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If you don't thoroughly cook meat before eating it, especially wild-caught game, including venison, bear and moose, you could become infected with trichinosis. Trichinosis is a potentially deadly disease caused by a parasitic roundworm carried by some carnivorous and omnivorous animals. Proper cooking of all meats and good hygiene practices in your kitchen will help prevent you from contracting trichinosis from your food.
You could become infected with trichinosis by eating uncooked or undercooked meats from animals infected with the larvae of parasites from the Trichinella genus. Once eaten, the larvae mature in the intestines and infect the host's body. The species of these parasites that typically infect people are Trichinella spiralis and Trichinella murrelli. To kill the larvae of these parasites and prevent the spread of this disease, thoroughly cook any meat you eat because heat is the only sure way to kill the parasites. Microwaving your meat may not heat it evenly, leaving spots that still contain live parasites, so always heat the meat in the oven or on the stovetop.
Cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and wild game meat of any kind to at least 160 F. Cook ground meat to an internal temperature of 160 F and whole meats, not including wild game, to 145 F. Always test the temperature of your meat during the cooking process with a meat thermometer to ensure it is fully cooked throughout. Allow poultry and non-game meats to rest for at least three minutes before cutting into them and eating them. During the resting period, the residual heat continues to kill any of the harmful parasites in the meat.
Handling Raw and Cooked Meats
When handling raw meat, wash your hands with soap and water before touching other food or surfaces that may come into contact with food. Don't use the same utensils to handle both raw and cooked meats because you could cross-contaminate safely cooked meats with the residual parasite larvae from raw meat. Thoroughly clean any meat grinders used to make ground meat, poultry or sausage.
Other Preparation Methods
Smoking, salt-curing, pickling and drying your meats won't kill all the Trichinella parasites they might contain. While freezing meat less than 6 inches thick in temperatures of 5 F or below for 20 days may kill any Trichinella parasites in it, this isn't the case for most wild game, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Freezing won't kill the parasites in game meats, which must be cooked properly to prevent the spread of trichinosis. Note that trichinosis is rare in the U.S., especially when it comes to farmed meat and poultry. Most cases reported are usually from improperly cooked game meat.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: The Cause of Trichinosis and Its Prevention Through Safe Food Handling Practices
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parasites -- Trichinellosis (also known as Trichinosis)Prevention & Control
- MayoClinic.org: Trichinosis
- United States Department of Agriculture: Trichinae
- MedicineNet.com: Trichinosis
- New York State Department of Health: Trichinosis
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parasites -- Trichinellosis (also known as Trichinosis)
- Hlib Shabashnyi/iStock/Getty Images