Can you eat cooked meat from an animal with tularemia?

Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever or deer fly fever, is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. It can affect both animals and humans. Tularemia is most commonly spread by contact with infected animals, ingestion of contaminated food or water, or bites from infected ticks and deer flies. If an animal has tularemia, it raises the question of whether its meat is safe to eat if thoroughly cooked.

What is Tularemia?

Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. This bacterium is found naturally in many animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares. It can be transmitted in several ways:

Bites from infected insects

Bites from infected ticks, deerflies or mosquitos can transmit tularemia. These insects become infected when they bite an infected animal.

Contact with infected animals

Handling infected animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares, can lead to transmission if the bacteria enter the body through broken skin or mucous membranes. Skinning or butchering infected animals can put hunters and cooks at risk.

Ingestion of contaminated food or water

Eating or drinking contaminated food or water can also spread tularemia. This includes eating undercooked meat from infected animals and drinking untreated water.

Inhalation of contaminated dusts or aerosols

In rare cases, inhaling dusts or aerosols containing the tularemia bacteria can cause infection. This could occur during certain farming activities like threshing grain.

Some of the most common symptoms of tularemia infection include sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough and progressive weakness. Without antibiotic treatment, tularemia can be fatal in some cases.

Meat from Animals with Tularemia

Animals that have tularemia often show no signs of illness. This means infected rabbits or rodents may seem perfectly healthy. Even after death, their meat shows no abnormalities. This makes it very difficult to tell if an animal is infected just by examining it.

If an animal is known to have tularemia, eating its raw or undercooked meat is extremely dangerous. The bacteria can multiply rapidly at human body temperature. Proper cooking is necessary to kill the bacteria and make the meat safe.

Proper Cooking Temperatures

Thorough cooking is vital for meat from animals with tularemia. The internal temperature needs to reach at least 165°F (74°C) and be held for at least 15 seconds. This temperature has been shown to kill infectious bacteria like F. tularensis.

Here are some tips for proper cooking:

– Use a meat thermometer to verify the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Check temperature in multiple spots.

– Allow large cuts of meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving to allow heat to evenly distribute.

– Cook wild game meat like rabbit, squirrel or deer to 165°F as a safety precaution even if tularemia is not suspected.

– Cook ground meats to 165°F as bacteria can spread throughout the meat during grinding.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

When handling or preparing meat from potentially infected animals, steps should be taken to avoid cross-contamination:

– Thoroughly wash hands, utensils and surfaces after contact with raw meat. Use hot, soapy water.

– Keep raw meat separate from other foods during preparation and storage.

– Cook meat soon after processing. Refrigerate at 40°F or below if cooking must be delayed.

– Use separate cutting boards and knives for raw meat. Never reuse these items until thoroughly washed.

Following proper biosecurity and hygiene practices in the kitchen can help prevent the spread of tularemia while preparing meat.

Is it Safe to Eat Thoroughly Cooked Meat from Animals with Tularemia?

Cooking meat to the proper internal temperature is extremely effective at killing the tularemia bacteria. Numerous safety agencies, including the CDC, USDA and WHO, state that meat from animals with tularemia is safe to eat if it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F and is checked in multiple spots with a meat thermometer.

At this temperature held for over 15 seconds, the bacteria are reliably destroyed, even in the center of roasts or other large cuts of meat. Properly cooked meat presents no risk of transmitting tularemia.

However, safety precautions are still important when handling and preparing the raw meat to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen. As long as thorough cooking guidelines are followed, the cooked meat from animals with tularemia is considered safe to eat.


To summarize the key points:

– Tularemia is an infectious disease caused by the F. tularensis bacteria and can infect many animals. Infected animals often show no signs of illness.

– Eating raw or undercooked meat from infected animals is unsafe. However, thoroughly cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 165°F kills the bacteria.

– Use a meat thermometer to verify the proper temperature is reached, especially for wild game. Allow large cuts to rest before carving.

– Follow biosecurity practices when handling raw meat to prevent spread of bacteria. Wash hands, tools, and surfaces thoroughly after contact.

– According to food safety experts, meat from animals with tularemia is considered safe to eat if cooked properly to 165°F. Take precautions when handling the raw meat.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tularemia: Sources of Infection and Risk Factors.
World Health Organization. WHO Guidelines on Tularaemia.
United States Department of Agriculture. Meat Preparation: Rabbit From Farm to Table.
Public Health Agency of Canada. Pathogen Safety Data Sheet: Francisella tularensis.

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