Q: My son is going pheasant hunting with some friends this weekend. This is his first time, so I was talking to him about the importance of food safety. I really wasn’t sure what to recommend. Can you help?
A: Oh yes, it’s that time of year, isn’t it? And you’re right — it’s important to know how handle game birds so they’re safe to eat later. Here are our recommendations.
Care in the field and in transport
• Be prepared for the hunt. Remember to bring a sharp hunting knife, plastic bags, clean cloths or paper towels and a cooler filled with ice.
• Field dress the bird promptly. Remove the entrails and crop as soon as possible because the grain in the crop may ferment if not removed. The heart and liver may be saved for giblets. Store in a plastic bag on ice to keep them clean and cold. Leave an identification mark on the bird.
• The birds may be plucked or skinned in the field. If you pluck the birds, bring a plastic bag for storing the feathers.
• Cool the carcass quickly to retain flavor and maintain the quality of the bird. A temperature above 40 degrees is meat’s worst enemy.
• Wipe out the cavity with a clean cloth or paper towel. Do not use grass (or snow in the winter) as this will contaminate the carcass.
• In hot weather, place the birds individually in plastic bags and put on ice. Do not pile warm birds in a mass.
• Store the birds in a cooler or ice chest out of the sun.
Care in processing and storage
• Don’t cross-contaminate during processing. Wash your hands, knife and cutting board with hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
• When preparing pheasant or quail, skin or pluck the bird and soak in cold water for one to two hours to remove the excess blood.
• For immediate use, birds should be stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or less and used within three days. For long-term storage, the whole cleaned carcass or individual parts may be frozen at 0 degrees or lower. Freeze the meat while it is fresh and in top condition.
• The advantage of packaging parts instead of the whole bird is that bloody spots can be eliminated by cutting out or rinsing out with cold water. Parts also fit conveniently in your freezer. Parts may be boned, and the carcass and neck my be used as a soup base.
• Use moisture/vapor-proof wrap such as heavily waxed freezer wrap, laminated freezer wrap, heavy duty aluminum foil or freezer-weight polyethylene bags.
• Wrap tightly, pressing out as much air as possible. Label the packages with the content and date. Use the frozen packages within a year.
Q: Can we get West Nile virus from handling infected birds?
A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is little evidence of the public getting West Nile virus from handling or consuming infected birds. However, consider using the following common sense precautions:
• Wear latex/rubber gloves when field dressing and cleaning birds.
• Do not harvest and eat sick or abnormal acting birds.
• Fully cook game birds to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.