Now that baseball season is wrapping up, and you've likely
eaten your share of ballpark dogs (9 percent of all hot dogs
purchased are bought at baseball stadiums, after all), it's
the perfect time to delve into what's really in one of America's
favorite foods: the hot dog.
Americans eat about 20 billion hot dogs a year, while
the debate about what's really in them continues.
It's the subject of many urban
legends, the object of many grade-schoolers' double dares:
do hot dogs contain pig snouts and chicken feathers, or are
they really made from high-quality meat?
The debate certainly hasn't put a damper on Americans' enthusiasm
for the food. The U.S. population consumes about 20 billion
hot dogs a year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage
Council. That works out to about 70 hot dogs per person, per
year. And, an estimated 95 percent of U.S. homes serve hot
dogs at one meal or another.
Wondering how many hotdogs are sold each year? In 2005, retail
stores sold 764 million packages of hot dogs (not including
Wal-Mart), which adds up to more than $1.5 billion in retail
What's in a Hotdog?
Fun Hot Dog Facts
to Impress Your Friends
In 2006, Americans ate enough hot dogs at major
league ballparks to stretch from RFK Stadium in
Washington, D.C. to AT&T Park in San Francisco.
New Yorkers eat more hot dogs than any other city
population (even Chicago, also known for its hot
Travelers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport
eat six times more hot dogs than travelers at Los
Angeles International Airport and LaGuardia Airport
Hot dog season -- during which Americans eat 7
billion hot dogs -- stretches from Memorial Day
to Labor Day.
- Americans eat 150 million hot dogs on the fourth
of July, alone.
On to the million-dollar question: what are hot dogs made
of? According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council:
"All hot dogs are cured and cooked sausages that consist
of mainly pork, beef, chicken and turkey or a combination
of meat and poultry. Meats used in hot dogs come from the
muscle of the animal and looks much like what you buy in
the grocer's case. Other ingredients include water, curing
agents and spices, such as garlic, salt, sugar, ground mustard,
nutmeg, coriander and white pepper."
However, there are a couple of caveats. "Variety meats,"
which include things like liver, kidneys and hearts, may be
used in processed meats like hot dogs, but the U.S. Department
of Agriculture requires that they be disclosed on the ingredient
label as "with variety meats" or "with meat
Further, watch out for statements like "made with mechanically
separated meats (MSM)." Mechanically separated meat is
"a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by
forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure
through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from
the edible meat tissue," according to the U.S. Food Safety
and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Although the FSIS maintains that MSM are safe to eat, mechanically
separated beef is no longer allowed in hot dogs or other processed
meats (as of 2004) because of fears of mad
cow disease. Hot dogs can contain no more than 20 percent
mechanically separated pork, and any amount of mechanically
separated chicken or turkey.
So if you're looking for the purest franks, pick those that
are labeled "all beef," "all pork," or
"all chicken, turkey, etc." Franks labeled in this
way must be made with meat from a single species and do not
include byproducts (but check the label anyway, just to be
sure. Turkey and chicken franks, for instance, can include
turkey or chicken meat and turkey or chicken skin and fat
in proportion to a turkey or chicken carcass).
Are Hot Dogs Unhealthy?
Eating lots of processed meats like hot dogs has been linked
to an increased risk of cancer. Part of that risk is probably
due to the additives used in the meats, namely sodium nitrite
Sodium nitrite (or sodium nitrate) is used as a preservative,
coloring and flavoring in hot dogs (and other processed meats),
and studies have found it can lead to the formation of cancer-causing
chemicals called nitrosamines.
MSG, a flavor enhancer used in hot dogs and many other processed
foods, has been labeled as an "excitotoxin,"
which, according to Dr. Russell Blaylock, an author and neurosurgeon,
are "a group of excitatory amino acids that can cause
sensitive neurons to die."
If you love hot dogs and are looking for a healthier alternative,
opt for nitrate-free, organic varieties (available in health
food stores and increasingly in regular supermarkets) that
contain all meat, no byproducts and no artificial flavors,
colors or preservatives.
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Hot Dog and Sausage Council
Food Safety and Inspection Service