COVID-19 has changed and impacted many things for Kansans, including the availability and rising prices of meat. In turn, meat processing plants/businesses are at capacity with long waiting lists to get livestock butchered. This has led some to consider butchering, but this should come with a caution.
Michael Chao, assistant professor in animal sciences and industry at Kansas State University, is experienced with hunting deer and processing his own meat. Chao cautions against do-it-yourself butchering because of the current outside temperatures, cleanliness of the carcass, and lack of proper equipment.
“A lot of people around here I notice hunt, so processing their deer carcass has been something ingrained in Kansas culture and that is very helpful in being able to process your own carcass,” Chao said.
However, if the animal is killed and butchered in temperatures over 50 degrees, certain health risks rise due to disease and the cleanliness of the meat. The time to butcher animals should be between late fall and early spring when temperatures are cooler. Chao said anything above 50 degrees is “iffy” and impose risks. Hotter temperatures can cause the carcass to quickly spoil and go bad.
“Part of the reason for this is most animals, their skin is covered in their own feces,” Chao said. “These feces contain E. coli, while most aren’t bad, there can be very bad bacteria where ingesting a little bit can kill people.”
The two most common bacteria that people should be aware of are E. coli in ground beef and Salmonella in poultry. But any animal meat can harbor a number of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Taking proper precautions can avoid someone falling ill or worse from meat butchered at home.
Chao said in most major processing plants, hot water up to 200 degrees is used to spray down the carcass beforehand which is generally not a temperature that most of us can get from home faucets. A spray organic acid is also used to kill most surface bacteria in commercial butchering.
Proper equipment is also essential to the home butchering process. Chao said you will need some type of pulley system to hold up a carcass, even if it is a smaller animal. You will also need proper knives and a sanitary environment to butcher. Also note that the larger the animal, the more challenging this can be.
Chao says if you have little to no experience, do not attempt a DIY butchering.
“I honestly think COVID-19 changed the game,” Chao said. “The only time these lockers make money is during deer season and now they are booked up until next year.”
Although it may be frustrating that lockers are booked and availability of meat can vary, don’t attempt DIY butchering unless you have the refrigeration, equipment, and experience required to ensure the safe processing of the meat.