New Zealand home cooks are frying possums 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 is illegal to hunt them without a permit, but in New Zealand, where they are an invasive species, marsupials are easy prey.
This week, Kiwi man Owen Robertson went viral after serving his family “chicken” with possum butter for Matariki, a Maori festival similar to New Year.
He says the food cost him a few cents a head.
Robertson said the dish initially appealed because it was cheap, but he would do it again because he enjoyed the taste.
“I’d rather eat possum than meat from the supermarket, because of the cost, but also because it’s so much 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 “run over.”
“The negative image that people have of the opossum is because they mostly see them dead on a highway, which might not make you feel like (possum) stung that night,” he said.
Opossum dishes have started to gain traction on 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 food”.
Some even traded recipes, including slow-cooked possum in an herb casserole with lemon juice, roasted possum with sugar and orange, or braised possum in garlic and spices.
Robertson said he liked to slow cook, grill or smoke the possum meat and serve it with barbecue sauce.
However, NZ Food Safety has warned against the idea, saying there are significant safety risks associated with consuming any hunted animal, including possum.
“These can include bacterial contamination from external wounds on the animal or puncturing the intestine while preparing the field. There is also a risk of chemical contamination if the animal has eaten poisoned bait,” said Deputy Director General Vincent Arbuckle.
Possums are a vector of tuberculosis (TB) in New Zealand, a virus that can also be transmitted by other animals such as cows.
“Even healthy-appearing opossums can become infected, and the infection can’t always be identified visually,” Arbuckle said.
Safety Tips for Cooking Opossum
Phil Bremer, chief scientist at the New Zealand Food Safety Sciences Research Centre, said game meat was riskier to eat because it is not regulated in the same way as meat bought from a butcher or supermarket.
“If you hunt, it is your responsibility to make sure that the meat of the game animal is safe to eat,” he said.
If you insist on eating the game, Bremer recommends cooking it to an internal temperature above 72°C for at least two minutes, which should kill the bacteria. He also urged hunters to take precautions when handling raw meat.
“It is unwise to eat roadkill, as the bacteria can rapidly increase in numbers in dead animals and produce toxins that are not destroyed even if the meat is well-done,” he added.