Trichinosis in Wild Game - What You Need to Know | Hank Shaw (2023)

Trichinosis in Wild Game - What You Need to Know | Hank Shaw (2)

I don’t think I go a month without someone asking me about food safety and wild game, and by far the most common questions are about trichinosis, notably in relation to wild boar and bear meat. I’ve studied this issue for several years, and I find no real issue — provided you know a few ground rules. Allow me to lay out what I know to hopefully put your mind at ease.

Let’s start with what we’re talking about. While it is certainly possible to getfood poisoning fromwild game, it is actually quite rare for people to pick up E.coli 0157, salmonella, toxoplasmosis or brucellosisfrom game meats. And when it does happen, the cause is usually related to contamination by the hunter or whomever dresses and processes the meat.

The more pressing concern is trichinosis, a condition you develop from eating still-active larvae of the trichinae parasite, which lives in the flesh of primarily carnivores and omnivores, although there are a few stray reports of it occurring in deer. Note my use of the phrase “still-active” in that last sentence; it’s important and I will explain below.

As it happens, thetrichinae parasite is extremely rare in wild game and it is even more rare for anyone to become sick with trichinosis from eating game. According to a Centers for Disease Control study that surveyed incidence of the disease from 2008 to 2012, there were only 84 cases of trichinosis in all of America. Of those,43were eating wild game. That’s 43people in a five-year period, and 30 of those 43 were in one incident, an unfortunate party I’ll describe in detail later. Consider that number when you think of the millions of people who eat wild game every year.

Of course,if you are one of those unlucky few, trichinosis is not to be trifled with. A heavy dose of antibiotics will indeed cure the symptoms — diarrhea and nausea, muscle pain, weakness, even nervous system and heart problems — the larval cysts (pictured at right) will remain in your muscle tissue — meaning that if someone were to eat you, they’d get trich, too. Trippy, eh? Oh, and if you never seek treatment for the illness, it can be fatal. Bottom line is that trich is no fun.

Trichinosis in Wild Game - What You Need to Know | Hank Shaw (3)

It is a fact that bear and cougar meat are the most prominent vectors for trichinosis in North America. Pigs, which arewhat most people think of when they think of trich, are actually not commonly infected. Trichinosis fromdomesticated pork is all-but absent these days, which is why the USDA — an organization well known to be overly cautious and is believed by many to be scientifically suspect when it comes to meat safety in the real world — dropped the “safe” cooking temperature of pork from 160°F to 145°F in 2011.

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Wild pigs are a bit more of an issue. Depending on what state you live in, the incidence of infectionvaries. One study showed a 13 percent incidence of trichinae parasites in North Carolina, which is more or less the commonly agreed on rate of infection. Interestingly, other than twofreak appearances of the EurasianTrichinae pseudospiralis, which shouldn’t actually exist in North America, Texas hogs appear to be largely free of the parasite, according to this research.

Andguess what? According to that CDC study I linked to above, only sixcases of trichinosis were tied to eating wild pigs. Six. In five years. You have a better chance of getting struck by lighting on a boat, falling over and then being eaten face-first by a shark.

Bear meat, not pork, is the real problem. (As is mountain lion meat, but only a very few people eat that.)

Bears appear to be heavily infected by the parasite, so much so that you should assume the meat is infected. In that CDC study, 41 of the 84 total cases of trichinosis reported in America between 2008 and 2012 were from bear meat. That is still a tiny fraction of the thousands of people who eat bear every year, but it’s enough to warrant further discussion.

Some bad news: There is not just one trichinella parasite. There are many. Here in North America we have fivemajor species:Trichinae spiralis, which is the most common and hangs out with pigs for the most part; thenT. nativa, T-6 andT. murrelli, which are almost always found in wild game — chiefly bears.

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There is a wide body of research covering T. spiralis, and it is this research that producedthe admonition to freeze meat for a month before eating it raw or undercooked comes from. Specifically, it assumes that if you freeze wild boar or some bear meat for 20 days at 5°F or lower the parasites will be rendered inert.

Note that freezingwill not kill them, but it will prevent the wee beasties from attaching to you. Keep in mind that the 20 days start when the core of the meat reaches 5°F, which can actually take several days in most freezers. That’s why I freeze for at least a month with bear or wild boar I plan on making into salami, just to be sure. All of this applies to T. murrelli, too.

