Carcass inspection


The aim of this guide is to ensure that a proper inspection of culled animals is carried out in order to:

  • Minimise the risk of diseased or contaminated carcasses entering the food chain;
  • Assist in containing outbreaks of disease.

inspecting nodes

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  • Food safety is the responsibility of all who shoot, dress, transport and process venison. On 1st January 2006, new EU food hygiene regulations1 were introduced to the UK. Different parts of the legislation apply to different operations. No matter what the operation, however, there is a legal obligation to ensure that all food is safe to eat. It is a legal requirement for any wild game or wild game meat intended for sale to an approved game handling establishment (AGHE) to be inspected by a “trained” person.
  • It is strongly recommended that where venison is intended for home consumption or sale directly to the final consumer, that the carcass and organs are also subjected to a full inspection.
  • HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) principles* should be followed from before the shot through to the meat being prepared for the plate. There is a legal requirement for a formal HACCP from when the carcass is processed.
  • The “trained” person is responsible for recording and reporting:
    1) unusual behaviour in the animal before culling**
    2) any abnormality observed in the gralloch, head and legs
    3) any condition which might lead one to suspect infection with a Notifiable Disease***


Practitioners should be properly trained to carry out carcass inspection. A “trained person”, referred to in the new EU regulations, should have sufficient knowledge and skill to identify any abnormal characteristics, behaviour or environmental contamination. (e.g. gut contents, bullet fragments, chemicals).

Procedure in the Field

  • Before taking the shot note any abnormal behaviour
  • After checking the animal is dead, inspect its general condition for obvious signs of a Notifiable Disease or injury e.g. broken bones, emaciation, severe diarrhoea, weeping sores, major swellings or infected wounds.
  • During the gralloch, note any abnormalities which might indicate disease, e.g. enlarged spleen, adhesions between the wall of the abdomen and the organs, unusual growths or cysts, or any unusual smell from the carcass. For what to do if signs of a serious disease are found see BPG Notifiable Diseases.
  • Look for and note any sores or abscesses found on head and legs. Check the mouth, tongue and jaws for any swellings, blisters or abscesses, possibly indicative of Foot and Mouth disease.***
  • After gralloching, inspect the lymph nodes noting any enlargement or pus.
    (The lymphatic system acts as one of the body’s defence mechanisms, filtering body fluids and collecting infection. Inflamed lymph nodes suggest an infectious condition and, particularly in the case of chronic (i.e. long lasting or persistent) infectious conditions such as tuberculosis (TB), the lymph nodes are characteristically enlarged and may develop abscesses, which can vary from pinhead size up to something containing three litres of pus.)

Procedure in the larder

  •  Remove any contamination by washing and/or cutting back. Record if carcass submitted with visible traces of contamination.
  • Look for and note any enlargement or abscesses within the bronchial, mediastinal and portal lymph nodes (see illustrations).
  • Also note any signs of pleurisy as the pluck is removed, easily identified by adhesions of the lungs to the chest wall. Note any areas of discoloured or roughened surface on the inside of the chest wall (which may have originated from a wound associated with broken ribs, or be indicative of an infectious condition causing pneumonia).
  • Look for and note any lumps, abscesses, hardened areas or unusual discolouration in the lungs which might, in the case of abscesses, indicate TB*** or a parasite infection.**


  • Look for and note any sores or abscesses found on head and legs. Check the mouth, tongue and jaws for any swellings, blisters or abscesses , possibly indicative of Foot and Mouth disease.
  • Assess the fat content within the carcass, especially around the kidneys. A consistent and objective means of assessing this is the weight of the surrounding fat in relation to the weight of the kidney. Kidney fat index is probably the most reliable means of assessing body condition. The effects of season, age of the animal, lactation etc. should be taken into account when using it to judge the general health of the deer herd.
  • Look at the kidneys. If removing the kidneys, peel them to check the colour, size and texture. This is a good place to spot infectious conditions, which may cause abscesses or adhesions of the kidney to its envelope, or may be visible as micro-abscesses.
  • Draw the attention of the AGHE vet to any spots,cysts or blisters and even white scars on the kidney which may be of no significance


Completing the Inspection

  • Ensure that proper records are kept to ensure traceability (ideally in a larder record)*. Record the following:
    1. Place, date and time of culling
    2. Name of the 'trained person' who inspected the carcass
    3. Details of any abnormal behaviour, injury or disease observed
    4. Carcass tag number (if applicable).
  • Carcasses supplied to an approved game handling establishment (AGHE) must have attached a declaration tag bearing these details and signed by the 'trained person'.


What to do if you find abnormalities

  • Where a Notifiable Disease is suspected, inform your local AHPA Field Office immediately.1
  • Where TB is suspected retain the gralloch/pluck in a sealed plastic container and retain with the carcass outside the larder, then notify AHPA.1
  • Do not allow the carcasses with abnormalities associated with disease and infection to enter the food chain and ensure they are kept separate from others.
  • Where there are other abnormalities and the carcass is being supplied to an AGHE, record these on the declaration tag accompanying the carcass.


Do not submit the following for entry to the food chain

  • Carcasses which are emaciated.
  • Carcasses with a suspected Notifiable Disease**.
  • Carcasses with any acute septic condition or signs of fever.
  • Carcasses with extensive and severe bruising. Less severe bruising or contamination may be acceptable if the affected areas are thoroughly cut back.
  • Carcasses which have “fired” or "sweated" as a result of heat retention during the carcass cooling process.