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I've met often with the concept that rotten meat and carcass is inedible because of bacteria and toxins. The most harmful is the botulinum toxin.

However, in the question Can any waterborne pathogens survive boiling?, a link pointed to an article with some pertinent information. That link now leads to a missing page. However, it mentioned that:

The botulinum toxin is destroyed by boiling the food for 10 minutes.

The pathogens mentioned there are also destroyed by high temperatures, so, at least theoretically, it should be safe to eat rotten meat, as long as it is cooked or baked long enough, so that the high temperature penetrates it fully, and we let it work for at least 10 minutes.

So, meat baked in a fire for about an hour or two should be safe. Is my conclusion correct?

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Great question! – Russell Steen Jun 20 '12 at 11:35
It deals with cooking, but I am going to venture that people looking at a cooking site are going to just toss the meat where someone in "The Great Outdoors" will find this information a LOT more useful in a lot more situations. – BillyNair Jul 16 '12 at 23:01
By some definitions, many products are made from rotted fish. But the rotting is a bit more controlled. Here is a good article on different forms of rotting edible foods. to help as a reference. – Terry Oct 15 '14 at 14:19
I would imagine there are toxins in such meat that are biochemical toxins, not living things like bacteria, therefore cooking will not get rid of them and you will get sick if you eat it.... But that's just a guess. – Michael Martinez Dec 9 '14 at 22:35
up vote 39 down vote accepted

The conclusion is not correct. Some bacteria produce toxins which are not destroyed by heat, for example Staphylococcus. See this link for more information.

Note that this is not strictly an outdoors issue. Even at home, you should not keep fresh meat in your fridge too long before cooking it, as it gives time for bacteria to produce toxins. The bacteria will be destroyed by cooking, but not the toxins.

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This Staphylococcus toxin could as well be present in dangerous amounts in the water where the carcass was found? – Danubian Sailor Jun 20 '12 at 13:28
@lechlukasz: in the old times, retreating armies used to poison wells by dropping decomposing corpses. I would not risk it, if I were you... – thkala Jun 21 '12 at 12:49

Because of the difficulties involved in knowing whether or not rotten meat can be consumed safely, I'd emphasize that proper planning is the best way to ensure you can deal with a survival situation in the wilderness.

The odds of you finding yourself stranded in the woods unexpectedly are fairly low (hypothetically you might find yourself in a plane crash in Alaska, but most rescues are for people on a trip they planned to take, and just simply get lost, injured, or caught in bad weather). Focusing on extreme hypothetical situations can distract you from practical steps you can take to ensure your safety.

If you want to be able to survive in the wilderness, you should:

  • research the area you'll be hiking in so you can plan appropriately
  • Take a good map with you
  • check the weather forecast before you go, and know what weather patterns to expect in that area
  • tell someone where you're going, and when to expect you back
  • exercise regularly (fit, strong people are harder to kill)
  • carry enough food
  • learn how to use a map and compass
  • take a first aid class (or a wilderness first aid class)
  • Go on the trip with other experienced people
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Whatever the books say, cooking to extinction still works!

Initially, boil and change the water many times.

Then cook the meat until it falls into the water. This way, you will get more protein from the meat, because you have exposed more surface area.

If you break the bones first, you will get the much higher calorie marrow into the soup.

Cooked meat pieces, should be washed, while being rubbed, daily, until the smelly slimy material has gone, and it feels mat to the touch. This halts the spread of the bacteria.

Rabbits, pheasant, deer, can be hung for 1 week, before the losses to maggots is more than the gain from the maggots. Hedgehogs, crows, pigeons, squirrels, only a couple of days, as they get putrid faster.

It may not smell nice, but you will be alive for 2600+ days.

Maggots don’t spoil the taste of the meat, they definitely improve old meat. If you hang a rabbit until the maggots have eaten well into one side, and then cook the rabbit, you will notice that the maggots eaten side, tastes fresher, more tender, and sweeter.

This is not hearsay, or book theory. I can vouch that it works, by being here to write this answer.

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This seems rather unclear as to what is actually taking place. Is the meat being boiled? Is it being washed before it's cooked? Is this a step-by-step description? 2600+ days? Why can this potentially very dangerous answer be trusted other than "I'm still here?" – manoftheson Jan 19 '13 at 5:49
There needs to be some references for this (at least), it could potentially get someone hurt. – DavidR Jun 24 '13 at 22:45
"Initially, boil and change the water many times.", presumably "boil" means boil the meat in water but don't keep boiling very long each time. "Then cook the meat" means keep the meat boiling for a very long time. – QuentinUK Apr 26 '14 at 15:18

protected by Community Dec 9 '14 at 6:57

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