How to prevent E. coli contamination of deer meat


It's hunting season again in Northwest Colorado and there's nothing better than fresh venison, but with the recent U.S. E. coli outbreaks in spinach and lettuce, be advised that deer meat can also be a source of E. coli. Although E. coli normally live in the intestines of humans and animals as harmless strains, several strains are known to produce toxins that can cause diarrhea. One particular E. coli strain called O157:H7 can cause severe diarrhea, kidney damage, and even death.

How is E. coli spread?

E. coli O157:H7 can be acquired by eating contaminated food. The bacteria live in the intestines of some healthy cattle and contamination of the meat may occur in the slaughtering process. Deer meat also may be infected with the organism, so hunters need to exercise caution when cleaning an animal, because their hands can be infected with E. coli from the contents of the animal's gut. Hands should be thoroughly washed with hot, soapy water before eating or handling other food products in order to avoid cross contamination.

Eating meat that is rare or inadequately cooked is the most common way of getting the infection. Deer jerky, fresh vegetables, un-pasteurized fruit juices and raw milk have also caused outbreaks. With careless food handling, any food product eaten raw can be contaminated by raw meat juices. Drinking contaminated water and swimming in contaminated shallow lakes may also cause infection.

What are the symptoms?

Some infected people have mild diarrhea or no symptoms at all. Most identified cases develop severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Blood is often seen in the stool. Usually, little or no fever is present. Symptoms generally appear three to four days after exposure, but can take as long as nine days to appear. Persons experiencing these symptoms should contact their physician.

What serious complications can result from E. coli O157:H7 infection?

In some people, particularly children under five years of age, the infection can cause a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This is a serious disease in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. Transfusions of blood or blood clotting factors, as well as kidney dialysis, may be necessary. A prolonged hospital stay often is required. Fortunately, most people with HUS recover completely, but it can be fatal.

What can I do to prevent E. coli infection?

Venison should be cooked at 165 F.

Meat jerkies should be made following USDA-approved methods of food preservation. Many home food dehydrators do not reach high enough temperatures for making meat jerky safely.

Do not eat undercooked hamburger or other ground beef products. Make sure all ground beef products are cooked to at least 165 F.

Cook roasts and steaks to at least 130 F.

Drink only pasteurized milk, milk products and fruit juices.

Carefully wash all produce, kitchen utensils and countertops.

Wash hands carefully with soap after using the toilet, changing a child's diaper, or touching farm animals or wild game to reduce the risk of spreading disease. Wash hands with hot, soapy water, rubbing hands together for 20 seconds.

Persons ill with diarrhea or children in diapers should not swim in pools or lakes.

Free CSU Fact Sheets are available at your local Extension Office or on-line covering hundreds of topics including:

9.311 Leathers and Jerkies --

9.325 Smoking Poultry Meat --

9.369 Preventing E. coli From Garden to Plate --

6.503 Field Care of Big Game --

6.504 Cutting up a Big Game Carcass --

For more information, contact Elisa at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office, 539 Barclay St., 824-9180.

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