With more and more people learning how to forage, hunt and fend for themselves, many of us are confident that we can keep ourselves fed in the aftermath of a catastrophe like a large-scale earthquake, viral outbreak or even a Zombie apocalypse.
When it comes to hunting, harvesting rabbits, squirrels, birds and other types of small game are great ways to get that much-needed protein after you’ve licked the last jar of peanut butter clean, but it isn’t as simple as popping the top on a jar of food and knowing it’s safe to eat. While eating wild game can be one of the most reliable and satisfying ways to feed yourself, with no expiration date or butcher to tell you how long it has been on the shelf, how can you make sure it’s safe to eat?
Many diseases, parasites and bacterium are present in wild world just outside your door, but with a little know how and careful consideration, you’ll be on the right track to healthy harvesting and handling of wild game.
1. Watch For Signs of Illness. Before harvesting any wild animals, watch for signs of illness and disease. Pay close attention to the animals movement and general appearance. Does it seem healthy? Disoriented? Weak? Sick and, of course, deceased animals should not be harvested for consumption… no matter how hungry you are.The use of traps, snares and dead falls may not allow for pre-observation, so be diligent in your examinations of the carcass.
2. Perform an external Exam. Wear protective gloves during the external and internal portions of your check and/or thoroughly wash your hands after handling the animal.
• Do the hair coat, feathers, or other body coverings look healthy? Are there missing patches or off discolorations?
• Is the animal in good bodily condition or is it thin?
• Are any abnormal conditions present, such as growths, deformities, or injuries?
• Are there any other signs of illness, such as evidence of diarrhea (abnormal looking or soft stool adhered to the vent area)?
When conducting external examinations, it is important to know that infectious disease is not the only cause for unfit appearance of an animal. old age, malnutrition, injury and physical defects that inhibit the animal’s food gathering and eating habits are among other factors that can lead to unfit appearance. For example, fish with lamprey scars may be thin due to the lamprey’s effects on the fish, but that doesn’t make the fish dangerous to eat. But tumors on some fish have been associated with environmental contaminants… and that DOES make them unsafe to eat. Pay close attention to not just the animal, but the surrounding area that it was found in.
3. Perform an internal exam. After harvesting and following the external exam, it is important to inspect the inside of the carcass while the animal is being field dressed or otherwise prepared. Use all of your senses when examining a carcass for signs of infection, disease, or infestation.
• Does the carcass smell normal or are there odors of decay?
• Do any of the tissues or organs appear irregular or abnormal in shape or color?
• Do any of the tissues or organs show signs of abscesses or tumors?
• Are there any tissues or organs that contain what seem to be parasites?
While rotting tissues and abscesses may be the cause of rank odors rising from the body, less harmful alternatives can also be responsible for the odor. Spillage from the intestinal tract into the body cavity and even the food an animal eats may result in strong odors… though they are not indications of disease. Cedar, sagebrush and shellfish are examples of foods consumed by wildlife that may result in an odd smell, but do not represent potential human health hazards.
The appearance of the internal organs and tissues is often compromised during the harvest of an animal and they may be difficult to evaluate. However, signs of abscesses, fungal growth and tumors – such as discolored or swollen organs and open wounds not caused by harvesting – should result in the rejection of the carcass as safe for consumption.
4. Chow down or try again. The observations made during the external and internal exams will help you determine whether the animal is safe for consumption or not. If the there is any reason to believe that the animal may be unsafe to eat, do not eat it. While you might go hungry for a little longer, you’re more likely to survive a few hunger pangs, than a belly full of parasites and a bloodstream full of disease.
Whether the undead are at your door or your out for the weekend in the woods. Always examine your meal-to-be carefully. The last thing you want to worry about is where you can find a bathroom in a hurry and how in the hell you’re going to get better after eating something you shouldn’t have.
This article was written and submitted by Dan Daum, and edited and co-written by Jake Sepulveda.