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Thread: Citric Acid on Game Meat: How often in the field

  1. #1

    Default Citric Acid on Game Meat: How often in the field

    Been getting a few questions about how often citric acid should be applied in the field. Curious what others have found to be most effective, but here's what we have found to be true (as a rule):

    FIRST application: Mix 1 oz citric acid to about 1 qt water and spray all meat surfaces thouroughly. This mixture renders an acid wash of straight acid 1-2pH, but once applied the resulting pH is mixed with moisture inherent with the surface moisture (blood, water, vapor, etc). The final surface pH settles somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 pH after about 4-6 hours, initially. This acidity is highly effective at retarding initial bacterial growth and helps protect meat surface from initial bacterial invasion expected during the field process. CLEAN field care and handling of game meat is vital to the final taste and quality. Remember CLEAN, COOL, and DRY principles of preservation.

    Once the meat is bagged, surface pH tests suggest acid levels continue to stabalize over the next 24 hours if no "new" water is allowed to contact the meat surface. It's vital to allow meat to continue cooling as quickly as possible during the first 12-24 hours to prevent deep tissue spoilage (bone sour) to occur.

    After the first 24 hours, pH testing often suggests surface levels will balance out somewhere between 3.5-5 pH. This is a great start, since common spoilage bacteria is retarded with acid levels <5.5 pH. If hunters do not have pH test strips to perform frequent checks of surface acid levels, here's what they should do over the course of their field storage:

    SECOND application: Our studies indicate that pH levels begin to rise to above 5 pH after the initial 24-hours post-application of the first wash, so occasional maintenance applications will be necessary to prevent future growth of spoilage bacteria on the surface of game meat. Our rule of thumb is to re-apply a new and complete citric acid wash every 2 days while the meat is stored in the field. This every-other-day application of citric acid will help ensure surface pH levels remain BELOW 5 pH.

    AS NEEDED applications thereafter: If you have simple pH test strips in your kit, check surface levels in the wettest areas (around joints, between folds, etc.) every evening when performing normal sensory checks (smell, touch, visual). Cut away any suspicious meat (bloodshot, bruising, odd odors, foreign debris,etc.). Anytime surface testing reveals pH levels creeping toward 5 pH, reapply a new citric acid wash. Maintenance applications might be required more often on float trips (with wet or warm climates).

    Without pH test strips, plan on a maintenance dose to be reapplied every 2 days until the game meat is transported safely from the field to its final point of processing. This will help safeguard your game without the threat of surface bacterial spoilage.

    Along with CLEAN handling from start to finish, this is perhaps the best approach to properly handle edible meat in the field.

    Good luck.

  2. #2

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    Great info Larry, thanks! Keep it cool, clean, and dry is about the best meat care advice one can follow in the field.

  3. #3
    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    OK, admittedly I cheat and drop all my meat off and pick it back up nicely wrapped in carefully marked packages but there likely will come a time that I am not so flush with cash and would....gasp.... have to butcher my own meat! So this leads me to ask, what do you do with the treated meat when you get home? Do you wash it off? Trim off ALL that treated surface meat?

    I have been pretty lucky with the last two animals we harvested in that one was taken at minus 10 degrees and delivered frozen solid to the butcher, the other was butchered by the long straw guys that flew out with the meat haul while me and fellow short straw Alaska_Lanche hiked back up the mountain to retrieve spike camp. Honestly I have simply never had to store an animal for days in the field or actually process it myself. We just killed them and packed everything out the next day then dropped it at the processor. I don't think I have ever had meat in the field beyond about 50 hours from the time it hit the ground.

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    Supporting Member sigabrt's Avatar
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    Citric acid causes a crust to form, which you must trim when processing.
    "Your papers are not in order"

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    Moderator kingfisherktn's Avatar
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    We were on the river 15 days. The caribou and 1st moose were shot on the 3rd & I think the 5th day, 2nd moose about the 8th day, 3rd moose about the 10th day and the 4th moose on the 14th day. We used the citric on all the critters right after butchering. The first part of the trip we had mid 60 during the day and close to freezing at night. Half way through the trip in never got above 40 and usually froze at night.

    Because of the weather we didn't have bug problems. We were able to let the citric acid air dry on the meat before we bag it during the day. At night we would always put the bags back on and cover with tarps while hanging. Then during the day if we stayed at camp we would pull the bags back off. Crust formed on all the meat except the moose on the 14th day because not enough time left in the trip. We never used the acid after the first application.

    We did not have any bad meat when we came out of the field and just trimmed the crust off.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    Do you just trim all the "crust" off with the meat hanging before you start cutting it up? What about back strap and loins? Same crust on all those pieces? Ribs as well? I guess with ribs it would be worth just concentrating on eating them in the field.

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    Moderator kingfisherktn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    Do you just trim all the "crust" off with the meat hanging before you start cutting it up? What about back strap and loins? Same crust on all those pieces? Ribs as well? I guess with ribs it would be worth just concentrating on eating them in the field.
    Read the float story, we ate all the ribs in the field.

    We boned out all of our meat in Fairbanks and brought it all back in a freezer to Ktn then trimmed off the crust as we butchered.

    We had very little crust on the straps or tenders to remove.

  8. #8

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    Sigabrt, I once heard that same rumor that citric acid helps develop a crust on game meat surfaces, so I tested the crap out the theory during a variety of field scenarios. Actually, it doesn't aid with crust development. If anything, a citric acid spray wash adds surface moisture.

