Venison quality depends on hunters, processors

Thursday, November 12, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 12:27 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 12, 2009
Bill Crane shows an example Wednesday of what processed deer meat looks like in the end after running through the wrapper machine at his meat processing plant. Crane processes meat that hunters donate before he gives it to the Central Missouri Food Bank through the Share the Harvest program as well as processing for customers.

Bill Crane has his own regulations for the deer he processes.

The owner of Crane's Meat Processing south of Columbia said he doesn't accept any deer at his processing business that "has been dead more than half a day” when the temperature is above 50 degrees.

Ensure venison quality during warm weather

Opening weekend is expected to be warmer than normal with a forecast high of near 60 on Saturday and in the 50s on Sunday. Crane offers these tips to help ensure your venison remains safe:

  • Put ice in the carcass cavities as soon as the deer is field dressed if it is warmer than 50 degrees.
  • Save gallon milk jugs to use as ice packs. The frozen jugs work great to cool down deer carcasses and are reusable.
  • Make sure that the deer was properly field dressed and that thereir is no intestinal matter left inside the carcass.



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Prolonged exposure to warm temperatures, as well as how the deer is handled by a hunter, can affect the quality of meat.

Crane's business and some commercial processors that handle a variety of meats other than deer undergo government inspections. But there's no such requirement for seasonal processors who handle only deer.

MU food scientist Andrew Clarke said retail meat products are inspected both before and after slaughter to ensure safety. Since deer cannot be inspected prior to slaughter, he said, venison does not qualify for retail sale.

That means venison quality is dependent on the hunter and processor — not government inspectors.

Wild venison can be donated to food pantries in Missouri through Share the Harvest. The program distributed 61 tons of venison to needy Missouri families last year alone, but before the program could succeed, a state statute had to be put into place to allow the distribution of meat that has not been inspected, said Dave Murphy, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.

“There has never been any contaminated meats or health concerns as a result of the program,” Murphy said.

Out of the more than 300 deer processors throughout the state, Share the Harvest chose an “elite” 130 to handle meat that will be distributed through the program, he said.

The state requires processors participating in Share the Harvest to be inspected by the Missouri Department of Agriculture or the Missouri Department of Heath and Senior Services.

Crane is one such processor and is among the three eligible plants in Boone County. For the past decade, he has been participating in the program and his plant is “inspected from wall to wall.”

“We make less money because we knock off $10 per head on every deer donated,” he said.

Last year alone, Crane’s Meat Processing provided Share the Harvest with more than 6,500 pounds of donated meat. Crane makes up for some of the loss by using packaging provided by the Conservation Federation for the donated venison.

For this year's season, Crane expects to process 300 to 400 deer, including more than 100 for the Share the Harvest.

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