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]

19 Responses to “Hot Dog Labels are Misleading”

  1. I used to eat quite a few hot dogs. Now, I save them as a “treat” at the ballpark or the occasionally backyard cookout.

  2. I used to like hot dogs and bologna. I tried a few veggie dogs after I stopped eating meat, but they were pretty gross, so now I just don’t eat them. Thank you for your excellent muckraking — I’m sure most people had no idea about organic hot dogs!

  3. Hi Jennifer-I’ve tried a few veggie dogs too and haven’t found one that is edible. Bologna was a staple in our house when I was a kid. One of my sons really likes it and was eating it almost every day at school last year-we get the Applegate Farms, all natural, bologna. Now knowing what I know, I’m not so sure he’ll be eating it as frequently.

  4. That’s a great idea Kevin-thinking of hot dogs as a “treat” and eating them occasionally. There’s nothing like a good hot dog at the ballpark!

  5. This is when I am happy to be Vegan. I just bought some Tofurky Dogs but now I just singed up for a 30 day RAW challenge so those will be in the freezer for awhile. I wish sporting events would get the hint and serve some more healthy options. 🙂

  6. YUCK-O!! My kids and their friends were just discussing this issue today in fact LOL! They were grossing one another out saying “did you know hotdogs are pig intestines” BAH! Great post Lori Loo! 🙂

  7. Hi Lynn-Too funny that your kids were talking about the “mystery meat” in hot dogs. I’m hoping pig intestines don’t make it into any of our hot dogs! Yuck-o is right.

  8. How do you like Tofurky dogs Meg? We just bought a few different vegan brands to try. Can’t wait to hear about the raw challenge-wish I could join you. Maybe next time!

  9. Yikes! Is this true of natural lunchmeat as well? My husband eats a turkey sandwich most days of the week, and I have a couple hot dogs once a week or so. I thought they were safe. 🙁

  10. Hi Jennifer-many lunch meats (all natural and organic included) do contain nitrates. Check the ingredients -see if sodium nitrite or any other ingredient with the word
    “nitrate” or “nitrite” is listed. If the meat is “all natural” check for celery powder or celery juice-that is converted into a nitrate. We eat a lot of turkey sandwiches over here too. I have yet to check if the turkey meat I buy is without nitrates. The key is everything in moderation!

  11. I swore off hot dogs and the mystery meat they’re made of (organic or not, you’re not getting prime cuts in there) years ago and now only eat “real” sausages on occasion.

    Also, intestines are used as casing. Once thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, they’re perfectly safe to consume. I’d be much more worried about the content of the hot dog than the casing, especially after reading this post!!! Thanks Lori.

  12. I haven’t had the tofurkey dogs yet, they are in my freezer. I jumped on this challenge so they are going to have to wait, or maybe I will have my bf try them and report back. 🙂

  13. Hi Lori, it turns out the turkey is fine but the ham and hot dogs have nitrates. What a shame. I am on a grain-free diet for a while and this just limits what I can safely eat even more. 🙁

  14. Glad you checked Jennifer. I eat a lot of turkey-it’s really the only “meat” that I eat. Do you eat dairy? Being grain free- your options are limited. What have you found your staples to be?

  15. Good point Andrea-the meat in hot dogs isn’t prime rib or filet mignon! I have to say that I don’t really like the taste of hot dogs-they are way too salty.Intestines as casing doesn’t really sound appetizing either.

  16. Wow, Lori, this was news to me. I just checked my deli meat (applegate farms) — the ham has celery salt, the turkey does not have anything that turns into nitrates. Guess I’ll be buying more turkey, less ham/sausages. My 2-year-old loves deli meat, so I’m glad to know about this.

  17. Which Applegate turkey do you buy Betsy? The applegate farms turkey that I buy does have Sodium Lactate (From Beets), Salt and Carrageenan (From Seaweed). My kids love it too-we use it for sandwiches all the time. I’m running out of ideas for sandwiches over here!

  18. […] family’s been eating Applegate hot dog’s for quite a few years. We don’t eat hot dogs often, but when we do we try to make sure they’re […]

  19. […] get hot dogs made of healthier ingredients. These expensive dogs have healthier ingredients but they still contain nitrates, as do their non-organic relatives. Studies have found that the consumption of hot dogs can be a […]

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About Lori

Hi! I’m Lori, a recovering attorney, writer, and mom to three boys. Join me as I uncover and share the latest info on healthy living. Learn more.

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