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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Fourth of July forever linked to hot dogs

STILLWATER, Okla. – The creation of the hot dog dates back more than 500 years. It wasn’t until the 1860s, however, that German immigrants in New York began to sell wieners from a pushcart.

Consumption numbers are hard to come by from 150 years ago, but there are estimates that 150 million of the tubed meats will be consumed over the Fourth of July weekend this year. For such a popular and well-known American treat, there are still plenty of misunderstandings about the hot dog, like what they’re actually made from.

What is actually in a hot dog is fairly simple to find out, according to Jacob Nelson, meat processing specialist at Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center. Just look at the package.

“The USDA and the FDA have laws established that ingredients must be stated on a label,” Nelson said, in a SUNUP video. “So if you are curious about what’s in a hot dog, or even a sandwich deli meat like bologna, the first step is to look at the ingredients statement.”

There are plenty of horror stories and misconceptions that people have about the contents of a hot dog. It is actually pretty simple, really. There is going to be meat trimmings from beef, pork or poultry, chicken and turkey, and then a host of nonmeat ingredients for adding flavor, texture, juiciness and color.

Many of these nonmeat ingredients are common to what’s in your everyday kitchen like salt, spices, corn syrup and sodium lactate or potassium lactate, which serves as an antimicrobial agent.

“The most unknown and most questioned ingredient would be sodium nitrate and sodium erythorbate. These are curing ingredients,” Nelson said. “These give hot dogs and bologna and other cured meats their distinctive pink color. They contribute to food safety in the control botulism.”

It’s common in today’s commercial manufacturing to combine there ingredients all the way down to a consistency similar to that of pancake batter and then stuffed into a casing. The casing is stuffed and twisted and stuffed and twisted to make links. Then, they’re cooked, packaged and delivered to the local retail shop and end up on your grill.

Hot dogs are never sold in a raw form. They are fully cooked by the processor before they are packaged and distributed,” Nelson said.  “It is recommended that hot dogs be heated thoroughly before consumption. This re-heating is to address any post-cooking contamination, which could occur by handling after the initial cooking.”

Hot dogs are considered "ready-to-eat" foods but because of food safety concerns, especially for people at high risk, they should be heated to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F or until steaming hot.

“Reaching that temperature does not eliminate the need for or decrease the importance of proper food handling,” said Barbara Brown, OSU Cooperative Extension food specialist. “This includes keeping food clean, keeping it cool, separating ready-to-eat foods from those that need further cooking and cooking to needed endpoint temperatures.”

Because of the high incidence of Listeria monocytogenes associated with RTE meats, especially hotdogs, manufacturers (of most brands) have put on the label that people should cook hotdogs before heating.

“Listeria monocytogenes is associated with raw meats (or raw food ingredients) and can get into processing plants that manufacture RTE foods and find their way to the finished product, and RTE foods do not require cooking before consumption so people may be consuming Listeria if the RTE food is contaminated,” said Peter Muriana, professor and food microbiologist in FAPC and OSU’s Department of Animal Science. “I always have eaten hot dogs by cooking them.”

It’s tough to beat a hot dog fresh off the grill. The markings left from the grates are a true sign of summer. However, keeping your poolside beach body can be a bit of a challenge if too many dogs are devoured.

“The Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, seeds and soy,” said Janice Hermann, OSU Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist. “They also indicate a healthy eating pattern limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars and sodium. Americans should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats and less than 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium.”

It is a safe bet that many hot dogs will make a menu appearance for the Fourth of July. They are not as mysterious as many have lead on, but there is one question that remains.

Why are hot dogs sold in packs of 10, while buns are sold in eight packs?

“The world may never know,” Nelson said.



Sean Hubbard
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
157 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4490
Fax: 405-744-5739

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078

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