Is it healthy to eat a raccoon?

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Eating raccoon meat was once a common practice, especially among rural communities during the Great Depression when other meat was scarce. However, the practice has become far less common today due to concerns over health and safety. This article will examine the potential risks and benefits of eating raccoon to determine if it can be a healthy choice.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to some common questions about eating raccoon:

  • Is it legal to eat raccoon in the United States? Yes, it is legal to hunt and consume raccoon meat in most states.
  • Do people still eat raccoon today? While not as common as in the past, some rural communities still consume raccoon, especially in the southeastern United States.
  • What does raccoon taste like? Raccoon meat is described as tasting similar to chicken or turkey, with a gamey flavor.
  • Is raccoon meat healthy? Raccoon can be a lean source of protein but may pose health risks like parasites and infectious diseases.

The History of Eating Raccoon

Prior to commercial farming of livestock, wild game like raccoon, squirrel, opossum and rabbit were a vital source of meat and protein for Native Americans and European settlers. Raccoons were abundant throughout North America and relatively easy to hunt, making them a prime target.

During the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, many rural Americans resorted to eating raccoon and other wild game out of necessity. Raccoon meat provided a free source of protein when money for groceries was scarce. It remained an economic supplement to Some impoverished regions well into the 1950s and 60s.

Today, raccoon dishes have disappeared from most restaurants and dinner tables. A few backwoods restaurants in the South and Midwest U.S. may occasionally offer fried raccoon or other exotic meats, but it is no longer part of mainstream cuisine.

Nutritional Value of Raccoon Meat

Raccoon meat is relatively nutritious compared to other wild game. According to the USDA, a 3-ounce serving of cooked raccoon contains:

  • 185 calories
  • 13 grams of protein
  • 10 grams of fat
  • No carbs

Like other game, raccoon is high in protein and low in fat and calories compared to domestic meats. It contains ample B vitamins like niacin and vitamin B12, as well as minerals like phosphorus and selenium. Game meat often provides more nutrition than cattle or chicken raised on commercial feedlots.

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However, actual nutrient content can vary widely based on the raccoon’s diet and age. Those eating human scraps in urban areas may be more fatty compared to wild raccoons eating nuts and plants.

Risks of Eating Raccoon

While raccoon meat offers nutritional benefits, it also poses some health hazards that need to be considered.

Parasites

Raccoons can carry a number of parasitic roundworms and flukes that can infect humans. The most common is Baylisascaris procyonis, a large roundworm that can cause severe neurological problems if larvae migrate into the eyes or brain. Over 150 cases of raccoon roundworm infection have been reported in humans.

Thorough cooking can kill any parasites present in meat, but cross contamination when handling and cleaning the raw meat poses a risk. Proper storage and meticulous hand washing is important to avoid infection.

Infectious Diseases

Raccoons can transmit a number of infectious bacterial and viral diseases to humans including:

  • Rabies – Fatal viral infection transmitted by bites or scratches.
  • Leptospirosis – Bacterial disease that causes flu-like symptoms and liver/kidney damage.
  • Tularemia – Rare but potentially serious bacterial infection.
  • Salmonellosis – Foodborne illness caused by salmonella bacteria.
  • Raccoon roundworm – Parasitic infection that can damage eyes and neurological system.

Proper handling and cooking of meat will prevent most foodborne illnesses. But bites and scratches acquired while hunting or cleaning the animal can transmit more serious diseases like rabies. Wearing protective gloves when field dressing raccoons is recommended.

Toxicants and Contaminants

Because raccoons are scavengers, their tissues may accumulate heavy metals and other toxic substances in the environment. Studies have found heightened levels of lead, cadmium, and mercury in raccoon meat, especially those found dead or living in more urbanized or polluted areas.

Also, care must be taken to avoid cross contamination with any gut contents during cleaning, and proper storage is important to avoid spoilage or food poisoning.

Legality

Hunting raccoon for meat is permitted in most U.S. states, with season dates varying by location. However, regulations often prohibit the import and sale of wild game meat. There have been instances of raccoon ending up illegally in some exotic meat markets.

