By: Eric Mittenthal
Hot Dogs are getting their close up in the month of July as we celebrate National Hot Dog Month. While the whole month is dedicated to the deliciousness of the dog, no day leads to more attention on hot dogs than July 4th. Americans ate around 150 million hot dogs on the 4th and several hundred of those ended up in the stomachs of the competitive eaters at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Some news stories in recent days wanted you to know that if you eat 68 hot dogs in one sitting, it might be bad for your health. Others focused on research suggesting that hot dogs increase your risk of cancer. There is no doubt that if you eat 68 hot dogs or any food in one sitting, it isn’t good for you, so we will leave that obvious story alone. But are hot dogs really the bad boy of the meat case like the stories would have you believe? Here are the facts.
Hot Dog Ingredients
Recent media coverage has also focused attention on a study from one hot dog maker suggesting that Americans still consider hot dogs to be a mystery meat. This isn’t too surprising considering the popular saying, “There are two things you don’t want to see being made, laws and sausages.” Speaking as someone who lives in DC and knows how hot dogs are made, I can tell you with conviction that hot dog making is a far cleaner and more highly regulated process. Hot dogs start with cuts of beef, pork or poultry much like you’d see in your grocer’s case. Trimmings are the small cuts that result when larger pieces are cut into steaks, chops and roasts. These trimmings are ground into small pieces and placed in a mixer. High speed, stainless steel choppers blend the meat, spices, ice chips and curing ingredients into an emulsion or batter. The mixture is continuously weighed to assure a proper balance of all ingredients. The mixture is then pumped into an automatic stuffer/linker machine, where it flows into casings. Any ingredient used to make hot dogs must be on the label. And as for the perennial question – are variety meats like hearts and livers in hot dogs? The answer is rarely and when they are used, the hot dog label must say “with variety meats” or “with meat byproducts” and the specific variety meat or byproduct must be declared in the ingredient statement. Bottom line: while we hate to burst the conspiracy theorists’ bubbles, what you see on the label is what you will find in the product.
Hot Dogs & Colon Cancer
The pseudo-medical group Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is trying to ruin the fun for baseball all star game fans in Kansas City by putting up a billboard this week stating that “Hot Dogs will strike you out for good.” This is a typical tactic for PCRM, a group less interested in your health than convincing people that an all vegan diet is the only way to go. The science that PCRM continually cites is the American Institute for Cancer Research’s 2007 study, whose findings are inconclusive on the subject. Conveniently, PCRM only cites portions of the existing research, omitting the fact that other studies have shown no relationship between processed meat or hot dogs and cancer. In fact, there have been numerous studies that contradict the claims in these billboards including one of the largest studies ever done on red meat and colon cancer which showed no relationship between meat and colon cancer.
Much of the concern about hot dogs and cancer surrounds the use of the ingredient sodium nitrite as a curing agent. We will dive into the current science of nitrate and nitrite in a future blog post. In the meantime, rather than worry about hot dogs this month, I think you should follow the suggestion of the winner of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council slogan contest…Hot Dogs: Relish the Moment!