Food Safety of Rabbit
Fresh or frozen, rabbit meat is sold all year round. It can
be used in most of the ways in which chicken is used.
What is Rabbit?
Rabbits sold in
the United States for food are not only North American cottontails, but
are commonly crosses between New Zealand and Belgian varieties, imported
Chinese rabbits, or Scottish hares. The meat is fine grained and mild
flavored. Like other lean meat, poultry, and fish, rabbit meat is a good
source of high quality protein.
of Rabbit Commonly Available
- Fryer or young rabbit--the terms "fryer" or
"young rabbit" refer to a rabbit weighing not less than 1 ?
pounds and rarely more than 3 ? pounds, and less than 12 weeks of age.
The flesh is tender, fine grained, and a bright pearly pink color. These
rabbits may be cooked in much the same way as young poultry.
- Roaster or mature rabbit--the terms "roaster"
or "mature rabbit" refer to a mature rabbit of any weight, but
usually over 4 pounds and over 8 months of age. The flesh is firm and
coarse grained, and the muscle fiber is slightly darker in color and
less tender. The fat may be more creamy in color than that of a fryer or
young rabbit. The meat of larger rabbits may be tougher so the best
methods of cooking are braising or stewing.
- Giblets--the liver and heart.
Is Rabbit Inspected?
Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service
(FSIS) inspects swine, cattle and calves, equine, sheep, and goats. Under
the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), the FSIS inspects
"domesticated poultry" which is defined as chickens, turkeys,
ducks, geese, guineas, ratites, and squab. Congress has not mandated
inspection of rabbits under either the FMIA or the PPIA; therefore,
inspection of rabbit is voluntary. Voluntary inspection of animals,
including buffalo, antelope, reindeer, elk, deer, migratory water fowl,
game birds, and rabbit, is handled under the Agricultural Marketing Act.
Under voluntary inspection, each rabbit and its internal organs are
inspected for signs of disease. The "Inspected for Wholesomeness by
USDA" mark of inspection ensures the rabbit is wholesome and free
from disease. When a rabbit processor does not produce rabbit meat under
FSIS voluntary inspection, they would be subject to the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) inspection under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic
Some states, however, permit the sale of rabbit only if
it is inspected under their laws.
The FDA has jurisdiction over the shipment of rabbit
meat in interstate commerce.
Yes, rabbit may be graded under the voluntary rabbit
grading program performed by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. It
provides a national grading service based on official U.S. classes,
standards, and grades for poultry.
Rabbit may be graded only if it has been
inspected and passed by the FSIS, or inspected and passed by any other
inspection system which is acceptable to the USDA, such as state
Consumer grades for rabbits are U.S. Grade A, U.S.
Grade B, and U.S. Grade C.
Hormones and Antibiotics Used in Rabbit Raising?
Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat diseases
in rabbits. A "withdrawal" period is required from the time
antibiotics are administered until it is legal to slaughter the animal.
This allows time for residues to exit the animal's system. FSIS randomly
samples rabbits at slaughter and tests for antibiotic residues.
No hormones are used in rabbit raising.
Take rabbit home immediately from the grocer and refrigerate at or below
40 °F. Use it within 2 days or freeze at 0 ?
F. If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely; however,
quality will diminish over time. It is safe to freeze rabbit in its
original packaging or repackage it for freezing. For best quality, use
frozen whole rabbit within a year; pieces within 9 months.
There are three ways to safely defrost rabbit: in the
refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven. Never defrost at
- Refrigerator: It's best to plan for slow, safe thawing in the
refrigerator. Bone-in parts or whole rabbits may take a day or longer to
thaw. Once thawed, rabbit may be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days
before cooking. During this time, if you decide not to use the rabbit,
you can safely refreeze it without cooking it.
- Cold Water: To defrost rabbit in cold water, do not remove the
packaging. Be sure the package is airtight or put it into a leak-proof
bag. Submerge the rabbit in cold water, changing the water every 30
minutes so that it continues to thaw. Small packages may defrost in an
hour or less; larger packages may take 2 to 3 hours. Plan to cook the
rabbit immediately after thawing by the cold water method.
- Microwave oven: When defrosting rabbit in the microwave oven, plan
to cook it immediately after thawing because some of the
areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook.
- When roasting rabbit parts, set the oven temperature no lower than
325 °F. A 2-pound, cut-up rabbit should
take approximately 1 hour to cook.
- A whole, 2- to 2 1/2-pound rabbit should take about 1 to 1 1/2 hours
to roast. Stuffing it will add approximately 1/2 hour to the cooking
- Braising rabbit (cooking it in a small amount of liquid in a covered
pan on the range or in the oven) also takes about 1 hour. Rabbit can
be broiled about 15 minutes on each side.
- For safety, USDA recommends cooking rabbit to an internal
temperature of at least 160 °F. The use
of a food thermometer is recommended to make sure that your rabbit is
safe to eat.
- It is safe to cook frozen rabbit in the oven or on the range or
grill without defrosting it first, although the cooking time may be
about 50% longer.
- Do not cook frozen rabbit in a slow cooker; thaw first.
Cut whole rabbits into smaller pieces so heat can penetrate the meat
Safe Handling of Leftovers
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours after cooking. Use within 3 to
4 days or freeze.
- Use frozen, cooked rabbit within 4 to 6 months for best quality.
- Reheat leftovers to 165 °F.
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