Meat hygiene is not a mere luxury which might be handled lightly, or worse, entirely overlooked. Butchering meat should be given the same thought and preparation as any other important life-sustaining work. No matter if you are butchering domestic or wild animals, you should always be able to establish if the meat is edible or not.
Beginning with the live animal, to the warm carcass, and on till the product is to be cooked, this is a valuable perishable food product. There are many health hazards one can eliminate from the diet if one knows what to look for when butchering domestic animals or game.
Many diseases can be transmitted from animals to man at the time of butchering or consuming the animal product that has not been properly inspected. Proper sanitation is of the utmost importance when slaughtering to prevent contamination of the edible product. A clean dust free area with pure water available should be used for butchering.
Observing the animal
The first step is to observe the animal before killing it to be sure it is perfectly healthy. It should be observed at rest and in motion. At rest, it should be breathing easily, have no unusual swellings or discharges from any orifice, have clear eyes, and supple skin with a good shiny coat.
When moving, it should move freely without stiffness or limp in a normal coordinated manner. If a domestic animal, it can be restrained and its temperature can be taken with a rectal thermometer. A morning temperature is more accurate and thus has more meaning. No animal with a fever (elevated body temperature) should be butchered. Excitement can raise body temperature by one degree Fahrenheit and still be acceptable. Any animal appearing ill or abnormal in any way should not be butchered. Slaughter and eat only healthy normal animals.
Here are the normal body temperature (F) of various animals:
- Pigs – 102
- Chickens – 107.5
- Turkeys – 106
- Sheep – 103
- Goats – 104
- Rabbits – 102.5
- Cattle – 101.5
Diseases to spot before consuming the meat
Two diseases are particularly dangerous and should be watched for in this antemortem (before death) inspection. They are anthrax and rabies. These diseases are especially contagious and frequently fatal to those handling the animal, its products, secretions or excretions.
The symptoms to watch for with anthrax in ruminants (cattle, sheep, deer, etc.) are trembling, staggering, difficulty in breathing, and bloody feces, urine, or saliva. This disease can be contracted by just handling the animal, its parts, secretions, or excretions. If anthrax is suspected, the carcass should be buried deep with hot commercial lye, the litter and wastes burned, and the area soaked in a five-percent solution of lye (2.5 lbs lye in 5.5 gal hot water).
Protect the person applying it with rubber gloves, boots, heavy clothing, and goggles. Keep vinegar (a week acid) at hand in case the person applying it comes in direct contact with the lye.
Animals with rabies may show nervousness, irritability, aggressive behavior, spasms, convulsions or a characteristic mincing gate. In the early stages, they may be more friendly and affectionate than normal. Be very wary of the friendly wild animal. In later stages, there will be profuse slobbering as they can’t swallow their saliva. They will rapidly become dehydrated and show a fear of water (hydrophobia) because they can’t swallow it.
This disease can be spread to the handler of the animal or its surroundings via its saliva, which contains the virus. The virus can enter the person’s body through small, even unnoticed breaks in the skin or possibly through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth, etc. Any animal suspected of having rabies under survival conditions should be killed and avoided by all. Do not touch it or its surroundings.
If the animal is ill in any other way, it should be isolated and treated until it recovers. It must be completely normal for at least two weeks, with a longer time better, before slaughtering. This is a general precaution, and we can assume that the meat is edible after 2 or 3 weeks. When you have your healthy normal animal, it should be killed in a quick, humane manner to avoid excitement and the buildup of toxins in the meat.
Postmortem inspection to establish if the meat is edible
As the animal is butchered the postmortem inspection should be conducted. Most of the healthy animals you butcher will be completely normal. You should pay close attention to what these normal tissues and organs look and feel like so you will recognize an abnormality when you see or feel it.
The slaughtering area and equipment must be kept clean to avoid any contamination of the edible parts. Good lighting is important to maintain cleanliness. The gastrointestinal tract (guts) must be removed from the carcass without any of its contents coming in contact with the carcass meat. This is also true with respect to the edible parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
Consequently, great care must be taken when removing the liver, pancreas, tripe, intestines for casings, etc., to avoid contamination. They must be cleaned thoroughly until the rinse water is clear. Have clean containers for the edible parts. Many small containers are better than a few large ones as there is less chance of cross-contamination. Plastic bags are good for this temporary storage. Plastic sheets are excellent to help keep the surrounding area hygienic.
