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Hot dogs are a staple part of American ballpark cuisine and are widely popular across the world. It is estimated that Americans alone consume around 20 billion hot dogs every single year. Hot dogs are an Americanization of the classic German sausage, a Frankfurter.
American hot dogs are typically made from a combination of meat types. They are comprised of all of the areas of meat that would not make a good steak or roasting joint, but that is still safe to eat.
This means that they are often not of a desirable size, shape, or tenderness. The meat used to make hot dogs tends to be skeletal meat, similar to what is used to produce ground meat.
If you have purchased really cheap hot dogs, they likely contain a high percentage of mechanically separated chicken. This is where the bones have undergone a mechanical process to pull the muscle tissue off. This is not unsafe to consume, but it is a much cheaper source of protein.
These skeletal meat trimmings are collected and then run through a grinder. This gives the meat a very fine and homogenous texture, making them perfect for hot dog production. Salt is added to encourage the proteins to stick together, making the hot dogs easier to form.
Water and nitrites are then added to the hot dog mixture. This is what gives the meat the pink color and the classic hot dog flavor.
The nitrites are also used as a bactericide, protecting the meat from the bacteria known to cause botulism. Flavorings can also be added at this point, although the precise blend will vary between manufacturers.
Can You Eat Raw Hot Dogs?
Many hot dogs come in a package that indicate the dogs have been precooked (you might also see an indication of a cured vs uncured hot dog). Yes, you can eat these “raw” hot dogs, but we do not recommend it. Again, this is provided that the packaging says that the hot dogs have been cooked prior to being packaged. Many hot dogs undergo a cooking process during manufacturing, where they are cooked to a safe temperature for human consumption.
That being said, it is not the smartest idea you will ever have. And if your hot dog package does not indicate that the meat has been cooked, you definitely should NOT eat the hot dogs raw.
It is strongly recommended by all food scientists and the FDA that you cook hot dogs before eating. They should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for an extended period of time, and should be kept in a cool refrigerator until you are ready to consume them.
What Happens If You Eat Raw Hot Dogs?
In some cases, you may be lucky. The hot dog may not have any adverse effects on you, although this is unlikely. The bacteria found in undercooked and raw hot dogs are known to have minimal impacts on healthy adults if consumed in small quantities.
The FDA has done extensive research into food safety. They do not recommend eating raw hot dogs straight from the packet.
There is a bacteria known as Listeria which is known to grow inside processed meat products such as hot dogs. This bacteria can only be killed off if the hot dogs are cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are pregnant it is not advised that you consume hot dogs or deli meats at all. This is because there are certain types of bacteria known to be found in these products. These bacteria are rarely found but can be dangerous if present.
For this reason, an avoidance strategy is recommended for pregnant women. This bacteria is also particularly dangerous to young children, elderly people, AIDS patients, cancer patients, diabetics, those suffering from cirrhosis, and the immunocompromised.
What Is Listeria?
Listeria is a bacteria that is commonly found in soil, dust, water, and animal waste. It can grow, even at colder temperatures (such as in the refrigerator). It is often found inside improperly processed deli meats, including hot dogs.
The early stages of a Listeria infection (known as listeriosis) will present as nausea, fever, diarrhea, muscular aches, and vomiting. It is a type of food poisoning and will present as such, to begin with. If it is left untreated, this can develop into meningitis and septicemia (a blood infection).
If a pregnant woman becomes infected with listeria this can lead to serious issues for the unborn child. The infection increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirths, premature deliveries, and a deadly listeria infection for the young child.
Listeria symptoms tend to start within 1 and 4 weeks of consuming the bacteria, although there have been reports of symptoms up to 70 days post-exposure.
To diagnose a listeria infection a bodily tissue sample will be taken. This tissue is likely to be blood, placenta, or spinal fluid. This is then placed in a bacterial culture to see whether Listeria will form, indicating an infection.
Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics prescribed by a medical professional. If the infection is left to spread it becomes known as invasive listeriosis. This often requires hospitalization and about 1 in 5 people suffering from it will die.
How Can You Avoid Listeria?
There are many simple steps that you can take to reduce the risk of coming into contact with listeria in your home – whether it’s through hot dogs, brats, or other meats. You should ensure that you keep raw and ready-to-consume foods separately in your refrigerator to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
You should wash all fresh produce thoroughly when you get it home. Chilled and ready-to-eat foods should be kept in the refrigerator at a temperature consistently set to 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If you remove any products from the refrigerator, you must consume them within 4 hours.
Any foods that require cooking should be heated until they are piping hot in the center. Follow any care, cooking, and storage instructions detailed on the packaging. If you open any packets of food, you should aim to consume the contents within 2 days to reduce the risk of bacterial growth.