July 11th, 2011

Hot Dog Labels are Misleading

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Hot Dog labels misleading


Nothing screams America more than hot dogs. In this country we have a deep love for many variations of the traditional hot dog. Chicago is known for its Chicago Style hot dog. There’s the Coney Island hot dog- a New York tradition that my father likes to experience again and again every time we visit NYC. How about those Fenway Franks? Watching the Red Sox play at Fenway wouldn’t be the same without the vendors yelling out “get your haht dahgs heyah”.

For years there’s been talk of the “mystery meat” that makes up a hot dog.  Frankly (pun intended), mystery meat seems appropriate since I don’t think anyone can say with certainty what kind of meat or what part of the animal hot dogs are made from.

With the intention of feeding our children the healthiest of hot dogs, we choose to invest in the $5.99/pack USDA Certified Organic turkey hot dogs. The packaging suggests that the hot dogs are uncured and have no added nitrates or nitrites.

Nitrates and nitrates are in ALL hot dogs-even all natural and organic

While the $5.99/pack organic hot dogs certainly contain healthier ingredients than conventional dogs, they still contain nitrates. According to a recent New York Times article:

Those pricey “natural’”and ‘”organic” hot dogs often contain just as much or more of the cancer-linked preservatives nitrate and nitrite as that old-fashioned Oscar Mayer wiener.

How could this be? The problem is the current processed meat labeling regulations make no sense. The New York Times also says the regulations:

…require products that use preservatives from natural sources to place the words “Uncured” and “No nitrates or nitrites added” on the label even though they are cured and do contain the chemicals.


The organic and all natural companies usually use celery powder or celery juice in their processed meats, which are high in nitrate. It is then converted to nitrates or nitrites through a bacterial culture. Once converted it becomes almost identical to synthetic nitrite.

The bottom line: Both conventional and organic or natural hot dogs contain nitrite or nitrates, regardless of what the label says.

Health issues linked to nitrates or nitrites

A study published earlier this year in The Journal of Food Protection found that natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite that conventional hot dogs contained.

Nitrates and nitrites give cured meats, like bacon and hot dogs, a pink color and that smoky flavor. They also kill the bacteria that cause botulism.  Nitrite additives in hotdogs form carcinogens. Studies have found that the consumption of hot dogs can be a risk factor for childhood cancer. Nitrates have also been linked to diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer.

The good news

The food companies aren’t to blame. My favorite hot dog company, Applegate Farms, along with other natural food companies, are pushing the federal government for more truthful labeling that would allow them to tell consumers clearly that some products contain nitrates, just from natural rather than synthetic sources.

What you can do

  • Let the USDA know that we want transparency in food labels. We have a right to know what’s in our food.
  • Think twice about eating hot dogs on a regular basis. Just today I was at the supermarket with my kids and they grabbed a few packages of organic hot dogs. For the first time ever, I consciously thought about the number of times we’ve eaten hot dogs over the past few weeks.  Everything in moderation.

Will you think twice about eating hot dogs?

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[Photo used under Creative Commons from The Culinary Geek/Flickr]

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