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Extension: From the forest to the fridge

Cooler weather means hunting season in Georgia. Doesn’t venison jerky sound delicious? Preserving wild game through proper and safe handling, freezing and drying methods ensures enjoyment throughout the year.

Safe handling

Raw meat can be contaminated with microorganisms that cause disease. Two areas of special interest include E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks and Trichinella in game meats. Precaution should be used since venison, bear, elk, wild boar, wild turkey, rabbit and other game animals are usually field dressed in unknown sanitary conditions or kept from immediate refrigeration.  

Use care when field-dressing game. Contaminating the carcass is one of the most common errors hunters make. Wild game, including pork, should be treated to kill Trichinella prior to being sliced and marinated by freezing a 6 inch or less portion at zero degrees or below for at least 30 days. If the wound allowed the contents of the gut to encounter the meat or the hunter’s hands while dressing the meat, fecal matter may contaminate the meat. This meat should be thoroughly cooked and not used as jerky. Deer carcasses should be rapidly chilled to avoid bacterial growth.

The USDA recommends attaining an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees. Further, microwaving of game meats is not recommended, and freezing does not remove bacteria from meat.


Meat jerky is a good source of protein for a snack or a meal. Properly dried jerky is ideal for backpacking and camping since it can be eaten dry, is lightweight, takes up little space, and does not require refrigeration when made properly. With the use of modern food dehydrators, jerky can be made year-round at home. Jerky can be made from beef, pork, venison or smoked turkey breast. However, raw poultry is not recommended for jerky because it does not provide a favorable texture or flavor for the finished product.

Drying removes the moisture from food so that bacteria, yeasts, and molds cannot grow and spoil the food. It also slows down the action of the enzymes but does not inactivate them. While it is impossible to guarantee 100 percent safety in any situation, heating the meat to 160 degrees will decrease the risk of illness and prevent case hardening in jerky.


The most well-known method for preserving game is freezing. Proper freezing ensures the best quality when you want to cook what has been previously hunted. Remember, freezing does not sterilize food or remove bacteria. It simply slows the growth of microorganisms. 

Be sure to keep your freezer temperature below zero degrees. Freezer paper is best for meats, poultry and fish. Waxed paper, heavy-duty aluminum foil, and vacuum sealing can also be used.  Label and date each package. Never place unfrozen food on top of frozen. Store only 2-3 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space.

For large game, discard bloodshot meat prior to freezing. Also, trim fat and clean cuts from venison so they are ready for end use. Fat will go rancid quicker and often has a very “gamey” undesirable flavor. Small game should be skinned, dressed and chilled, and refrigerated 24 to 36 hours before freezing. Game birds must be dressed and gutted as soon as possible after shooting, then refrigerated prior to freezing. Also, never stuff birds before freezing.

For more information on nutrition and healthy living, contact Forsyth County Extension at 770-887-2418 or visit us online at  

Forsyth County Extension is supported by The University of Georgia, Forsyth County Government, Forsyth County Board of Education, and United Way of Forsyth County.

Barbara Worley is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for the University of Georgia Extension  Forsyth County.