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Guidelines for Safely Processing Wild Game

With the 2010 hunting season under way, the Michigan Departments of Agriculture (MDA) and Natural Resources (DNRE) have issued a press release reminding hunters and retail food establishments to follow safe handling guidelines when processing wild game.

“By following safe handling and processing protocols for wild game, venison processors can help minimize the risk of foodborne illness and exposure to animal health issues like bovine Tuberculosis,” said Don Koivisto, MDA director, in the joint statement.  “By taking a few simple precautions, you can help assure a safe and successful hunting season,” he said.

The MDA has also compiled a venison-processing booklet to aid hunters and processors in minimizing the risk of food contamination.  The guide also details how to avoid zoonotic diseases such as bovine Tuberculosis.  

The guide is available online at the MDA website.  

“Providing venison and wild game for our families to enjoy is part of Michigan’s hunting heritage,” said Rebecca Humphries, DNRE director. “I encourage all hunters to follow these guidelines and to seek out processors who are licensed and inspected by MDA so that food handling and processing is done in a safe manner,” she said.

According to the MDA, custom venison processing provisions for MDA-licensed and inspected facilities include, but are not limited to the following:

General Storage and Processing

  • Processors must inspect all carcasses prior to accepting them. Carcasses must be identified with appropriate tags, and be free of signs of illness and visible decomposition or contamination.
  • Venison products must be clearly marked and identified with the name of the owner, stamped “Not for Sale,” and segregated from commercial meat and foods.
  • Carcasses should be stored at or below 41° F and processed using a “first in, first out” rotation.
  • Rubber or disposable gloves, in good condition, must be worn.  Gloves should be replaced or cleaned and sanitized after each carcass is processed.
  • Processing of hunter-owned deer must take place after all commercial food handling has ceased, to eliminate the potential for cross-contamination of other food.
  • All processing and handling equipment, food contact surfaces, floors, and garments must be washed and sanitized immediately after processing. Processing of commercial foods cannot take place until these activities are done.

Feral Swine (Wild Pigs)

  • Gloves should be worn when field-dressing feral swine, especially in the Northeastern Lower Michigan bovine Tuberculosis area.
  • If the lungs, ribcage or internal organs from feral swine look abnormal (multiple tan or yellow lumps), the meat should NOT be eaten. Take the carcass to a DNRE field office for proper disposal to prevent disease transmission to other animals.
  • All meats, including that of feral swine, should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 170° F.


  • Individuals who are not required to be licensed or inspected by the state, but are processing and preparing venison at private sites, should follow safe food handling practices:
  • Wash hands, utensils, and food contact surfaces often, with hot, soapy water, especially before and after handling meat.
  • Hold meat at or below 40° F at all times. If meat will not be consumed or processed within three to five days, it should be frozen. Meat should be thawed in the refrigerator and never thawed at room temperature.
  • Use a food thermometer when cooking meat to ensure the food has reached a temperature sufficient to destroy any harmful organisms that may cause foodborne illness. Ground and fresh venison should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F.

For more information on field dressing deer, see the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.

For more information on venison food safety tips, see the Michigan State University extension office or the MDA’s website.

The US Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-800-535-4555) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Information Line (1-888-SAFE-FOOD) are also good resources.

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