    Surface crust is formed by drying, period. Citric acid has no "drying" properties, although it does change the surface coloration to shades of grey. The more citric acid used the more grey the surface becomes over time. The grey and brown (or otherwise discolored) surface area is trimmed during final processing.

    Crust can be expedited by drying open to air (outside of game bags) and allowed to hang in direct contact with a good breeze.

    A light salt rub can also be used to help dry surfaces of game meat if hunters have to transport game meat longer than 10 days in the field. This is especially helpful in warmer climates, as drying will be essential to form a protective scab on the surface.

  9. #9

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    We used the citric acid idea this year for the first time on two caribou. It seemed to work great. We probably had some of the lowest amounts of "waste" when butchering we have ever had. We did not trim any crust off, just the occasional locations where there was a little bloodshot meat or other accidental contamination, making a very small bowl total out of the two animals. I would not worry at all about eating meat that had the citric acid directly applied to it. Once it has been out in the open air and been cooked, you will never know it was ever there. It would also have been applied to a very small portion of the edible meat, so any quantity you might be eating would be very small.

  10. #10

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    I originally had the same thoughts "Isn't citric acid suppose to form a crust?" This was my first year using citric acid. Between the time I pulled the trigger and I was able to cut up the caribou for the freezer, I sprayed citric acid on all the meat four different times. Each time after spraying I left the quarters laying on a clean tarp so the moisture on the meat surface would air dry (30-60 minutes / side), then back in the game bags they went. Night time lows were in the upper 20s, daytime highs in the mid-60s or so. Even though I was camped out on a gravel bar with the quarters propped up off the gravel with willow branches I don't think there was sufficient air flow to cause crust formation. Regardless, I was pretty happy with my meat care procedure and the end results were wonderful. Our pilot even commented how great our meat looked, that was quite reassuring to me.

    Jeff

  11. #11
    Supporting Member sigabrt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Bartlett View Post
    Sigabrt, I once heard that same rumor that citric acid helps develop a crust on game meat surfaces, so I tested the crap out the theory during a variety of field scenarios. Actually, it doesn't aid with crust development. If anything, a citric acid spray wash adds surface moisture.
    Odd, when we used it this year it seemed to cause the areas that were sprayed to crust over fairly quickly---may have been coincidence I suppose...
    "Your papers are not in order"

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    Moderator kingfisherktn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sigabrt View Post
    Odd, when we used it this year it seemed to cause the areas that were sprayed to crust over fairly quickly---may have been coincidence I suppose...
    We had the same experience.

  13. #13

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    yeah, more likely than not your experience with crusting was due to airflow and/or direct sunlight exposure vs. citric acid use, since the acid wash doesn't "prevent" nor does it "expedite" crust formation. Warmer temps or direct sunlight before bagging expedites crust, thus crust will form quicker and regardless of citric acid use.

    I use citric acid wash religously, but i notice it takes longer for crust to form when i use it vs. relying on airflow and UV exposure alone.

  14. #14
    Member junkak's Avatar
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    Wanted to add that we used citric acid dilute this year on the August (unit 13) hunt. Meat was hung for 5 days. Quarters, full back with ribs, neck. Tarp covered on a pole with around 3 foot of airspace.

    Daily temp was around 70ish.. Nights were nearing 43-50ish.

    We noticed great results and only applied the dilute on first day after bloodshot and hair was removed.

    The flies and birds noticed the trimming pile more than the hung meat.

    We process our own burger and noticed less green meat. No smell.

    Thanks for the in-depth info Larry. Will use the dilute more liberally next year without fear of 'cooking' the meat like ceviche!

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    Real Lemon ....

    I was told by another hunter that, instead of using a packaged citric acid preparation, Real Lemon, that comes in the yellow plastic lemon bulbs, is just as good. Used it on this year's moose meat, diluted, in a spray bottle, seems to work well. Am I right or wrong?

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick View Post
    Real Lemon ....

    I was told by another hunter that, instead of using a packaged citric acid preparation, Real Lemon, that comes in the yellow plastic lemon bulbs, is just as good. Used it on this year's moose meat, diluted, in a spray bottle, seems to work well. Am I right or wrong?
    You are right.

    I know a lot of hunters who wipe all there meat down with a rag and vinager.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick View Post
    Real Lemon ....

    I was told by another hunter that, instead of using a packaged citric acid preparation, Real Lemon, that comes in the yellow plastic lemon bulbs, is just as good. Used it on this year's moose meat, diluted, in a spray bottle, seems to work well. Am I right or wrong?
    You are right.

    I know a lot of hunters who wipe all there meat down with vinegar.

  18. #18

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    Citric acid worked great for us, and I'm a fan of it.

    It's inexpensive. You can carry it as a dry granular product. A little spray bottle weighs about 2 or 3 ounces empty. It mixes in 30 seconds. It is extremely effective at retarding flies and bacterial spoilage.

    For all it's ease and advantages, I can't understand why everyone doesn't use it.

  19. #19
    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    We used citric acid for the first time this year while on a unit 26B float hunt for caribou. Temps ranged from the upper 50's to low 40's with rain every day. It took us 5 days between the kill and the processor with no spoilage. I hung the meat every evening from the oars and under a tarp and reapplied the citric acid twice. Maybe reapplying the citirc acid was overkill?


  20. #20

    Default citric acid

    I live in Alabama and would like to buy some of the granular citric acid to bring on my Kotz caribou hunt this fall. where can I buy it and how much would I need for 2 caribou.

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