There are plenty of good reasons to pick up roadkill from the streets whenever possible. From a moral standpoint, it’s just not right to let an animal die for no reason and leave it to decay on the road when there are people in our country going hungry every night.
Looking at it economically, it can save you a lot of money to add roadkill meat to your diet alongside store-bought meat. It’s also a chance to overcome any food aversions you might have and try out some wild game you wouldn’t have had the chance to taste otherwise.
In any case, eating roadkill isn’t as taboo as some people in society make it out to be. Remember what your mother used to say, “Try it; you might like it!” Harvesting roadkill generally involves four steps: finding the roadkill, checking if it’s safe to eat, processing the meat by removing the skin, organs, and guts, and finally, cooking it right away or freezing it for later use.
Locating your next meal
Finding roadkill in America is actually quite easy. It’s a sad reality that each year, a staggering number of animals, approximately 360 million according to various Humane Society estimates, are killed by vehicles on the extensive network of highways and roads in the country. Another report from the Federal Highway Administration in 2008 estimated that one to two million large animals meet their end on our roads annually. These numbers highlight the significant impact of road accidents on wildlife.
As you travel, if you remain observant, you won’t have to search far to come across an animal that has lost its life on or near a roadway. Unfortunately, the issue of roadkill is prevalent and has an impact on various species throughout the country. It’s not uncommon to encounter small mammals, birds, reptiles, and even larger animals like deer and other wildlife that have fallen victim to vehicle collisions.
Given the frequency of roadkill incidents, it becomes apparent why the idea of harvesting roadkill for consumption has gained some attention. While the thought of eating roadkill may initially seem unappealing to many, it’s essential to consider the potential benefits of using this meat resourcefully and ethically.
It’s worth noting that while roadkill can provide a source of meat, there are certain precautions and guidelines to follow to ensure the meat is safe for consumption. Proper inspection and handling of roadkill are essential to avoid potential health risks.
Inspecting the soon to be meal
When finding roadkill, above all else, trust your instincts. Humans have a natural ability to discern whether food is safe to eat or not. Whether it’s the appearance, smell, or taste, you’ll know when something is off.
Think about encountering a decaying animal carcass while driving or walking—without any expert guidance, you instinctively understand that the meat on that animal has turned bad. We’ve all experienced opening a bag of spoiled chicken that’s past its expiration date, instantly detecting the foul smell.
Animals, too, rely on their senses to find food and avoid harmful substances. Humans possess a keen sense of smell for this very reason. So, if the meat smells bad, trust your nose—it will give you all the information you need.
However, even if the roadkill passes the smell test, thorough inspection is vital. Check the freshness of the meat and look for signs of internal injuries resulting from the impact that caused its death. Sometimes, vehicle strikes can lead to tainted meat, making it challenging to salvage edible parts.
You can also assess how long the animal has been dead by examining certain indicators. Rigor mortis can set in quickly, but it’s not the only factor to consider. Wild, warm-blooded animals with fur often harbor fleas, which prefer to feed on their hosts’ warm blood. After a few hours of the animal’s death, the fleas will likely move on. Additionally, check the eyes; a milky film forming over the eyeballs indicates decomposition has begun. Clear eyes suggest the animal hasn’t been dead for long.
Temperature plays a role too—the colder it is, the longer the animal can remain in the elements without rotting. Look for flies as well, as they appear when an animal starts to decompose. While flies may not always be avoidable, pay particular attention to certain animals, especially reptiles like turtles, iguanas, and snakes.
They can carry salmonella and should never be eaten raw. Generally, when it comes to harvesting roadkill, it’s best to cook the meat thoroughly to minimize any health risks from potential bacteria or diseases.
To reduce the risk of consuming tainted meat or getting sick, research the areas where you plan to harvest roadkill, identifying animals that might carry diseases. Inspect the animal’s carcass externally and internally, and ensure you cook the meat thoroughly before consuming it. By being cautious and taking appropriate measures, you can make the most out of roadkill harvesting while minimizing potential health hazards.
As you venture into the process of processing roadkill, it’s crucial to understand that the inspection doesn’t truly end until you taste and digest the meat. The ultimate test of its safety lies in your palate and digestion. If it doesn’t taste right or leads to discomfort, it’s a clear sign that the animal may not be fit for consumption.
When it comes to processing roadkill, the steps involved are quite akin to preparing any other type of meat for consumption. Each person may have their own techniques, and I’ll share my approach, but feel free to adapt it to your preferences. The central objective is to ensure that the meat is clean, untainted, and seemingly free from infections.
Starting with removing the animal’s head, I usually make the cut just below the head for most animals, aiming to retain as much usable meat as possible. Snapping turtles, for example, boast some of the best cuts of meat on the neck, so salvaging as much as you can is essential.
