Pleasure without regret: Tips for handling wild game meat

Wild game meat is becoming increasingly popular. Per capita consumption in Germany is rising steadily. Anyone who wishes to savour wild game without any regrets must be able to rely on basic hygiene rules having been complied with during hunting and processing. Just like any other meat, wild game can also contain germs and parasites which may constitute a threat to consumer health. As recently as November, six members of a hunting team contracted rabbit fever. They had been involved in gutting the animals. One other person died from the bacterial infectious disease. In order to protect consumers, the legislator has now increased the obligations incumbent on hunters. Pursuant to the entry into force of the new European food hygiene legislation on 1 January of this year, hunters are now deemed to be food business operators and, therefore, bear much of the responsibility for the safety of the wild game meat. BfR has listed the main aspects which hunters must bear in mind when producing wild game meat. 

On 1 January 2006 the Food Hygiene Package came into force as uniform EU regulations. It transfers responsibility for the safety of food and feed on all manufacturing levels to the producers. In the case of wild game meat this now means that the hunter, too, is responsible for the hygienic safety of his product – he has become a “food business operator”.  As the person responsible for food safety he must comply with the requirements of general food legislation. For instance, traceability must be guaranteed. The principle applies, “One step forward, one step back”. The game trader, for instance, must be able to document from which hunter and which region he obtained the game and to whom he delivered it.

The new duties under the Food Hygiene Package also oblige hunters to carry out their own “food business” controls in accordance with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. They must define critical hygiene points in the production process. The necessary documentation concerning the proper production of a food may be of major importance in the event of illness.

EC Regulation 853/2004 contains detailed information on the hygiene regulations. Accordingly, at least one person in a hunting team, an “informed person”, must have sufficient knowledge of the pathology of wild game and of its production and handling. This person must examine the animal bodies and the viscera for any signs that they might constitute a risk to health. The viscera must be removed and examined as soon as possible after the game has been killed. If no “harmful characteristics” are found, the animal carcase is issued with a corresponding declaration including details like date, time and place. 

After shooting, the animal carcass must be chilled within a reasonable period of time to no more than 7°C and heaping must be avoided during transport for the purposes of further processing. Small wild game like hares, rabbits or wildfowl - that is to be placed on the market through a game handling establishment - must be chilled after killing within a reasonable period of time throughout the meat to no more than 4°C. It must be immediately eviscerated on arrival in the game handling establishment. 

The example of Trichinella demonstrates very well just how important strict food hygiene measures can be: Trichinellosis is a disease caused by muscle parasites which may also be found in wild boar. The larvae can reach human beings in raw meat and then trigger a severe course of the disease, even death. Only 167 out of the 3.7 million wild boars which underwent official meat controls between 1991 and 2004 were found to be infected with Trichinella. A low infestation rate of this kind can only be identified when there is watertight control and in this way consumers can be protected from infected meat.

Another health risk linked to wild game is hare fever or tularaemia. It is triggered by a bacterium which may be found in wild animals in Germany. The disease mainly attacks hares, rabbits and other rodents but deer, wild boar and household pets may also be infected. Human beings can become infected through direct contact with killed, infected animals. The symptoms of the disease include fever and lymph node enlargement and it can also prove fatal as the most recent case from Hesse shows.

Besides these spectacular pathogens wild animals – like any household pet – may also transmit Salmonella, Campylobacter or Yersinia. Strict hygiene rules should, therefore, be observed not only during production but also in the kitchen.

Further information on this subject can be accessed on our homepage under Food/Food safety/Microbial risks.

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