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Roadkill or Cuisine? If You Eat It, Eat It Safely

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on April 1, 2019

You need a knowing eye to determine if an animal is safe to eat, even more so if the carcass you plan on consuming was demolished by a truck. That is important insight for many Idaho residents. Why? That’s because the Potato State has a unique way of obtaining meat. I’m talking about roadkill salvaging laws; which, have been in effect in Idaho since 2012. Yes, eating roadkill is a practice and it might not be as crazy as it sounds, but it also might not be safe. Roadkill protein has put dinner on the table in many homes since it went active in some state’s lawbooks, but there is still controversy on whether the risk is worth the reward.

With the legalization of roadkill consumption, regulations and data-tracking made this backcountry style of eating more popular amongst meat-loving families. There’s a lot of pro’s, and some worrisome cons, to consider before foraging for roadside feasts. A few states are getting on board with the waste-not want-not style of dinner. Benefits to wildlife, transportation safety, and food-borne illness protection are in the driver’s seat and up for debate with this out-of-the-box dining experience.

I want venison, but I don’t want disease.

The golden rule for any smart hunter goes, “Don’t eat it if you don’t know how it died.” That’s why Idaho has built a network to report and track roadkill. For those who salvage the meat, they are required to report details on the pickup, such as: species, gender, and time of collection. Idaho Fish and Game utilizes this information to better understand migration patterns, common feeding sources, and warn the public of dangerous road possibilities. Since 2016, more than 5,000 animals have been salvaged for dinner. Some are calling for more states to get in line and use the vehicular cuisine. Pulling from multiple sources like carcass count data, insurance claims, police reports, and public interviews, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that there are 300,000 wrecks involving wildlife per year. It’s a number likely under-reported. That’s why states like Oregon and Washington are jumping on the roadkill salvaging train.

The most common animals picked up by the roadside are deer and elk. The regulations prohibit the salvaging of certain species, and only allowing legally hunt-able animals as up-for-grabs. So, no matter the cause of death, it remains illegal to dine on protected species like Bald Eagles and Grizzly bears.

Of course, there’s a multitude of fallbacks to this waste-free diet. Without a knowledgeable eye, contamination might be inevitable. It takes skill to butcher an animal without ruining the edible meat. This makes for a difficult task when mangled carnage is about to be your family’s stew.

Ecoli is commonly found in our favorite hunted animals, and then there’s that pesky Chronic Wasting Disease. Though, the jury is still out on whether Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is transferrable to humans, it is found in free-range animals within Canada, Norway, Finland, South Korea, and right here at home in 24 states. It’s either comforting or nerve-racking to know that CWD was sourced in Colorado in the late 1960’s, depending on whether you’re a glass half full type of person or not.

For those on the side that sounds more like, “Um, excuse me, a brain infection in the animals I eat? I’ll pass,” I have some comforting information for you. People eat somewhere between 7,000 to 15,000 infected deer each year, and there is still no reported illness of CWD being transferred to humans. So, breathe easy, for now.

With that said, it’s the Ecoli and Salmonella that stand as the aggressive risk. Due to this, most food-banks won’t accept donations from roadkill sources. That’s including Idaho. However, Alaska takes a much bolder stance by commonly using roadkill to feed lower-income families. In parts of Alaska, charities are often notified that an animal vs vehicle stand-off has left meat to salvage.

Ecoli is contrived when you or the meat you plan on eating come into contact with the animals’ feces. This is a large likelihood with the impact of vehicle to carcass. The right part bursting, such as punctured intestines, can contaminate the rest of your meal.

Salmonella is produced in the digestive track of animals. This means eating roadkill meat poses a big risk. Without seeing the activity and health of the animal prior to its death, it is nearly impossible to determine whether it was infected. Before a hunter takes the shot, it’s their responsibility to watch and determine if the animal is acting abnormally. This diagnostic opportunity is lost with wildlife vehicular deaths.

Time is also a factor. The longer an animal is dead, the more opportunity there is for bacteria to grow. Current tracking standards are created via witness testimony. Meaning, there’s room for human error. This, out of all the cons listed above is why my stance on the subject is, “Not for me.” If I didn’t see it die, I assume it’s been dead too long to eat. Better to be safe than sorry in my opinion. Now, if a better tracking system was put into place, and a studied butcher treats the meat, and testing is undertaken prior to consumption, then my worries would abate. At that point, you can bet I’d be aboard this bandwagon. Until then, it seems like a lot of unnecessary risk. Admittedly, I don’t quite have the stomach for collection myself even if the proper precautions were put into place. That might would take a better hand than me.

When it comes to feeding those in need though, who am I to say, “Nay.” Over a period of 23 years, Dorris, California, took advantage of the possibility of food via roadkill and obtained near 38,000 pounds of meat hungry people. All of which was obtained from roadkill salvaging. The program was shut down in 2011 with the fears some might intentionally cause accidents with wildlife with the free meal as motive, but the benefits of feeding rather than wasting cannot be ignored.

So, what say you? Should roadkill salvaging be across-the-board legalized? Maybe with the implementation of food safety regulations, its not a bad idea. Like I said, the current guessing game of safe or not is a problem, but maybe lawmakers can find the right approach to this surprising way to feast. As for our resident Ecoli lawyer, he reminds everyone to put food safety first.

By: Heaven Bassett, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)