For dealing with poisonous snakes, or any snake if you’re uncertain, it’s wise to make the cut approximately 6 inches below the head. This precaution ensures the removal of venom sacks. It’s vital to remember that both snakes and snapping turtles can still bite even after death. Therefore, exercise great care to avoid the business end of these creatures once the head is separated from the body. Notably, a snapping turtle’s body appears to remain somewhat alive for an hour or more after its death. On one occasion, I recall butchering an entire turtle, removing the shell, separating the different types of meat, and extracting all the guts and organs. Surprisingly, I could still hold the turtle’s separated heart in my hand and witness it beating for over 20 minutes until it finally stopped pulsating. Even the severed turtle head retained enough biting force to break a pencil when placed in its beak!
Poisonous snakes, once deceased, lose the ability to regulate venom delivery, making their bites potentially dangerous even after death. To address this, it’s recommended to place the head in a sharps disposal container and follow your community’s guidelines for proper disposal. Alternatively, secure the head in a jar with a screw-on lid and bury it several feet deep. This prevents curious pets from accessing it, but be cautious to ensure your pet stays away from the disposal site.
Continuing with the process, I proceed to cut off the lower portion of each animal’s feet, just at the joint. For smaller animals like squirrels and rabbits, I find it more convenient to make a small incision across the center of the backbone, providing enough space to get my fingers under the skin on each side. This technique facilitates peeling the skin and fur off easily. On the other hand, for larger animals, I prefer hanging them from their hind legs, allowing the skin to peel down effortlessly.
For animals larger than rabbits, I cut the skin all the way around the anus before peeling it off. Once the skin is removed, I make a downward vertical incision with a sharp knife, starting from the animal’s neck and continuing through the center of the rib cage, down to the hind legs, and all the way to the anus. This exposes the small intestine, and I proceed to remove the animal’s guts, akin to cleaning out a fish. Care must be taken to avoid rupturing the bladder, bowels, bile ducts, or stomach, as this can spoil the meat. As a reminder, the inspection process remains ongoing throughout.
The heart and liver of most animals are edible, but it’s worth mentioning that acquiring a taste for them might take some time. If you’re curious, there’s no harm in trying. During processing, be sure to examine the liver and other organs for bile ducts or glands, making sure not to puncture them or disregard any ruptures caused by the vehicle impact. Bile can taint the meat and negatively affect the taste.
I’m not one to waste any part of the animal, so I usually compost all unused parts or utilize them as catfish bait. In survival situations or for practicing bushcrafting skills, the animal’s bones can be incredibly resourceful. You can create tools, fish hooks, and sewing needles from the bones, and the hides or pelts can be used for clothing or shelter.
Throughout the entire process, maintain a vigilant approach, ensuring safe handling and preparation. The inspection process is ongoing, guaranteeing the successful processing of roadkill while reducing potential health risks. Always remember to prioritize cleanliness, and you’ll make the most out of this unconventional food source.
When faced with roadkill in a survival situation or choosing to eat it “at your own risk,” exercising utmost caution is vital. Taking several precautions can significantly lower the risk of falling ill from consuming potentially contaminated meat. Freezing the roadkill at temperatures of -4°F or lower for an extended period, typically four days or more, proves effective in eliminating potential tapeworms or other parasites that may be present in the meat. This method ensures a safer food source, reducing the risk of harmful infections.
Regardless of whether you decide to freeze the meat or consume it immediately, the importance of thorough cooking cannot be overstated. Cooking the roadkill at high temperatures is an essential step in eradicating any remaining harmful bacteria or pathogens. To guarantee safety, it is recommended to cook the meat to an internal temperature of at least 160°F before consuming it.
Moreover, when dealing with roadkill from animals known to carry specific diseases or parasites, it is wise to exercise additional caution. Conduct research to understand the common health risks associated with the specific species you encounter. This knowledge will prove valuable in identifying potential dangers and adopting appropriate measures.
Furthermore, while handling roadkill, maintain strict hygiene practices throughout the entire process. Wearing gloves and thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after handling the meat helps prevent contamination. It is crucial to avoid cross-contamination by keeping the roadkill separate from other foods during storage and preparation.
If you are uncertain about the condition of the roadkill or harbor any doubts about its safety, erring on the side of caution is imperative. Refrain from consuming the meat and prioritize finding alternative food sources, along with a clean water supply, to sustain yourself in survival situations. Proper planning and preparation can help you steer clear of unnecessary health risks associated with consuming questionable or contaminated meat.
Always bear in mind that consuming roadkill involves inherent risks, and it should only be considered as a last resort during extreme circumstances. By exercising caution, thoroughly inspecting the meat, employing freezing and cooking techniques, and ensuring diligent hygiene practices, you can effectively mitigate potential health hazards and make the most of this unconventional food source when needed.