You can also kill any trichinae parasite by heat. And the “kill temperature” is a helluva lot cooler than you might think. The origin of the odd USDA mandated internal cooking temperature of 160°F appears to be the government trying to account for inaccuracy and idiocy. (That temperature is more relevant for salmonella than trich.) The actual temperature that kills the trichinella parasite is 137°F, which happens to be medium-rare.

Trichinosis in Wild Game - What You Need to Know | Hank Shaw (4)

But be forewarned: Every iota of meat must hit that temperature to kill the parasite, and cooking bear meat to medium-rare isn’t a guarantee of that. In fact, Steve Rinella and his crew ate rare bear meat in Alaska recently and most of them got trichinosis. Steve did a video about the experience here.

You can certainly make medium-rare bear meat safe using the sous vide method, but you’d need to holdthe meat at 137°F for an hour or soto make sure — and then you’d want to sear it on the outside to kill any possible bacteria that survived that low temp. As for me? I like to sous vide bear at about 145°F for an hour or more, which is still a lovely tender and pink piece of meat, and is safe to eat that way.


Unfortunately, the two trichinella species most associated with bears areimmune to freezing. These areT. nativa, the Canadian and Alaskan species, and T-6, the dominant species of parasite from a line stretching from about Washington state across to Maine down to the Rockies, the Great Plains, the Midwest and the Northeast — really where all the good bear hunting is. Only southern states appear to be immune to this species. (Here is a map from a Stanford study.)

The CDC survey noted one particularly nasty outbreak of trichinosis, interestingly in my home state of California, in 2008. Thirty of 38 people eating undercooked black bear got the disease. It is the first known occurrence of humans picking up trich from T. murrelli in America; this is the easily killed strain that likes our warmer states. Everyone who got the disease ate either undercooked or raw (?!) black bear meat at a party.

This is an excerpt from the investigation:

Interviews revealed that the bear had been legally hunted a few days before the event in a mountainous region in California about 100 miles east of Humboldt County. The bear was reportedly lying down when shot and appeared to be sick; it was butchered on a table that was later used to serve food. Raw dishes were prepared with chopped meat, and cooked bear meat dishes included stir fries, lentil-based stews, and rice/meat mixtures.

Clearly there are all kinds of food safety issues going on here, and the tragedy is that they technically could have made their raw bear dishes had they frozen the meat for a month first — the strain of trichinae that attacked them can be rendered inertwhen frozen.

Finally, let me address the making of salami and other cured meats with wild boar and bear.

(Video) How to Cook Bear Meat in Bear Fat with Steven Rinella - MeatEater

Trichinosis in Wild Game - What You Need to Know | Hank Shaw (5)

Obviously these are, for the most part, not cooked. So how can they be safe? Culinary Science Professor Bob del Grosso says the exact mechanism is hazy, but this is the working theory:

The literature is a bit unclear on how this works. However, it suggests that it is not the salt that kills the larvae, it is protein-digesting enzymes released by fermentation bacteria.I suspect that what happens is more complicated and looks something like this:The salt lowers the water activity of the meat, which means that less water is available to the larvae.The fermentation bacteria produce acid which also lowers the water activity while the acid wrecksthe metabolism of the larvae which, like many living things needs to be close to pH 7 (neutral) to work properly.All of that, plus the enzymes, toxic oils from the herbs, etc. plus nitric oxide from the nitrate, beat the hellout of the trich.

All these processes going on shouldprevent you from actually getting trichinosis, which is why people have been safely making salami with wild and domesticated pigs for 2000 years. But you need to be a careful curer of meats and not take shortcuts.

The key figure here is at least 2percent salt by weight of the total meat and fat. So if you make a 5-pound batch of salami, as I often do, you will need at least 45grams of salt to be totally safe.I tend to use a bit more, like 50+ grams to get close to 2 1/2 percent by weight. (Here is the relevant study of this.)

Now here’s the caveat: While there has been lots of study done on salt curing and T. spiralis, there’s been almost nothing done on salt’s effect on the other species of the parasite. So it’s all deduction when it comes to bear charcuterie. Wild boar charcuterie should follow the same guidelines as those for domesticated pork, because they have easily killed strains of the parasite. Even though may not think you need to, out of an abundance of caution, my advice is to freeze wild boar and bears shot in warm-weather states before starting your salami, and to avoid straight-up salami with bear meat in colder areas — unless the meat is cooked somehow.

