Can You Eat Roadkill or Will It Make You Sick?

Roadkill may not be the most appetizing way to get your daily protein, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it at all costs. 

The legality of eating roadkill may vary from state to state, but in many cases, roadkill is completely safe for human consumption. Eating roadkill may sound unusual but it can actually help the environment and prevent otherwise fresh meat from going to waste. 

However, it’s always important to consider safety before indulging in any animal found on the side of the road. 

Knowing the danger signs when it comes to eating something you found on the side of the road is extremely important to avoid any foodborne illness. Luckily, there are a few basic steps that can be followed to get a better idea of the risk. 

Is Roadkill Safe to Eat?

In general, eating roadkill is completely safe. As with eating any kind of fresh meat, there is a risk of foodborne illness but oftentimes eating roadkill can be even safer than eating meat from the grocery store. 

Although it may seem like eating roadkill is a sure way to get sick, this is not always the case. In many situations, there will be a lower risk of foodborne illness than normal, since the animal is so fresh. Not all roadkill will be fresh, but if you were the one that hit the animal with your car in the first place, then you can guarantee that the animal is at least fresh. 

Freshness is not the only thing to consider: Does the animal show signs of disease? Is this an animal that is generally safe to consume? Does it appear to have fallen victim to vultures or other scavengers? If there is something obviously wrong with the animal, it is probably best to avoid it entirely. 

Is it Legal to Eat Roadkill?

Whether or not it is legal to eat roadkill will depend on the state. Although some states see it as an ethical way to avoid an animal going to waste, others will see it as a crime. 

Knowing your local roadkill laws is extremely important if you are considering consuming an animal you found on the side of the road. For example, in Texas taking any kind of roadkill home is illegal. However, Texas is admittedly a bit of an outlier here as most states see no problem with individuals taking home and eating roadkill. Even though most states allow it, be sure to check the laws for your state as there may be restrictions or permits required to harvest certain animals. 

Another thing to keep in mind is hunting seasons in certain states. Many states have separate laws that apply specifically to roadkill, however, in other states taking roadkill home is only legal during hunting seasons. 

When is it Legal to Eat Roadkill?

More and more states are passing laws that allow the consumption of roadkill. Many of these states have few restrictions and allow individuals to take home any animal they found, regardless of whether they hit it with their car or simply found it already dead.  

As mentioned, there are a few factors to consider when determining whether or not it is legal to take home roadkill in your state. Assuming your state allows for roadkill to be picked up by citizens, the first thing you should look into is if a permit is required. Although more and more states are allowing citizens to take home roadkill, many will still require a permit to do so. 

Besides permits, there are other things to consider when trying to figure out if it is legal to harvest roadkill:

  • What kind of animal is it?
  • Is it hunting season?
  • Do you need to report to law enforcement that you are salvaging roadkill?
  • Is the animal considered a protected species?

There are lots of things to consider to avoid running into legal trouble over salvaging roadkill, be sure to familiarize yourself with local laws before picking up any animals found by the roadside. 

What States is it Legal to Eat Roadkill?

State laws change all the time, and more and more states are creating laws to make it possible to salvage roadkill. However, there are still some states that ban the practice entirely. 

Texas is the most noteworthy of states to ban the practice of salvaging roadkill entirely, but it is not the only state to do so. Some states such as Oklahoma and Alaska consider roadkill to be state property thus making it illegal for private citizens to harvest any animals found on roadways. There are also states with protected animals that can not be salvaged even if roadkill can normally be salvaged, for example, Colorado does not allow the salvaging of bighorn sheep. 

In the states that generally allow the harvesting of roadkill, the vast majority require hunting permits or something similar. Even if your state has relatively relaxed laws regarding taking home roadkill, it is important to call the local fish and wildlife office to double-check. 

Contacting the local fish and wildlife office, or an equivalent agency will give you a good idea of what kind of animals can be picked up and what kind of permits are required. As mentioned, the permits required are usually hunting permits and are fairly easy to acquire. However, some states will require very specific research-based permits to harvest roadkill. These permits are often difficult if not impossible to obtain by ordinary citizens. 

How Can You Tell if Roadkill is Safe to Eat?

Once you have determined that it is legal to salvage an animal that you found on the roadside, the next thing you need to do is determine if it is safe to eat.

The risk of foodborne illness from an animal found on the side of the road is understandably high. However, in many situations, it will be fairly safe. The best thing to do is to approach the situation with common sense food safety and use the same methods you would use to determine if the meat in your fridge is still good to eat. 

As mentioned earlier, the most obvious risk factors are the first ones that should be checked: Does the animal smell or look rotten? This should be fairly easy to tell; any animal that has flies, maggots, or signs that it has fallen victim to scavengers is something that should always be avoided. 

Besides obvious signs of rotting, there are other less obvious factors to consider as well. For example, if you come upon an animal on the side of the road, not knowing how long the animal has been there can be a problem. Even if there are no signs of rot or maggots, animals left on the side of the road can begin to rot in as little as 15 minutes in warm weather. Diseased animals are another concern, although the risk of certain illnesses may be relatively low for a deer, other animals such as bears and boars will have a much higher risk of disease. 

This all may sound intimidating, but it is important to remember that eating meat of any kind carries the risk of foodborne illness. Simply use your best judgment and all the information available to make the best decision possible. 

Is Eating Roadkill Ethical?

The practice of salvaging roadkill is growing in popularity because it is seen by most as a highly ethical practice. The same as otherwise good food at a grocery store is donated to limit waste, eating roadkill is seen in the same way. With thousands of animals killed by motorists each year in the United States, many animal rights groups are pushing for new laws to prevent this meat from going to waste. 

The practice of eating roadkill has long been seen as an unsanitary or otherwise “hillbilly,” practice. However, with more and more people learning about the conditions of factory farming and a general movement towards limiting environmental waste, it seems likely that the practice of eating roadkill will only grow in popularity.