When it comes to healthy food choices, making simple swaps such as buying uncured hot dogs rather than cured hot dogs can cut down on the synthetic preservatives you're putting in your body. Which is great news to anyone who enjoys indulging in the occasional dog with a side of beans.
Uncured hot dogs are free of synthetic nitrites and nitrates.
What is Uncured Beef?
When a hot dog or other beef product is labeled "cured," that simply means the food contains synthetic nitrites or nitrates. Uncured beef, on the other hand, is free of synthetic nitrites, according to the University of Wisconsin. However, most of these products, such as uncured hot dogs, still contain nitrites and nitrates, but they're from non-synthetic sources like celery powder and juice.
Nitrates or nitrites are preservatives found in processed cured beef that help meats keep their color and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. However, they are also compounds found naturally in some food like vegetables. What sets the nitrates in vegetables apart from those in cured hot dogs is the fact that vegetables come with vitamin C and other compounds that inhibit conversion into nitrosamines, according to the Environmental Working Group. And nitrosamines may be potent carcinogens.
The potential problem with synthetic nitrites, says the American Cancer Society, is during the processing of meat, adding preservatives such as sodium nitrite to prevent the growth of germs may add compounds that could increase the potential of these foods to cause cancer. That said, both nitrates and nitrates are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Hot Dog Nutrition Facts
The nutrition facts of uncured hot dogs and cured hot dogs are similar in terms of calories, fat, sodium, protein and carbohydrates. According to the USDA, one uncured hot dog has approximately 130 calories, 5 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbohydrates and 330 milligrams of sodium.
The ingredients listed on most uncured hot dog labels include natural flavorings like celery powder or celery juice. For example, uncured Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs have celery juice and no sodium nitrites and Nathan's Beef Franks that are uncured list celery juice and distilled white vinegar on their ingredient label. But traditional Nathan's Beef Franks still contain sodium nitrite as the main preservative.
But it's not just the synthetic or natural nitrites and nitrates that you need to be aware of in foods like hot dogs and other processed meats. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends avoiding processed meat altogether. This is, in part, a result of several studies including, research from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer that report that consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. The report referenced that meat processing such as curing can lead to the formation of potentially cancer-causing chemicals.
Food Safety Facts
Regardless of the type of hot dog you choose to eat, both cured and uncured hot dogs follow the same guidelines as any other perishable product, according to the USDA. In other words, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. With that in mind, you can safely store unopened hot dogs in the refrigerator for two weeks, and opened packages for one week.
After cooking your hot dog, make sure it does not stay out at room temperature for more than two hours. And when the weather heats up over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, reduce that room temperature time to one hour.
Even though hot dogs come pre-cooked, it's important to reheat them before eating. Foods like hot dogs are at-risk of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes after being processed and packaged at the plant. Listeria is a bacteria that causes listeriosis, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a serious infection that can cause fever, chills, headache, backache, an upset stomach, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Pregnant women, newborns, older adults and those with a compromised immune system are most at-risk of listeria developing into a serious illness. Therefore, these groups should avoid or limit the consumption of certain ready-to-eat foods.
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Hot Dogs and Food Safety"
- American Heart Association: "Processed and Unprocessed Red Meat Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure"
- United States Department of Agriculture, Food Data Central: "Uncured Hot Dogs"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Questions and Answers - Listeria"
- American Cancer Society: "Food Additives, Safety, and Organic Foods"
- Environmental Working Group: "How to Avoid Added Nitrates and Nitrites in Your Food"
- University of Wisconsin: "What’s the Deal with Nitrates and Nitrites Used in Meat Products?"
- Oscar Mayer: "Oscar Mayer Classic Beef Uncured Franks 10 count Pack"
- Nathan's Famous: "Skinless Beef Franks"
- Nathan's Famous: "All Natural Uncured Beef Franks"
- World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer: "IARC Monographs Evaluate Consumption of Red Meat and Processed meat"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "WHO Report Says Eating Processed Meat is Carcinogenic: Understanding the Findings"
- Hot Dog City: A Hot Dog Primer for Inquiring Minds