberculosis.

What can you do?
Meat that enters the food chain (and is sold to game dealers, restaurants and supermarkets), is inspected by a professional, according to national and European legislation (at least, this is the case in Holland). If it passes the inspection, then it should be safe to eat. The safety of the meat that you’ve shot for the pot, is your own responsibility.

Here are some basic principles and techniques to reduce the risks:

• Try to assess the health of the animal before as well as after the shot. Does it behave in a normal way? Does it look healthy? Wounds, abscesses, bone fractures, mange, a rough hair coat and emaciation are clear signs of disease. Examine the main organs (heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys and muscles) and decide whether they look normal or abnormal? Although going into detail doesn’t fit the scope of this article, there are some clear signs of abnormalities in organs, such as pus/abscesses, white spots and worms. The edges of the liver should be sharp (not rounded). Lack of fat around the kidneys in mammals is a sign of weight loss, possibly due to disease.
• If you find abnormalities, then it is likely that the meat is not fit for consumption. If in doubt, then either ask for expert advice, or decide not to eat the meat. Taking pictures of abnormalities, and sharing them with fellow hunters, can be useful.

• Clean your hands and knife with running water and soap, before slaughtering, and after plucking/skinning and gutting. If you are in the field, then use disposable latex gloves and/or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Use a clean underground and lay the carcass on a clean spot after skinning/plucking. Alternatively, hang the carcass. Wear an apron.
• Cut away pieces of meat that have accidentally been in contact with feces. Rinsing off feces will only further spread the bacteria. This is also the way slaughterhouses are supposed to work, although quite often they will rinse off poo...
• Try to remove the gastro-intestinal tract in one piece; if you cut through the guts, or tear them from the carcass, then dung can leak on the meat, your hands and your knife. To do so, cut the base of the tail of birds, to remove the cloaca and the intestines in one piece. Cut the legs of mammals off the pelvis, so that you don’t have to remove the intestines from the pelvis at all.

Cooling and cooking

• If the outside temperature is lower than 10*C, then it's safe to hang the carcass outside after hunting. Think slaughterhouse (where butchering and cooling are done professionally): you want the carcass to cool down to 4-7*C within one or two hours. If it’s warmer than 10*C, then the carcass should be cooled (for instance in a cooling cell) within 3 hours after the shot. This can be difficult; then keep the carcass in the shade, or even pour some water over it. Contrary to some people's belief, cooling the meat doesn’t influence the ripening process; this will continue in the fridge.
• Make sure that your meat is well cooked. Heat will kill most bacteria and parasites.

Further reading: Food Standards Agency – The Wild Game Guide, 2006.

© Louis van Hövell 2016