From Field to Feast: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Promotes Safe Consumption of Wild Game for Optimal Nutrition
November 2, 2023
CHICAGO – States across the nation are gearing up for their local hunting seasons. As hunters prepare to take to the woods and fields, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds consumers that in addition to the ecological and cultural importance of fall hunting, many types of wild game are sources of lean protein and essential nutrients that play a vital role in a healthful eating plan. As always, food safety is essential for preventing foodborne illness while enjoying the seasonal harvest.
A Nutritious Bounty“Wild game, such as venison, elk and fowl provide a lean source of protein that can be both healthful and delectably rich in flavor,” says registered dietitian nutritionist John “Wesley” McWhorter, a national Academy Spokesperson in Houston, Texas. “The unique taste profiles of these meats make them stand out in culinary dishes while offering beneficial nutrients such as iron, zinc and essential B vitamins. Making the switch occasionally to game meats can provide a diverse range of healthful nutrients while supporting sustainability.”
Culinary Tips"Embracing the distinct flavors and textures of wild game opens doors to different culinary adventures. With a few techniques and preparation, such as using dried herbs and spices, every dish can be a delicious and rewarding experience,” McWhorter says.
- Marinate for Moisture and Flavor: Wild game, particularly lean meats like venison, benefit from marinating. Ingredients with acidity, such as wine or citrus, can tenderize the meat and add complementary flavors. If the marinade will be served as a sauce with the meal, reserve a portion before marinating the raw meat, then refrigerate the meat and marinade until it’s time to cook.
- Use a Food Thermometer: Due to its lean nature, wild game can dry out quickly. You want your meat to maintain tenderness and flavor when using quicker cooking methods like grilling and pan searing. Use a food thermometer to confirm it reaches a safe minimum internal temperature to prevent under- or over-cooking.
- Slow Cooking and Stewing: Using lean wild game meats in stews or slow cooking methods allows the meat to tenderize over time, resulting in a flavorful and succulent dish. The slow process breaks down the muscle fibers, ensuring a melt-in-your-mouth experience.
- Rest Before Serving: After cooking, let the meat rest for a few minutes. This allows juices to redistribute, ensuring a juicy and flavorful bite. It’s also needed to allow certain meats to cook thoroughly so they will be safe to eat. At least three minutes is recommended for roasts, steaks and chops.
The safety of wild game starts with how it is handled right after the hunt. It should be dressed as soon as possible and kept cool at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Hunters can take field-dressed deer, elk, or pheasant to a licensed meat processor who prepares and freezes the meat into packages for the hunter or to donate to community agencies, kitchens and food pantries. State health departments have guidelines for meat processors and provide guidance on proper handling of the carcass and timelines for bringing it to a processor, but “home food safety practices with respect to proper handling, storage and cooking of these game meats is crucial to preventing foodborne illness,” McWhorter says.
“While taking steps to ensure the meats are not contaminated with lead or diseases is an important first step, making sure all of the parties involved handle and store the meat properly, as well as cook it to the proper minimum internal temperatures, is vital to ensuring those who eat the meats will not become sick from food poisoning,” he says. Check with state wildlife agencies or other public health authorities to find out if testing is required before processing wild game for food.
According to McWhorter, everyone who handles game meat should keep a few important things in mind:
- Game meats can be stored in the refrigerator under 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-5 days and game birds and ground meat for 1-2 days before cooking. Wild game can be frozen indefinitely at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit but for the best quality should be consumed within 2-12 months, depending on the cut, type and whether it’s cooked or uncooked.
- Cook all wild game to their appropriate minimum internal temperature. This can vary depending on the source and whether it is ground up or cut into a roast, steak or chop. For game meats like venison a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is needed, and game birds should be cooked to at least 165 degrees. Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of any food.
Representing more than 112,000 credentialed nutrition and dietetics practitioners, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy at www.eatright.org.
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