August 19, 2022

What Do You Know About Hot Dogs and Food Safety?

It’s summer grilling time! With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, many people are going to be cooking burgers and sausages on the grill, including hot dogs. So what do you know about hot dogs and food safety? The USDA has some tips.

What Do You Know About Hot Dogs and Food Safety?

Hot dogs, also known as frankfurters, are cooked or smoked sausages. According to federal regulations they must be made of comminuted semisolid products (reduced to minute particles) that are made of one or more kinds of animal muscle, including beef, pork, or poultry.

Hot dogs may have a skin, or casing, or be skinless. The finished hot dog may not contain more than 30% fat or more than 10% water. Up to 3.5% non-meat binders and extenders can be added; those include cereal or nonfat or full fat dried milk or soy protein.

While hot dogs are fully cooked before you buy them, they still need to be handled with care. Buy hot dogs during the last part of your grocery shopping trip, just like with raw meats and poultry. When you are done shopping, go home immediately and refrigerate or freeze the hot dogs. Never leave hot dogs at room temperate for more than two hours, or one hour if the ambient air temperature is above 90°F.

Remember that hot dogs can be stored in the fridge in an unopened package for 2 weeks, but once the package is opened, that time shrinks to one week. Freeze hot dogs no longer than one or two months for best quality; freezing does not affect safety but can affect quality.

Hot dogs, along with other luncheon meats, should be heated to 160°F. The government calls this “steaming hot,” but using a food thermometer is the safest way to protect yourself. The biggest risk with hot dogs is Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogen that can cause serious illness and death.

Hot dogs can present a choking hazard for children. Before you give a small child hot dogs, cut them into small pieces or cut them lengthwise. The casing should be removed before children eat this product.

Use by, sell by, and expiration dates on these products can be confusing. Product dating is not required by the government. “Sell by” means how long the store can display the product for sale. “Use by” is the date recommended for best quality. “Best if used by” is also for quality. And expiration date is for the last day the product should be used while it is “wholesome,” but that term is not very specific and the USDA does not define it.

Mechanically separated beef is not used in hot dogs. FSIS regulations were enacted in 2004 against this type of product to protect against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or Mad Cow Disease). Mechanically separated pork, which can only comprise 20% of a hot dog, is allowed, as is mechanically separated chicken or turkey.

Now that you know about hot dogs and food safety, you can protect yourself and your family. Handle them correctly, cook them thoroughly, and enjoy them this summer.

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