So that’s what I know. To sum up:

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  • Most wild pigs don’t have the parasite. But since trichinosis is no fun, it’s best to freeze your meat for 30 days to a month just to be sure — then you can eat it like domestic pork, which is to say a nice 145°F at the center.
  • For salami, you technically don’t have to freeze wild boar, so long as your salt concentration hits 2 1/2 percent and you cure the meat for at least two weeks. But freezing isn’t a bad idea. Finally, for bear, best to cook it through no matter what you do, unless you are in the South, in which case freeze and treat as pork.
  • Use common sense. A great many of the illnesses hunters and game processors do contract are from contact with the innards/blood/infected parts of the animals. If you have any cuts on your hands at all, wear gloves to gut and process your animals. And if you nick yourself, wash with soap and water and get a glove. And if you don’t nick yourself, wash with soap and water afterwards. I know, I shouldn’t have to say that, but several case studies I read involved people gutting a pig and then going out for a sandwich. There was stuff on their hands and they ended up eating it with their burger. No bueno.

Nothing you do is without risk. Eating is no exception. I hope this allays any undue fears aboutgetting trichinosis from wild game. Follow a few simple rules are you should be fine.


What wild game carries trichinosis? ›

Trichinella parasites can infect a wide range of animals worldwide. In the lower 48 states, trichinellosis cases and outbreaks have been caused by the consumption of brown and black bear, wild boar, and cougar; in Alaska, walrus and black, brown, grizzly, and polar bear; and in Hawaii, wild boar.

At what temperature do you kill trichinosis? ›

Curing (salting), drying, smoking, or microwaving meat alone does not consistently kill infective worms; homemade jerky and sausage were the cause of many cases of trichinellosis reported to CDC in recent years. Freeze pork less than 6 inches thick for 20 days at 5°F (-15°C) to kill any worms.

Does freezing bear meat kill trichinosis? ›

* Freezing meat does NOT kill the Trichinella species found in NWT's wildlife. * Smoking, drying, salting or microwaving do not always kill the parasites. Only proper cooking or canning is known to make the meat safe to eat. What are the signs and symptoms of Trichinellosis in people?

What are 5 signs and symptoms of trichinosis? ›

Headaches, fevers, chills, cough, swelling of the face and eyes, aching joints and muscle pains, itchy skin, diarrhea, or constipation may follow the first symptoms.

What kills trichinosis? ›

Anti-parasitic medication is the first line of treatment for trichinosis. If your provider discovers that you have roundworm (trichinella) parasites early, albendazole (Albenza) or mebendazole (Emverm) can kill the worms and larvae in the small intestine.

How can you prevent trichinosis? ›

What can be done to prevent the spread of trichinosis? The best prevention is to make sure that pork products are properly cooked. Cook meat to 145° F as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allow the meat to rest for three minutes before carving or consuming.

Can you cook off trichinosis? ›

Killing trichinosis in the meat is as simple as cooking to the right temperature. 160 is more than ample temperature to kill all forms of trichinosis that may be living in the muscle tissue.

How does trichinosis affect the brain? ›

Several pathogenic mechanisms are responsible for the neurological complications in trichinosis: obstruction of brain blood vessels by larvae, cysts or granulomas, toxic vasculitis with secondary thrombosis and haemorrhages, granulomatous inflammation of the brain parenchyma and allergic reaction.

Is trichinosis fatal to humans? ›

Trichinosis is treated with anti-parasitic drugs, and can be fatal if severe cases are not treated. There is no treatment once the larvae embed in the muscles, pain relievers can help.

What are the odds of getting trichinosis? ›

It varies with one study showing a 5.7% infection rate and other showing 13%. In Texas, however, a study sampling 226 wild boar found 0% infection rate! The most comprehensive study, performed by the USDA, sampled from 32 states found an average wild boar trichinella infection rate of 3%.

Can venison carry trichinosis? ›

No, deer do not generally contract trichinosis because they are herbivores. A few cases have been reported, probably when an unlikely series of events occurred involving a freshly contaminated source of (non-meat) food.

What percentage of bears have trichinosis? ›

Trichinella spp. larvae were found in eight of 11 (73%) grizzly bears, 14 of 27 (52%) wolves, and seven of 120 (5.8%) black bears. The average age of positive grizzly bears, black bears, and wolves was 13.5, 9.9, and approximately 4 yr, respectively.

What is the natural remedy for trichinosis? ›

Researchers studied ginger ethanol extracts as a possible treatment for trichomoniasis. The results showed that ginger was effective at treating infection some 17 to 100 percent of the time, depending on the concentration of the herb (the most effective was 800 micrograms per milliliter).

