AITKIN -- Common-sense steps for processing and preserving venison will almost guarantee that humans will not contract chronic wasting disease, the University of Minnesota Extension Service says.
The service is sponsoring "It's Not Game!," a presentation on the safe handling of wild game, at 11 locations throughout Minnesota. Each presentation includes safe game handling tips from an area meat processor, meat preservation tips from an educator with the Extension Service, wild game disease information from Bill Schafer, a University professor, and door prizes. The fifth presentation Monday night drew 23 people to the Aitkin Moose Lodge. The next is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Camp Ripley Education Center.
"Don't be afraid to eat your deer, just take care of it," said Glen Monson, who operates Monson Meats in Aitkin. "I never could figure out why people treat a deer any different than a beef cow. Would you throw an 18-month-old steer in the back of your pickup and drive it around for three days with the hide still on? Of course not."
When field dressing a deer, wear rubber or latex gloves to remove the entrails. This removes the spleen and some lymph nodes, organs that can harbor CWD. Then remove the hide as soon as possible.
"The faster heat escapes a carcass the better it is for the meat," Monson said. "The wild flavor some venison has probably come from the hide being left on. As meat cools and dries it sucks moisture from the carcass."
Assuming temperatures 45 degrees or lower, a carcass should hang for eight days for optimum aging, Monson said.
Then it's time to cut up the deer. Use knives dedicated to that purpose. Avoid kitchen knives used in day-to-day cooking.
"With a good, sharp knife you can completely de-bone a deer in two hours," Monson said. "Remove the tenderloins immediately. They should be eaten first. If you leave them for three or four days they're pretty much shot."
An acetylene torch effectively removes hair from the carcass. When the deer is quartered, trim all fat from the meat. This removes the remaining lymph nodes. The only other organ where CWD has been found is the obex (brain). It's also believed that CWD can be in the spine, so don't sever it while cutting up a carcass.
When the meat is cut from the bone, store it in freezer bags or wrap it in wax paper. Do not store meat in garbage bags, for some brands have a chemical liner to reduce odors. Large pails also are not recommended because they do not allow meat to cool quickly enough.
Monson said a 100-pound carcass completely deboned yields 40-45 pounds of meat.
Dave Dickey, DNR Aitkin area wildlife manager, said 143 deer have been processed for CWD testing since the DNR began its culling operation in September. To date, 43 test samples have been returned from a laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and none have been positive.
"We got an older doe that looked kind of skinny and we were concerned," Dickey said. "But she was not positive, just old, probably 14 to 15 years old."
Dickey reminds hunters that permit area, 154, which surrounds Aitkin, is among 17 permit areas where the DNR will collect deer heads this fall for CWD testing. A goal of 5,000 tested animals has been set, and Dickey said he will be surprised if CWD is found in the wild herd.
"Some people say we have overreacted, and maybe we have," Dickey said. "But doing nothing was not an option. What will we do if we find (CWD)? I don't know, maybe I'll retire."
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