A leaner type of meat than beef or pork, deer meat has increasingly become more popular in part due to the grass-fed, wild food movement, and the push to eat more sustainably.
If you find yourself questioning the freshness of your frozen deer meat, read on to find out how you can tell if you can still eat it safely or if it has gone bad.
Frozen deer meat will likely be safe to eat if it has a uniform, dark red color, no offensive smell, a firm, smooth texture, and no sign of freezer-burn. Dark or metallic colors, a foul smell, and a water-logged look are all red flags that indicate spoilage.
There should not be frozen liquid with your deer meat
Properly frozen deer meat should be packaged tightly and properly, and look dry. The presence of frozen liquid means that the meat had been previously frozen, left to thaw, and then put back in the freezer once more.
Bacteria starts to grow once meat has thawed, and refreezing it only to thaw it once more dramatically increases the chance of food poisoning.
While it is not necessarily unsafe to freeze meat shortly after it has been thawed and kept at a low temperature, it does increase your risk of food poisoning, especially if you do not know when or how your frozen deer meat was thawed in the first place.
Frozen deer meat should not be freezer-burned
Freezer-burned meat is normally safe to eat, but it does raise many questions, including how long the meat has been sitting in the freezer (frozen deer meat will stay fresh for about 9 months when properly packaged) and whether or not it went through a thawing and refreezing cycle.
Carefully handled frozen venison should be neatly stored in the freezer, without signs of freezer burn or torn packaging, and have its processing date clearly labeled for the best results.
If you are unsure of when the deer meat was initially processed and frozen, and if it no longer looks fresh, it could at the very least end up being tougher and less flavorful than if it had been properly stored.
Frozen deer meat should be deep, dark red in color
Frozen deer meat should look darker than beef, with a deeper red color. It should never be brown, black, gray, green, silver, or with rainbow streaks.
And of course, any sign of parasites, maggots, or insects is a sure sign that your frozen deer meat has gone bad.
Do not attempt to cut off the bad parts and cook the rest in the hopes of killing off bacteria, as many will survive prolonged high temperatures, and could cause life-threatening illnesses.
Likewise, freezing will only get rid of some, but not all, pathogens. You want your venison to look as healthy as the day it was obtained.
Frozen deer meat should have a firm, smooth texture after thawing
Muscle, by definition, won’t be bone dry. But while a certain dampness should be expected, as with all meats, you never want it to be slimy.
If your thawed deer meat looks healthy, now is the time to push down on it a little. If it’s fresh, it will bounce back. If the indentation remains, it could be that it has gone bad.
While it is true that thawed meat and fresh meat will have a slightly different texture, neither of them will be water-logged, discolored, or leathery.
Frozen deer meat should not have an offensive smell after thawing
As with every food, deer meat should smell appetizing. A foul or offensive odor is a tell-tale sign that it has gone bad, and should be discarded. Deer meat might be gamey and earthy, but never off-putting even after thawing.
You never want to taste meat that you are not completely sure is safe to eat, and you do want the musky, woodsy taste of deer meat to be reflected through its aroma.
The smell of spoiled meat won’t be obvious when it is right out of the freezer. The more it thaws, the more you will be able to assess its freshness, something that will happen fairly quickly especially with advanced spoilage.
Frozen deer meat should be processed quickly and consumed within 9 months
Deer meat, as with all meats, has a very short shelf life when left at room temperature, around one to three hours. If you know that it took longer than that to freeze it, the chances of it being high are fairly high.
Even with proper handling practices, frozen venison will last about one year at the most, although it is safer to keep that window of time under nine months.
Some conservative estimates even place the window at 3 months. After thawing, consuming it within two to three days at the latest is your safest bet.
Deer meat is one of the healthiest types of meats you can consume. Lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than most other red meats, it also has the added benefits of being naturally wild and grass-fed.
And, if you are able to hunt for it yourself, it is also cost-effective, as one single deer can feed a person for the best part of a year.
But, according to the CDC, over 40% of all foodborne bacterial illnesses were due to the consumption of land animals, and just like other types of meat, deer meat needs to be handled properly to stay fresh and keep its bacterial count down.
Remember to pack your deer meat in air-tight packaging, freeze it as soon as possible at 0°F (-18°C) or below, keep it frozen until ready to use and for a maximum of 9 months for the best results, and consume it within a few days after thawing, keeping it at a low temperature the entire time.
By following proper food-handling practices and knowing how to recognize when your frozen deer meat has gone bad, you will be able to reap all the benefits it has to offer without risks to your health.