Eating rotten meat to survive

Let’s say you were lost in the mountains and came upon a rotting deer carcass that a mountain lion had left there 4 days earlier. Wouldn’t it be possible to cook the meat to destroy any harmful organisms, and even remove the smell of rotten meat since much of that smell comes from gases produced by living bacteria? I don’t want to try this at home, but it would be good to know ahead of time if it would work.

Once I cooked up some chicken that was in my fridge, not bothering to remember/realize that it had been in there a bit too long. Let us say, perhaps 10-14 days past the “sell by” date.*
I marinated it with soy sauce and french onion soup base, sprinkled it with black pepper, and brushed it with melted and clarified butter before putting it in the oven for the usual 350ish for 45ish. Then I took it out and put it on a plate and got a fork etc. and sat down to eat.
First bite, chew - … Something was dreadfully wrong there. An unusual, prickly sensation on the palate, quite unpleasant. Eject mouthful onto plate, gag reflex kicking in, gag gag gag gag, no puke though, but a head rush of revulsion.
My scientific conclusion: humans cannot ingest rotten meat without immediately puking, thereby doing more harm than good vis-a-vis survival nutrition. We ain’t hyenas.

*Disclaimer: I’m an absent minded bachelor who sometimes forgets to clean out his fridge and who probably confused it with a newer, fresher grocery portion.

Sure… It’ll work… As long as you think that boiling spoiled milk will make the spoil go away…

Yer pal,

Rotting meat was a way of preparing in for the Inuit, and they did a pretty good job surviving.

Um, Satan? You mean it won’t???

…Here kitty,kitty,kitty…Uh, Oh… :frowning:

A friend is someone who likes you even though you’re as ugly as a hat full of assholes.

I got food poisoning once, and almost died of dehydration.

All this science, I don’t understand. It’s just my job 5 days a week-- Rocketman

There are two more or less seperate issues with spoiled food and your health.

One is bacteria, and cooking probably would kill them.

However, that doesn’t magically eliminate the chemicals they may have left behind or restore those they have consumed. Boiled wine is not the same thing as grape juice.

Oh, and one of the characteristic odors of rotting meat is produced by a chemical with the lovely name of “cadaverine”. In addition to the foul odor, it’s also poisonous.

If you’re lost in the wild, you want to avoid ANYTHING that will make you puke. Vomiting leads to dehydration which, if you don’t have access to fluids, will lead to death. Read the fascinating book “Into the Wild” for a tragic example of this.

      • I dunno if this is true, but I was told by a formerly southwestern-state friend that buzzards have 40,000 times the resistance to botulism that humans do. They normally have so much of the stuff coursing around in their systems that you can’t even eat a freshly-killed and cooked buzzard; it will still make you sick because of all the medically dangerous stuff it’s tissue contains. - I have not seen many buzzard recipes anywhere. - MC

Except for the bacteria, is rotten meat really toxic? I know that even lions will scavenge from time to time, as do all land predators.

Only humans commit inhuman acts.

Well, I doubt botulism would be a problem for buzzards. The bacterium is anaerobic and is killed by oxygen. It’s highly unlikely that anything the buzzard eats had been improperly canned.

Maybe you’d be able to drink your own urine.

Well, as I said, cadaverine is poisonous (it’s produced by the action of certain bacteria on meat, fish, eggs… pretty much any high-protein substance). So, yeah, it’s possible for rotting meat to be poisonous even if you eliminated the actual living bacteria themselves.

Just because something is exposed to air doesn’t mean it’s safe from anaerobic bacteria. IIRC, gas gangrene and tetanus are caused by anaerobic bacteria, and the inside of a rotting carcass is not necessarily an aerobic environment anyway.

Oh, and a note about scavengers: there’s a difference between carnivore guts, omnivore guts, and herbivore guts. Herbivore guts tend to be long and also rely on things having been well-processed (the cud-chewing phenomenon, for example) before reaching the intestines. Omnivore guts are also fairly long but generally don’t require such elaborate preprocessing measures. Carnivore guts are comparatively short.

IIRC, scavenger guts are shortest of all and get stuff through quickly to limit exposure to bacteria, but true carnivores are probably better able to deal with rotten food than omnivores like humans (we are biologically omnivores, even if some of us behave otherwise).

