Ensure safety of homemade jerky, processed meats
By Jeannine Schweihofer
Michigan State University Extension
OSCEOLA COUNTY — Many hunters take a portion of the meat they obtain from a successful hunt and turn it into processed meats such as jerky, snack sticks, summer sausage and salami. Some individuals take their wild game meat to a meat processor and let a professional handle the task. Others take pride in creating a delicious treat in their own home. Regardless of which category you fall into, there are steps recommended by Michigan State University Extension to ensure the safety of your end product.
All wild game meat products should have a lethality step included in the process. This means that the meat has to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria which may be present. For jerky, this means it is not enough to dehydrate the meat in a dehydrator and consider it safe.
According to the Quick Guide on processing Jerky and Compliance Guideline, humidity must also be added during the cooking cycle. This can be achieved by adding wide, shallow pans of water to the oven throughout the cooking cycle. Use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the center of the largest, thickest cut of meat. If the meat is thin cut, you can simply wrap a piece of meat around the probe.
Careful use of ingredients is also necessary. Most at-home processes include using a spice pre-mix that comes with the curing agent (sodium nitrite) diluted with salt in a separate container. The cure portion is typically pink in color. Make sure to follow directions about the order of addition very carefully and never add more than described.
After the product is cooked and/or dried, it is important to cool the product promptly and store it in refrigeration. The life of the product depends on a lot of things, including how clean your environment and your hands were when you made it, how thick it was cut, whether it was a restructured product, and how much water is still present. If you want to have the product for extended periods of time, consider freezing it in appropriate portion sized packages.
Dry cured sausages and other dry cured meat products require extensive sanitation conditions and detailed monitoring of many steps. It is not recommended to make such products at home that do not have a lethality step included in the process.
For those individuals taking their meat to someone else, make sure the individual or processor is licensed. Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development require such operations to have a license and will inspect the facility before a license is obtained and about once or twice a year. The entity may try to inform you that they do not need a license as the product is only being produced for your own use and is “custom exempt.”
There are still sanitary guidelines when processing venison that need to be followed, and a wild game processing at retail food establishments variance is still needed and if they are making a product such as summer sausage and adding pork meat and fat and spices to the recipe. If those products are cured or vacuum packaged, then a specialized retail meat processing variance is also needed. Any legitimate operation will have a license, so do not be afraid to ask to see a copy of their license.