What’s Really Inside? Shocking Anatomy of a Hot Dog


Written by Melissa Breyer

Last year, Americans purchased more than 700 million packages of hot dogs at retail stores (and that’s excluding sales from Wal-Mart, which doesn’t report numbers). Figure in restaurants, food carts, circuses, ballparks and the like, and that’s a lot of dogs. In fact, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs annually.

The country’s most beloved tube of meat is Sara Lee’s Ball Park brand, which eclipsed sales of Oscar Mayer in 2010. Other media outlets have pulled back the curtain on hot dog ingredients in the past — and since we’re at the start of prime hot dog season, it seems as good a time as any to take another look at the who’s who of hot dog ingredients.

So without further ado, before the Fourth of July grills are aflame, here’s the skinny on America’s winning wiener, the Original Ball Park frank:

Mechanically separated turkey: Looking more like strawberry frosting than blended meat and bone bits, the USDA defines mechanically separated poultry (MSP) as “a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.” Hot dogs can contain any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey.

Pork: According to 1994 USDA rules, any meat labeled as the meat it is can be taken off the bone by advanced meat recovery (AMR) machinery that “separates meat from bone by scraping, shaving, or pressing the meat from the bone without breaking or grinding the bone.”

Water The USDA states that hot dogs must contain less than 10 percent water.

Corn syrup: A combo of cornstarch and acids, corn syrup is used as a thickener and sweetener, as MSNBC notes — it contains no nutrients but does add extra calories.

Beef: In 2004, to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease), mechanically separated beef was considered inedible and prohibited for use as human food, so be glad you won’t be finding it in your dog.

Salt: Hot dogs are salty, that’s part of their job. And in fact, each one has about 480 milligrams, the rough equivalent of 20 percent of your recommended daily allowance.

Potassium lactate: This hydroscopic, white, odorless solid is prepared commercially by the neutralization of lactic acid with potassium hydroxide. The FDA allows its use as as a flavor enhancer, flavoring agent, humectant, pH control agent, and for inhibiting the growth of certain pathogens.

Sodium phosphates: Any of three sodium salt of phosphoric acids that can be used as a food preservative or to add texture — because texture is important when you’re eating a tube of meat paste.

Flavorings: Under current FDA guidelines, most flavoring agents allowed to be listed as “flavor” rather specified individually, so, this remains a bit of a mystery.

Beef stock: You know the drill: Boiled water with pieces of muscle, bones, joints, connective tissue and other scraps of the carcass.

Sodium diacetate: This is a molecular compound of acetic acid, sodium acetate, and water of hydration. The FDA allows its use as an antimicrobial agent, a flavoring agent and adjuvant, a pH control agent, and as an inhibitor of the growth of certain pathogens.

Sodium erythorbate: A sodium salt of erythorbic acid, it is often used as a preservative and helps meat-based products keep their rosy hue. Side effects have been reported, such as dizziness, gastrointestinal issues, headaches and on occasion, kidney stones.

Maltodextrin: Basically, a filler and/or thickening agent used in processed foods, it’s a compound made from cooked starch, corn, or wheat.

Sodium nitrate: This common preservative helps preserve the red color of cured meat — although studies have shown that consuming sodium nitrite may increase cancer risk and trigger migraines. Animal studies have linked sodium nitrates to an increased risk of cancer.

Extractives of paprika: An oil-based extract from the paprika plant — natural ingredient! — used for color and longer shelf life.

For natural, organic hot dogs that have a minimal ingredient list, try hot dogs from Applegate Farms or other all-natural meat makers.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


Related Stories:

How To Get Meat Without Antibiotics

Eat Organic? You Might Be A Jerk

Meat Eaters Are Macho; Vegetarians Are Wimpy


Photo: roboppy/flickr


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you TreeHugger, for Sharing this!

Maddie Kehoe
amanda Kehoe5 years ago

I can't believe what people eat.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago


Robert B.
Robert B5 years ago

I remember they used to be called "missiles of death". I can see why.

Dale Overall

Remember reading about this back in the 1980's, so this list of ingredients has been floating around for decades but likely getting worse over time.

As the article states, the ingredients are hardly appealing but offers a healthy alternative, organic hot dogs. Those of you who find hot dogs appealing, then at least you will avoid all the toxic ingredients.

I love organic, be it veggies, fruits, these are not GMO, and are without pesticides. Or organic meat and poultry, without toxic antibiotics, growth hormones and the animals are free to roam and feel the grass and see the sky. Not factory farms which are toxic.

Yes, I know the vegans and vegetarians don't approve of meat but until Mother Nature redesigns our DNA so we can eat inorganic, non-living rock pate I will still eat small amounts of organic meat avoiding Jane's gloom and doom about beef killing us off, if it is organic it is safer than factory farm any day.

James S.
james S5 years ago

As if the routine torture of pigs isn't enough... that's just nasty.

Sandra Streifel
Sandra S5 years ago

Hey, what's the difference between hot dogs and haggis? You know what's in haggis! Sheep's liver, heart, and lungs boiled with oatmeal and (very little) seasonings in a sheep's stomach.

Amber Beasley
Amber Beasley6 years ago

hot dogs, and any meat, are just plain gross.

Emily F.
Emily F6 years ago

Another reason to be aware of what is in your food and to eat more fresh, local, not to mention Healthy food. Hot Dogs are just plain bad for you, especially if you eat a lot of them.