U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service



Date of this Version

March 2006


The harvest and consumption of wildlife is as old as humankind and often has sustained human exploration into unsettled areas. Wildlife still remain a primary foodbase for many native peoples throughout the world. From shellfish to bear, humans today continue to hunt, fish, and otherwise harvest wildlife for recreation, social and cultural needs, dietary supplementation, subsistence, and other purposes that result in the consumption of game meat (Fig. 5.1).

Over time, experience has taught people what food is safe to eat and how it should be prepared. This is especially true for those who subsist upon wildlife. Fortunately, the meat from wildlife generally is safe to eat when properly harvested and prepared; however, many people infrequently consume wildlife and are less experienced than subsistence users of wildlife in making judgments about what is safe to eat, how to handle the meat between the times of harvest and preparation, and how the meat should be prepared (Table 5.1). Disease emergence and resurgence has added a dimension that also must be considered for wildlife (e.g., chronic wasting disease in deer and elk) and domestic foods alike (see Chapters 2 and 3).

This chapter provides guidance for sporadic consumers of wildlife because, unlike farmed food animals (domestic and captive-reared wildlife species) or commercially harvested finfish and shellfish, the meat from free-living wildlife in the USA and many other countries is not regulated and inspected by government authorities. The safe consumption of game harvested by the public in these situations depends entirely on the actions and discretion of those harvesting and preparing these food items. These individuals commonly encounter conditions in wildlife carcasses that cause them to ask the question “Is This Safe to Eat?” (Fig. 5.2) and in some situations to unnecessarily discard edible meat.