Okay, you’ve shot or arrowed that prized deer so now what do you do with it? Even though many hunters are choosing to cut up and package their own meat these days, other hunters still prefer to pay having these services provided by a professional. Certainly nothing wrong with that…but how does one know whether they’re getting the best value for their money along with wholesome food safety?
Remember, even the basic processing and packaging costs can run upwards of $100 per deer. Tack on specialty processing like sausage making, curing or smoking and the final tally on the cash register could easily approach $300 for a large deer. Here’s a list of some basic questions you might consider asking a meat processor before you engage their services this fall:
1. Is the facility registered by MN Dept of Ag? Make sure the processor in which you’re dealing with abides by the meat handling rules set forth by the State of Minnesota.
2. When last was the processing facility inspected? Keep in mind the Minnesota Dept. of Ag has a designation for meat processors called “Custom Exempt Meat Processor” which means less frequent sanitation inspections. If the meat processor is not regularly selling over-the-counter meat to the public you might want to ask about when their facility was last inspected by the state.
3. What is your trimming policy around any wound channels? Now with the recent concern regarding the potential for lead toxins due to bullet fragmentation, processors are being asked to be aggressive in cutting away damaged meat. The processors make more money by the pound, but ensure you’re getting the safe meat you want by discussing this concern.
4. Will my meat be commingled with venison from other hunters? Quite often it is because to make it worthwhile to do a batch of sausage, bologna, etc. it typically requires some volume. If this practice concerns you, now is the time to discuss it with the meat processor to discover any alternatives that may be available.
5. Are grinders being regularly checked for lead fragments and cleaned? Impress upon your meat processor the importance of thoroughly cleaning equipment before any of your venison is ground. It should be done this way between customers, anyway.
6. How is the meat packaged? Explain how many servings per package is ideal for your family. Also, if the meat will likely be in the freezer for some time, consider paying a bit extra to get all cuts double-wrapped to further prevent freezer burn.
7. When will the cutting occur? Unlike beef, most venison is not purposefully aged before processing. Asking this question is more about learning how busy the processor is and discovering how the meat will be stored in the meantime.
8. How soon will the meat need to be picked up? Are there storage fees? Good questions to ask for schedule planning.
9. Can I see a price list? Can you estimate the final cost? Always request a price list. Knowing in advance what your total costs could amount to will help avoid any “sticker shock” situations. It also helps for family budgeting just to know in advance.
10. Is there a money back guarantee for processed venison items? A good processor will have samples for tasting when you bring in your deer to write up the order. The expectation is for your meat to taste similar to those samples. If that situation doesn’t occur and you discover the meat to be rather unpalatable, what recourse will you have?
Now, granted some of these questions might hint as though you’re questioning the meat processor’s integrity. Well, my experience has been that a reputable and responsible professional will gladly answer any concerns you might have about their food handling practices. After all, the service they are providing can ultimately concern the health and well-being of your family and your friends.
As a final note, several meat processors are again this year accepting donations under the Minnesota Venison Donation Program sponsored by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the Minnesota DNR, and the Minnesota Department of Ag. If you have quality, wholesome venison to donate…please consider this worthwhile program that helps fill area food shelves.
© 2009 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.