Is trichinosis contagious? ›

For humans, undercooked or raw pork and pork products, such as pork sausage, have been the meat most commonly responsible for transmitting the Trichinella parasites. It is a food-borne infection and not contagious from one human to another unless the infected human muscle is eaten.

How common is trichinosis in the United States? ›

Trichinosis was once very common in the United States but infection is now rare. The number of cases has decreased because of legislation prohibiting the feeding of raw-meat garbage to hogs, commercial and home freezing of pork, and the public awareness of the danger of eating raw or undercooked pork products.

What temperature kills parasites? ›

Cooking at core temperature 60–75 °C for 15–30 min inactivates parasites in most matrices. Freezing at −21 °C for 1–7 days generally inactivates parasites in FoAO, but cannot be relied upon in home situations. Parasitic stages are sensitive to 2–5% NaCl, often augmented by lowering pH.

What are the first signs of trichinosis? ›

Symptoms of trichinosis occur in two stages.
  • Stage 1: Intestinal infection develops 1 to 2 days after eating contaminated meat. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and a slight fever.
  • Stage 2: Symptoms from the larval invasion of muscles usually start after about 7 to 15 days.

Why is trichinosis rare in the US? ›

The overall number of cases reported has decreased because of improved pig-raising practices in the pork industry, commercial and home freezing of pork, and public awareness of the danger of eating raw or undercooked meat products.

What country is trichinosis most common? ›

Veterinary control over the slaughter of food animals to ensure food safety, particularly meat inspection, was introduced in Germany in 1866 specifically to prevent trichinellosis from pork infected with the muscle larvae of Trichinella spiralis (1).
No. cases6
Average incidence†0.008
50 more columns

Can you get sick from butchering a deer? ›

You can get sick if blood, fluid, or tissue from an infected animal comes in contact with your eyes, nose, mouth, or skin. This can happen when you are involved in hunting-related activities such as: Field dressing. Butchering.

Can you get sick from handling raw deer meat? ›

Deer carry pathogenic bacteria, and so precautions are needed to prevent cross contamination, he pointed out. "Whether you get blood on your hands or clothes or not, be sure to wash thoroughly in soap and water after handling the carcass or the meat."

When can you not eat deer meat? ›

Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer and elk that look sick or are acting strangely or are found dead (road-kill). When field-dressing a deer: Wear latex or rubber gloves when dressing the animal or handling the meat.

What are the three phases of trichinosis? ›

Trichinellosis typically progresses through 3 phases, and important clinical features of acute disease, if they develop, include an enteral (intestinal) phase with diarrhea for 1-2 weeks, followed by a parenteral (invasive) phase consisting of malaise, fever, progressive (often marked) eosinophilia, and widespread ...

Does trichinosis ever go away? ›

In most cases, trichinosis will go away on its own. This may take a few months. But some symptoms like fatigue, diarrhea, and mild pain may linger for months or even years. You might not need to see your doctor if you have a mild case with no symptoms.

Can deer carry trichinosis? ›

The more pressing concern is trichinosis, a condition you develop from eating still-active larvae of the trichinae parasite, which lives in the flesh of primarily carnivores and omnivores, although there are a few stray reports of it occurring in deer.

Can whitetail deer have trichinosis? ›

No, deer do not generally contract trichinosis because they are herbivores. A few cases have been reported, probably when an unlikely series of events occurred involving a freshly contaminated source of (non-meat) food.

Do wild hogs carry trichinosis? ›

Overview. Trichinosis (trik-ih-NO-sis), sometimes called trichinellosis (trik-ih-nuh-LOW-sis), is a type of roundworm infection. These roundworm parasites (trichinella) use a host body to live and reproduce. These parasites infect animals such as bears, cougars, walruses, foxes, wild boars and domestic pigs.

Do elk carry trichinosis? ›

Eating raw or undercooked meat from wild animals that are infected. These animals include deer, moose, elk, boar, bear, walrus and many birds.

How can you tell if a deer is safe to eat? ›

-- Evaluate the internal organs of the deer during field dressing. If any of the internal organs smell unusually offensive, or if there is a greenish discharge, black blood or blood clots in the muscle, do not consume the meat.

Can you get disease from gutting a deer? ›

The short answer: Yes. Gutting a deer without gloves can make you sick, but not necessarily in the ways you'd expect. Here's a look at what you need to consider when it comes to making the cut, and the impact the gutting and butchering chore can have on your body.


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