How closely are deer and cows related? People eat aged beef all the time. You just need a nice Bernaise to disguise that 4-day-old flavor.

Well, the reason spices like curry are so popular is because strong spices like that were needed to mask the unpleasant taste of not-so-fresh meats in the days before refrigeration was easily attainable.

Methinks that lots of people had to deal with this problem. I wonder - Did a shit-load of ancestors die from food poisoning that is pretty much unheard of today? Or were they better equipped to deal with the buggies in their rancid meat?

Yer pal,

Again, distinctions, distinctions.

How does meat get rotten?

  1. Bacteria, which often produces a digestive fluid which breaks down the meat. This digestive fluid is often poisonous to us. E.g., botulism poisoning is from the secretions of the bacteria, and not the bacteria itself. If you boil something with botulism poisons in it, you kill the bacteria, but the poison stays behind.

  2. Insects. Mmmmm… maggots…

  3. Cell death and dehydration. Cellular proteins in muscle need constant replenishing in a wet environment. When death occurs, the cells start to self destruct, using up their stores of energy, then they die. Then they dehydrate. All the while, the proteins start unraveling and are no longer being repaired or replaced.


So, how can you get sick from rotten meat?

  1. Poisons from bacteria. Cooking doesn’t help.

  2. Bacterial infection. Sometimes it isn’t the poison in the meat from the bacteria that’s worrisome, it’s the bacteria infecting your intestines in which the bacteria then produce their poisons that’s worrisome. Cooking is effective for killing the bacteria that might infect you.

  3. Meat that has decayed on it’s own from old age (and not from microorganisms) because it’s been sitting in your fridge too long tastes bad, but isn’t harmful. The bad taste can make you puke though, if you have a weak stomach – and that can be very bad in survival situations as has been mentioned.
    Cooking and sauces can hide the taste of rotten meat (too a point). Indeed, our pre-refrigerator ancestors salted , pickled, or ‘smoked’ the meat to prevent bacteral infection (‘smoking’ encourages fungal infection, which adds flavor… mmmm). This, however, aged (rotted) the meat in ways that weren’t too bad tasting.


In Alaska, the Eskimos used to kill small birds, wrap them in seal blubber and pack them into stone cairns to ‘ferment’ for months above ground, in the sun. The end result was a ‘tenderized’ bird, which was eagerly consumed, feathers and all. They also found ‘aged’ seal meat palatable and, in times of severe hardship, would eat rotten meat.

In South America, natives make a liquid food by chewing the root of a plant, spitting it into containers and allowing it to ferment. Then they drink this soupy paste when they are on the move. It only is good for a few days. They smoke meats daily, to prevent spoilage, without salting them, especially when transporting chunks of a large kill, but again, the preservation process is only good for a few days.

The differences is local temperature. If rotten meat is discovered in the winter, certain bacteria might not be present. The fresher the kill, the safer for consumption. Cooking thoroughly would decrease the possibility of bacterial disease. In summer, or hotter climates, it is best left to the animals.

The difference between Alaska and South America is temperature. Certain bacteria cannot thrive in cold climates. Currently, it is acceptable and tasty, to have a butcher properly ‘age’ a piece of meat prior to purchase and cooking. He hangs the slab from a hook in a cool room, not a freezer, with the temperature controlled. Bacteria in the meat is allowed to ‘rot it’ and excess gasses drift off. When ready, the meat is often grayish (grocery stores dye meat red to cover the normal gray which appears after some hours in a cooler) and not only more tender but tastier.

A good butcher or cook could hang a slab of steak until it looked like it had turned green in the cool room. They kept a little rake handy to scrape off the surface ‘green’ and then cooked the meat. It was considered excellent, but takes skill to judge how long to hang it.

Rotten meat in the summer or a hot and especially a humid climate is toying with poisoning. There are ways to preserve meat without freezing it, but it always requires salting or cooking or smoking or sealing it in airtight containers. Or, a combination of both. (Preserved duck in Norway. Cooked, packed in crocks and sealed with hot duck fat. Stored in cool cellars they can last months. No piece of the meat may be left exposed to the air.) Fresh pork or beef, years ago, was often soaked for many hours or days in a barrel filled with a salt brine, then hung in a smoke house, wrapped in burlap (to keep the flies off). It would last for a month or so.

“Think of it as Evolution in action.”