Deer-hunting season is in full swing. Making jerky is a popular way to preserve venison. Here are some tips on doing it safely, including specifications for ground meat.

First, be sure that everything is clean and that cross contamination does not occur. This means washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm, running water before and after handling raw meat. It is important to scrub hands for at least 20 seconds. Make sure knives, cutting boards and any other utensils are also clean before use, and wash them in hot soapy water before using them with other foods.

To keep the meat safe, follow temperature recommendations. Refrigerate the meat and store at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for no more than 3-5 days for whole cuts of meat and only 2 days for ground meat. If it will take longer than that to process it all, store in the freezer and remove just what can be worked in a timely fashion. Thaw meat in the refrigerator to keep any foodborne pathogens from growing. Likewise, when marinating meat, do so in the refrigerator and do not reuse or save the marinade.

As with any raw meat, disease-causing microorganisms such as E. coli may be present with venison, making it crucial to heat the meat to an internal temperature of 160° F. This can be done before drying by heating the meat strips in their marinade or after the jerky is dried. For details on how to do this, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation website and click on “Dry” (link in the left sidebar) and then click on the link for “Jerky”.

If making jerky from ground meat, be especially careful since the grinding process exposes far more surface area of the meat to contaminants.

To dry the marinated meat strips or extruded ground meat strips, place on racks so that they are close but do not touch or overlap. Dry at 140° F in a dehydrator or oven until a test strip cracks but does not break when bent. If the meat was not heated before drying, the process should take 10-24 hours. The process will be faster if the meat was preheated to 160° F.

Here are some reliable resources on the topic:

For more information on making venison or other jerky, contact your local MU Extension office.