Many people love a good steak tartare or carpaccio and are curious if they can use elk meat in their favorite dish. You must be aware that wild animals are not treated with antibiotics and other medicines that prevent disease similarly to livestock. In addition, they are not raised in sanitary conditions in which observance of health and safety protocols is required by law.
It is best not to eat elk raw, especially if you do not know the conditions in which it was killed and dressed. If you killed it yourself, you could take precautions to make it safer, but still, many pathogens can only be killed by cooking the meat thoroughly. So you eat it raw at your own risk.
Cooking the meat above a specific temperature kills many pathogens found in venison. It can therefore be harmful to humans to eat raw elk. This article looks at ways to ensure the meat is safe to eat, its handling, and some of the risks of eating elk raw.
The Dangers of Eating Raw Elk
There may be many diseases you are unaware of in a freshly killed elk. These include
- Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
- certain strains of E. Coli
- various intestinal parasites
The American Veterinary Medical Association has listed a long list of diseases that game animals can carry in a document for hunters.
How Can Raw Elk Meat Be Prepared Safely?
Among its recommendations are that you should avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.
If you bought the elk meat off a hunter, ask where it was killed and whether it was tested. Ask if the hunter checked with the local authorities on the health of the elk population in that area. If you hunted it yourself, you should already have this information.
Was it a clear shot straight through muscle, or was it gutshot, spilling the contents of the gastrointestinal tract onto the meat? Did the animal look healthy and act normally when alive, or was it behaving erratically or weak-looking?
Did it appear malnourished or fat and healthy? Was the elk already dead when the hunter found it? In this case, you should never eat it. How long ago was it killed? Was the gut accidentally cut when dressing the carcass? The CDC recommends having the carcass tested before eating the meat.
You should always inspect the meat before you eat it. You may notice discoloration, worms, wounds, or pus-filled areas. Does the meat smell unusual? If there are abnormalities in the abdominal or chest cavity, abandon the carcass. Anything that looks off should be cut out and discarded.
Was the meat freshly frozen for four or more days soon after it was harvested, or was it left to sit for a while before freezing or never frozen at all? Freezing can kill worms and insect larvae that may have infected the elk, but it isn’t enough to kill bacteria. Also, if the elk was gutshot, you shouldn’t eat the liver or meat from the gut area.
Was the meat removed safely without cutting into the spine and brain of the elk? You should avoid the spine and brain because this is where CWD resides. Never give your hunting dogs or pets the off-cuts you have rejected as unsuitable for human consumption.
You can buy elk meat from a supermarket which may be safer than buying it from a hunter or hunting it yourself in the wild.
This is because supermarkets are governed by health and safety regulations, and the meat may have been farmed commercially, reducing, but not necessarily eliminating, the risks of eating it raw.
Avoid handling the brain, eyes, spleen, and spinal cord when stripping the carcass. Remove lymph nodes by cutting away fatty tissue. None of these organs should be eaten. Use rubber gloves to handle the corpse.
It is safer to hunt and prepare the elk yourself or buy it from a supermarket rather than from a hunter you do not know. If the elk was gut shot, don’t eat the meat raw. If the meat wasn’t frozen for at least four days immediately after it was cut from the animal, don’t eat it raw.
Keep the meat refrigerated and very cold before preparation if you intend to eat it raw. Prepare one piece at a time and then return it to the fridge before starting another. Ensure all kitchen surfaces, knives and utensils have been thoroughly disinfected beforehand.
Escherichia Coli In Elk
There are various strains of E Coli. Some can be lethal, while others just make you really sick. The bacteria is common in the gastrointestinal tracts of elk. It can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and severe, bloody diarrhea in humans. While a healthy adult may survive a bout of E. coli infection, some people can develop a form of kidney failure. Older adults and children are more at risk.
In 2015, one thousand six hundred and forty pounds of elk meat sold in certain retail stores were recalled because of E. coli contamination. In addition, in 2013, researchers found that children playing in a field were sickened by a strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli traced to the feces of Rocky Mountain elk living nearby.
Salmonella In Elk
Salmonella is a bacteria that causes diarrheal illness in people when they eat the infected meat. Other symptoms are headache, fever, dehydration, and muscle cramps. It is a potentially deadly disease, especially in small children, immuno-compromised people, and people over fifty.
Scientists have isolated the DT104 variant in wildlife, humans, and farmed animals in the Pacific northwest. DT104 is more virulent than other Salmonella strains and is multi-drug resistant, so many of the antibiotics used to treat other Salmonella infections don’t work. DT104 has been found in elk.
Trichinellosis In Elk
This parasite can be destroyed in the cooking process, but if the meat is undercooked or raw, it can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in humans. It can also cause muscle pain, itchy skin or rashes, facial swelling, and fatigue that can hang around for a long time – up to eight weeks.
Chronic Wasting Disease In Elk
Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD is found in elk, deer, and moose populations. It is caused by prions that damage the animal’s brain, similar to mad cow disease, and is ultimately fatal.
CWD only infects members of the deer family at present, and no cases of CWD in humans are currently known. It can take over a year before the elk starts showing marked symptoms of the CWD, and some animals die from it without showing signs at all. There is no treatment for it and no vaccination to prevent it.
Pathogens can mutate and jump species, and there is some evidence that CWD can infect monkeys who are primates like humans. Since there are no known cures for diseases caused by prions, the health authorities say infected animals must be kept from the human food chain.
CWD slowly damages an elk’s brain, which causes atypical behavior, drooling, paralysis, listlessness, uncoordinated movements, pneumonia, and separation from the herd. It is not recommended to eat or use any part of a CWD-infected animal. Therefore elk that look sick, listless, or are acting strangely shouldn’t be hunted.
Thorough cooking can destroy many pathogens but not all of them. You can eat elk raw, but you run the risk of contracting some pretty severe illnesses. If you experience disease symptoms after eating raw elk, you should seek immediate medical attention.
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