In some places in the US, it is legal to take roadkill home and eat it while in other places the meat is donated. If it was legal where you are, how would you tell if the meat is still good?
For most people to even start considering eating roadkill would mean getting over our personal demon of squeamishness. This thought would not appeal to most.
Here are eight (8) important rules to consider before one should eat roadkill.
8 Rules of Roadkill
Follow these Roadkill Rules to help determine if food by Ford is safe to swallow.
1. Legal Stuff
Any fur-bearing animal or bird is edible. However, laws on harvesting roadkill or possession of protected species vary from state to state.
In the Peach state, motorists may collect deer without notifying authorities. Bear collisions must be reported but you get to keep the bruin.
Texas and California are among the few states that prohibit roadkill collection. In Alaska, the Fish and Wildlife personnel collect reported road-killed animals and distribute to charities helping the needy.
Check your state laws first!
2. Impact Damage
The point of impact determines how much meat is salvageable. My experience with broadside impacts are not good. Internal organs usually rupture and taint the meat. Not to mention all the bloodshot meat. As in hunting, a head shot saves meat.
Tire treads over the body usually means a bloody mess. Squashed squirrel would require a spatula to remove from the asphalt and should be avoided.
3. Clear Eyes
If the eyes are intact and clear, the animal is likely a fresh kill. Cloudy eyes hint that the animal has been dead for some time (more than a few hours).
Creamy discharges around the eyes or other orifices indicate a sick animal. If the eyes are gone, leave it alone.
4. Stiffness and Skin
Rigor mortis sets within a few hours of death. This is not a deal breaker depending on other indicators. The steak in the butcher’s glass counter has undergone the same process of “decay” or tenderizing.
Pinch the skin of the animal, unless it’s a porcupine, to check if the skin still moves freely along top of the muscle beneath. If so, you’re probably okay. Skin stuck to the muscle is a bad indicator. If fur can be pulled from the hide with a slight tug, the animal has been deceased far too long.
5. Bugs and Blood
Fleas feed on the blood of warm blooded animals. Brush the hair on the carcass and inspect for fleas like you would on a family pet. If fleas are present, that’s a good thing. Fleas won’t stick around on a cold body.
There’s usually blood involved when animals come in contact with 3,000 pound machines in motion. Blood all over the road may mean there’s too much damaged meat to salvage. The color of blood present should be a dark red, like, well, fresh blood. Dark puddles of blood have been there been there a while.
Flies could be a bad sign. They lay larvae in wounds and other openings of the body. A few flies present isn’t always a deal breaker. A prior wound on a living animal may contain maggots. We had a live deer seek refuge in my mother-in-laws car port who had a broken hind leg from a vehicle collision which was infested with maggots. I approached her in an attempt to humanely dispatch her and put her out of her misery. Sadly, she gained her footing and disappeared through our neighborhood woods.
In the hot, humid summers of Georgia, it only takes a few minutes for flies to zero in on dead stuff. Which brings us to our next consideration...
6. Climate and Weather
The weather conditions and geographical location are variables to consider. Cold to freezing temperatures is ideal – think… roadside walk-in freezer or fridge. Meat will decompose quickly in hot and humid conditions.
This one is pretty obvious.
If it has a putrid odor, leave it alone. You don’t have to be a TV survival expert to identify bad meat. Your old factory sensors will let you know… along with your gag reflex.
8. Collection and Processing Tips
Our vehicles are prepared with Get Home Kits. You may want to add a few items to it or build a separate Roadkill Kit. My kit is simple and includes:
If you don’t drive a pickup truck, wrap large carcasses in a tarp and place in the vehicle for transport. Smaller animals usually go in a contractor grade garbage bag to get home.
It’s common sense in my mind… Do NOT field dress an animal on the side of the road! It’s dangerous, illegal (hopefully), unsightly, and disrespectful to both animal and human. I’ve seen some really stupid and disgusting practices over the years from unethical “hunters” and idiots.
If you’re not prepared to harvest game properly, stick with the supermarkets.
Addendum: Check out Wikipedia's article on Roadkill cuisine.
There are three simple rules to roadkill. If all three aren't answered yes, it is not what I would consider "safe".
- Did you witness or cause the incident? This is the best was to guarantee it's fresh.
- Is it a legal harvest? (check your states Department of Natural Resources web site)
- Do you know how to harvest that type of animal?
This is a pretty straightforward and simple test that will keep you from risk (beyond the normal risks of eating wild game). Are there ways to "estimate" how old a carcass is? Sure! Would I be tempted to use any of those methods in any situation short of starvation? Nope.
The first step in deciding whether to eat the roadkill is to determine the time of death. Forensic science to the rescue! For deer the following steps are recommended by Hadley, et al, in their seminal work, Estimating Time of Death of Deer in Missouri; A comparison of Three Indicators.