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It is important to check your state’s hunting regulations and ensure proper licensing before hunting or trapping raccoon. Purchasing or serving raccoon meat in restaurants may also be prohibited.

Proper Handling and Preparation

If you do choose to eat raccoon, here are some tips for safe handling and preparation:

  • Use protective gloves and wash hands thoroughly when cleaning the animal.
  • Inspect the meat and discard any with abnormalities or parasites visible.
  • Freeze the meat for at least 3 weeks to kill parasites before cooking.
  • Cook all meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat.
  • Discard any organs or tissues that may contain infectious agents.

Properly cleaned and cooked, raccoon meat can make a savory and nutritious meal. But care must be taken at all stages from hunting to table to avoid potential health hazards.

Common Ways to Cook Raccoon

In the past, raccoon was most often roasted over an open fire or stewed for long periods, which helped tenderize the meat and kill bacteria or parasites. Today, some common preparations include:

  • Fried raccoon – Slices of meat breaded and deep fried, sometimes described as “mountain fried chicken.”
  • Raccoon barbecue – Roasted or smoked raccoon, similar to pulled pork.
  • Raccoon sausage – Mixed with traditional sausage spices and cured.
  • Raccoon chili or stew – Braised with vegetables into a hearty chili.
  • Raccoon jerky – Slices of raccoon meat dried or cured into chewy jerky strips.

When cooked properly, raccoon meat retains a pleasant flavor comparable to turkey or chicken. The rich, dark meat takes well to smoking, barbecuing, or stewing for hours in a slow cooker to become fall-off-the-bone tender.

Availability of Raccoon Meat

It is uncommon to find raccoon meat for sale in typical grocery stores or markets. However, it may sometimes be available from specialty game meat suppliers, butcher shops, or online:

  • Online exotic meat vendors may offer frozen or canned raccoon.
  • Some backwoods restaurants feature raccoon on seasonal game menus.
  • Rural trappers or hunters may sell legally hunted and prepared raccoon meat.
  • Cajun and southern-style restaurants occasionally offer deep fried raccoon appetizers.
  • Game butchers may carry or source raccoon meat for customers on request.
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The best quality raccoon meat will come from reputable, licensed suppliers following proper handling procedures to minimize health risks. Trappers associations or hunters groups may be sources for legally hunted raccoon.

Alternatives to Raccoon

Because of health concerns and changing tastes, raccoon has declined as a food source for most people. Some alternatives include:

  • Chicken – Farm raised chicken has a similar mild flavor and texture to raccoon.
  • Turkey – Wild turkey has a rich, gamey flavor similar to raccoon.
  • Beef, pork, or lamb – Modern livestock farming reduces disease risks.
  • Alligator or frog legs – Provide a taste of exotic game meat.
  • Pheasant, quail, dove – Small game birds make an alternative to wild raccoon.
  • Rabbit or squirrel – Small game often eaten historically along with raccoon.

While most substitutes lack the exotic allure, they provide meat that is more readily available and safer to consume. Hunting or purchasing meat from reputable game suppliers can offer some of the same wild game experience.

Nutritional Comparison

Here is how raccoon meat compares nutritionally to beef and chicken, according to USDA data:

Meat (cooked 3 oz serving) Calories Fat (g) Protein (g) Raccoon 185 10 13 Beef (ground, 90% lean) 194 10 17 Chicken (breast meat) 231 6 17

Raccoon is comparable to beef or chicken in major nutrients. It is slightly lower in calories and fat than chicken and provides nearly as much protein as beef or chicken. This makes it a lean, low-fat source of protein.

Conclusion

Historically, raccoon was an important meat source that provided protein and sustenance for many Americans. While it does pose some health hazards, these risks can be managed by proper handling, cleaning, storage, and thorough cooking.

Raccoon meat remains a legal and nutritional form of wild game for those interested in survival skills or exotic cuisine. However, one should weigh the potential risks versus rewards and adhere to all legal regulations. Safer alternatives are more readily available for most people.

While eating raccoon may seem exciting and adventurous, it requires assuming additional responsibility for proper preparation and cooking. For all but the most avid outdoorsmen or open-minded foodies, chicken, beef and other meats tend to make a simpler and healthier meal.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>