While butchering an animal, all parts should be examined for any abnormality. Pay particular attention to lymph nodes and glandular tissues as they help you decide whether the whole carcass or just the affected parts must be condemned and disposed of to prevent contamination of the edible parts.
Look for abscesses (pus pockets) which may vary in size from too small to see to very large, as large as a basketball. If a single or couple of isolated abscesses are found, the organ or area involved can be condemned and destroyed. Then the rest of the meat is edible as long as it is normal. When there are multiple abscesses in various organs, the whole carcass should be destroyed.
For instance, if you find a couple of abscesses in the head or liver, destroy the entire head or liver and use the rest of the carcass. If you find abscesses in say the liver and lymph nodes of the head destroy the whole carcass. Another example is finding an abscess in the auxiliary (armpit) lymph node and finding an infection somewhere in that limb then only that leg must be discarded. However, if several lymph nodes spread over the body are involved with abscesses or are swollen (enlarged) the whole carcass must be destroyed.
Another thing to watch for is fluid-filled cysts varying in size from a few millimeters to several inches in diameter. These are the infective form of various tapeworms and are generally found in the muscles of the body. Look closely at the most active muscles of the body. These are the diaphragm (muscle separating the thorax [chest] and abdomen [stomach]), heart, and tongue where these parasites are frequently found.
When cysts are present in the muscles, the whole carcass is unfit for food. If they are found only in the abdominal viscera (guts) then these can easily be removed from the carcass, and the viscera destroyed, while the rest of the carcass can be used for food.
Do not allow scavengers like dogs or other carnivores to eat this diseased material as they can spread some of these parasites to man through their fecal contamination. If many lymph nodes are enlarged, the animal may have lymphosarcoma (cancer), tularemia (a bacterial infection) or some other lymph node involvement. The whole carcass should be destroyed.
The meat is unfit for food or feed (animal food). As you examine these tissues and organs they should be cut several times and the cut interior surfaces examined as well, since the abnormality may be totally internal and not seen from the outer surface.
Change in color or aspect
Any experienced butcher will tell you that a change in color or aspect of the meat plays an important role in establishing if the meat is edible or not. These are tell-tale signs that you should look for.
When examining the liver, the hard, fibrous ducts should be cut to see if there are any parasites in them. If there are the whole liver should be destroyed.
When the whole carcass has a yellowish color (icteric), especially the white tissues, the whole carcass should be condemned.
Cut into the lung tissue to see if there is any pus in the bronchi or bronchioles (air tubes) within the lung. If there is, the lungs are not fit for food, and if there are signs of systemic infection, the whole carcass should be destroyed.
Signs of systemic infection to look for are changes in the appearance of several tissues or organs. These can be multiple swollen lymph nodes, tissues redder in color than they should be, small abscesses in various tissues or organs, some tissues may be congested with blood appearing almost purple or any other multiple abnormalities. Under these conditions, the whole carcass should be condemned.
Related reading: Raising Rabbits And Butchering Them For Organic Meat
When you find worms in any tissue or organ that organ is unfit for food. If the muscles look like they have measles, many red spots through the muscle, then this animal may have trichinosis. When establishing if the meat is edible, the most active muscles are most frequently involved. The whole carcass should be destroyed.
All pork, bear, or any carnivore meat should be considered to have some of these parasites even when they look normal. Consequently, cook them all thoroughly (well done). The meat should be cooked till the internal temperature is 185 degrees F for at least 15 minutes. The kidneys are good indicator organs.
Indicator organs are those that show what may be going on throughout the body. If they are covered with abnormal spots of any size or have pus in them, the whole carcass should be destroyed.
Any animal that is in an emaciated condition or whose tissues are icteric should be condemned.
A last word before establishing if the meat is edible
The old rule of thumb is when in doubt, throw it out. Most of the animals you butcher will be normal, but always be observant for the abnormal as a mistake could be fatal. Cleanliness is of the utmost importance when butchering both to protect the edible parts and yourself from contamination. There are very good books on the market regarding meat hygiene for your survival. Even a book in anatomy would be helpful in this area and in understanding health problems in general and how the animal and human bodies work.