New Zealand home cooks are frying up possum as meat prices soar, but food safety experts have warned it’s not a good idea.
Possums are a protected species in Australia and it’s illegal to hunt them without a permit, but in New Zealand, where they are an invasive species, the marsupials are fair game.
This week, Kiwi man Owen Robertson went viral after serving his family possum butter “chicken” for Matariki, a Maori festival akin to new year.
He says the meal cost him just a few cents per head.
Robertson said the dish was initially appealing because it was cheap, but he’d make it again because he enjoyed the taste.
“I’d rather eat possum than meat from the supermarket, because of cost, but also because it’s way tastier than processed food,” he told local publication Stuff.
Robertson, who hunts his own possum, said cooks might be put off by the perception of the animal as “roadkill”.
“People’s negative image of possum is because they mostly see them dead on a road, which mightn’t make you feel like (possum) mince that night,” he said.
Possum dishes have begun gaining traction in some local social media groups.
One woman said she would “rather starve” than cut costs by eating “free possum”, while others said it was “good tucker.”
Some even swapped recipes, including possum slow-cooked in a herb casserole with lemon juice, possum roasted with sugar and orange, or possum braised in garlic and spices.
Robertson said he liked to slow-cook, roast or hot smoke possum meat and serve it with a barbecue sauce.
NZ Food Safety, however, has warned against the idea, saying there were significant safety risks associated with eating any hunted animal, including possum.
“These can include bacterial contamination from external wounds on the animal or puncturing the gut while field dressing. There is also the risk of chemical contamination if the animal has eaten poison bait,” said deputy-director General Vincent Arbuckle.
Possums are a vector for tuberculosis (TB) in New Zealand, a virus that can also be carried by other animals such as cows.
“Even possums that appear healthy can be infected, and the infection cannot always be identified visually,” Mr Arbuckle said.
Safety tips for cooking possum
Phil Bremer, the chief scientist for the New Zealand Food Safety Science Research Centre, said hunted meat was riskier to eat because it’s not regulated in the same way as meat bought from a butcher or supermarket.
“If you hunt, it’s your responsibility to make sure the meat from the game animal is safe to eat,” he said.
If you insist on eating the game, Bremer recommended cooking it to an internal temperature higher than 72C for at least two minutes, which should kill bacteria. He also urged hunters to take precautions while handling raw meat.
“It is not wise to eat road kill as bacteria can rapidly increase in numbers in dead animals and produce toxins which are not destroyed even if the meat is well cooked,” he added.
Meat prices in New Zealand have increased by 12 percent year-on-year. In Australia, the official inflation rate for meat and seafood is eight percent.