Slaughtering animals at home comes with risks, challenges

URBANA, Ill. – Supply chain and distribution challenges leave producers stranded with animals ready for market but nowhere to go. Some may consider custom slaughter or home butchering as a way to relieve this pressure. Although producers can slaughter their own animals, the practice comes with risks and responsibilities, says Bailey Harsh, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science, Meat Science and Muscle Biology at the University of Illinois.

The Meat and Poultry Inspection Act exempts producers from inspection requirements when they slaughter their own animals on their own property for their own consumption, Harsh says. The producer must own the animal for at least 30 days before slaughter and cannot sell the meat to anyone.

If meat is sold, the animals must be slaughtered and processed in a licensed facility under inspection by the Illinois Department of Agriculture or the USDA. This inspection provides consumers with assurance that the meat is safe to eat, Harsh says. Meat and poultry products sold must be prepared from meat from an approved source. A state or federal inspection mark on the product guarantees that the product is from an approved source.

Home slaughter should only be performed by a person trained with experience in humane animal handling and stunning practices, sanitary dress procedures and cuts of meat. University of Illinois Extension has two resources related to custom and home culling.

It is important to ensure that animals are rendered insensitive to pain prior to slaughter by stunning them or applying the kill mode effectively and quickly. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s guidelines for humane slaughter include important considerations and methods.

“Without the proper training, setup, equipment and facilities, the risks to personal safety and food safety may outweigh the benefits of home slaughter,” says Harsh. “Outdoor processing can present food safety risks resulting from temperature abuse and cross contamination. Improper slaughter procedures and inadequate sanitation can and will pose food safety risks resulting in disease and even death.

Sick, disabled, slaughtered or dead animals should not be slaughtered.

The weather is a primary factor in the decision to proceed with a home slaughter. “It is important to perform dressing procedures during the cooler part of the day with adequate visibility,” Harsh explains. “Bacteria grow and multiply easily above 40 ° F. Therefore, home slaughter should only take place when the outside temperature is below 40 ° F.

The slaughter and manufacturing process will generate a large amount of product that will need to be refrigerated. On average, a 280 pound pig will produce 135 to 155 pounds of boneless cuts or 95 to 115 pounds of boneless cuts; a 1,200 pound steer can generate 400 to 500 pounds of cuts at retail.

“The sooner you can package and freeze products, the less potential risk there is,” Harsh says. “Because of the time it takes to cool larger cuts, freezing is a safer choice than refrigeration. ”

Minimize exposure of the carcass to external parasites and package promptly after slaughter to reduce the risk of contamination.

Cleanliness is vital. Knives and hand saws should be washed frequently, especially when changing from the outer skin or leather cut to the internal cut to reduce contamination.

Use clean, potable water from a pressurized hose to wash carcasses, tools and equipment. Carcasses should be rinsed starting from the top and working down. It is recommended to boil water to disinfect the knives during the slaughter process.

Soap should be used to wash equipment, tools and hands. “Wash your hands and forearms frequently, between steps, to minimize cross-contamination,” Harsh explains. “Dish soap is preferred because of its ability to remove grease and grease from equipment, tools and hands. ”

Plastic or rubber aprons can help prevent cross-contamination between clothing and carcasses; however, this only reduces the risk of cross-contamination if the aprons are washed frequently during the slaughter process. All tables used should be made of a non-porous material for ease of cleaning.

Carcasses should be inspected for three major contaminants: feces, digestive contents and milk. “If observed, any tissue in contact with these contaminants should be cut and removed,” Harsh explains. “These contaminants can harbor pathogenic bacteria that pose serious food safety risks. ”

People with weakened immune systems are at risk for foodborne illness, as are pregnant women, children under one year of age, and adults over 50 with underlying health conditions.

“The information provided is intended to present the importance of food safety and the associated risks,” says Harsh. “It is not intended to explain the process of dressing procedures, nor to promote this activity. Processing meat is complicated and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Those involved should understand that neglect is not an option with food safety.

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