- Measure the temperature in the center of muscle mass in the thigh. Push the thermometer into the muscle to various depths and record the highest temp.
For temperatures above 20 degrees F, use the following formula: 23 + (0.0215 * ambient temp in F) - (0.204 * Measured Temp) = Post Mortem Interval (Hours)
For temperatures below 20 degrees F, use the following formula: 14.6 - (0.134 * Measured Temp) = Post Mortem Interval (Hours)
If this isn't precise enough for you, you can also measure pupil dilation, girth, and rigor mortis in the front leg wrist joint to get a more accurate calculation (see paper cited below).
Now that you have an estimation of time of death, and you know the ambient temperature, you can either:
A. Determine if an animal stored at that temperature for that duration is likely to be edible
B. Chuck all this data out the window, slice off a piece, cook it up, and see if it smells off.
If you want to see the full paper that this answer is based on, find it here: Estimating Time of Death of Deer in Missouri; A Comparison of Three Indicators.
NB: I boiled this way down. It is only for whitetail deer that have been field dressed. There is a table for animals that haven't been field dressed, but it needs more complex measurements. For entertainment value only. Don't use this on the roadkilled squirrel that looks a million years old and determine it has only been dead for 20 minutes. There are tons of variables and probably other studies. I have never tried this (but I am definitely going to if I get a deer or elk this year). Not to be used by children under 18 without the supervision of and adult with a body temperature in excess of 97 degrees F.
Disclaimer: if you do Something NOT-SO-SMART™ and become ill, injured, or die...that's your choice, not my fault or responsibility. Beware of snarkcasm.
While there's a lot of good rules of thumb listed, the tests to be concerned with are the same as with any meat, at any time: does it smell and look edible/fresh? Length of time is a consideration, but let's get some reality into the picture. Anything killed that day (OK, probably not aliens. And if you find fish on a road, avoid them just because eating fish found on a road constitutes Something NOT-SO-SMART™), even if it sits out all day is usually, generally speaking, edible. In warmer weather flies laying eggs are a concern, in cooler weather, not so much. Thoroughly cooking the meat solves the flies/eggs concern, though. Meat can hang for a few days...hunters and farmers in different cultures around the world have done this for millennia. Usually gutted but, sometimes, even the innards were left in. It even allows the meat to break down a bit and improve the taste.
There's even evidence that humans were doing things like killing mammoths, sinking the unused portion under water in a lake or pond to freeze, and revisiting the carcass the following Spring. If the innards are intact in roadkill, you want to remove them as soon as possible. It should go without saying that you want to wash the meat, keep it cool, and cook it as soon as possible. If intestines, bladder, or musk glands (on feral hogs, wild boar, or javelina for example) were crushed into the meat (we're talking really bad collision here and/or probably run over again), you should probably avoid it.
The ultimate modern reality check is how the world's arguably most effective special operations unit to ever exist trained its recruits going through selection. The Selous Scouts of Rhodesia had mandatory training wherein baboon carcasses were hung from poles the last 3 of 5 days that the recruits were denied rations, to show the extent to which a man could go to survive. They would then butcher and eat the rotting, maggot-infested meat by cooking or boiling it after had sat in the sun in front of them for three days. However, they would not reheat/reboil/recook such meat a second time, as rotted meat apparently becomes deadly if already cooked once and begins a second spoiling phase.
I myself have eaten game that was allowed to sit out a few days (seasoning), as many hunters here in the USA have done over the years. I have even eaten wild meat that was spoiling (did not have the maggot infestation/issue though) after cooking it, in a similar manner, and am no worse for the wear. But I also do stuff like eat fresh charred scorpion off a campfire rock, and I'm not saying your average foodie is going to enjoy the experience of dining on meat that's going/gone bad and been cooked. Just that within reasonable timespans of limited spoilage, they aren't necessarily going to die (but don't do Something NOT-SO-SMART™ just to say you ate days old roadkill, either). Doing Something NOT-SO-SMART™like that, is always a risk. [I'm a hunter and former infantryman who has taught emergency preparedness and survival, so risky stuff and eating things most folks wouldn't normally prepare on the stove is not probably as big a deal to me as it would be to the average person just wanting to get their waste not, want not dietary exploration on.]
If you know the roadkill appeared that day, you are fairly safe, but environment and other issues are always 'current situation' elements to take into account. What matters in that case is not so much how many hours it has sat out, but whether or not it's mashed into pate, contaminated, or if you can stomach it. An excerpt from an article worth reading...
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with rotten meat, even it it's crawling with maggots, providing you cook it first and eat it while it's hot," asserts Sgt. Maj. Anthony White
From Ludington Daily News - Apr 27, 1977