Michigan officials urge caution when purchasing venison online

(David Kenyon | Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 1:05 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Michigan’s regular firearm deer season started on Nov. 15. During and immediately following the season, officials said there is often an uptick in illegal venison sales through online marketplaces.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) urges caution when purchasing venison, processed specialty venison products or any meats from unlicensed facilities, especially online marketplaces.

“Many people assume food items sold online are from licensed and inspected companies, but this is not always the case,” said Jennifer Bonsky, MDARD Food and Dairy Division acting director. “Before you buy any food, and at this time of year, particularly venison, make sure the food was processed at a facility licensed by MDARD. Our staff works tirelessly to make sure businesses are following the law to keep your food safe and family healthy.”

Food products that are not adequately prepared or handled can become contaminated with organisms like E. coli—which can cause severe illness or even death. Purchasing foods from a licensed and inspected source and properly preparing, cooking, and storing foods help reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

In Michigan, there are a few ways to legally sell venison, elk meat and meat from other cervids. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) licenses and regulates game ranches statewide. Deer and elk from these DNR-licensed facilities can be processed at a meat processing facility licensed and inspected by MDARD and sold through MDARD-licensed retail grocery stores or wholesale facilities, with proper labeling, as required under the Michigan Food Law.

MDARD-licensed meat processors can accept hunter-harvested deer and process it into ground meat or sausage, where fat from other animals and spices are added. They can also create value-added meat items like jerky, smoked meats, etc., but this requires a special variance issued by MDARD and a food establishment license.

Hunters can take their deer to a custom meat processor that does not have a license if the venison is cut and wrapped, but this meat must be marked as “Not for Sale” and used for personal use/consumption by the hunter. The hunter can share this meat with friends and family, but it cannot resold. The processor must be licensed if further processing, like grinding with added fat, sausage making, or smoking is needed.

“The best way to tell if venison being offered for sale is being sold legally is to look at the label,” said Bonsky. “A proper label will list ingredients, the weight of the product, the name, address and contact of the licensed food business, and have a ‘best by’ date, if needed. You can also ask to see a copy of the seller’s food license.”

Visit Michigan’s official website for more food safety tips and information. MDARD also has a venison processing guide for retail food establishments. Visit the DNR’s deer hunting page for information about hunting seasons, licensing and more.

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