Are the preservatives in hot dogs and similar products health risks?

 By Susan Brewer, Ph.D., University of Illinois,
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Hot dogs are actually a “sausage” product created by adding salt and other flavoring ingredients to ground meat.  If there were any spores or microbes on the outside of the meat, once it is ground, the spores or organisms are on the inside (where there is no air).
Hot dogs (and other cured meat products)  contain sodium nitrite which is responsible for their pink color. However, sodium nitrite is more important for its ability to prevent the growth of  Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism. Original concerns were with sodium NITRATE which had to be converted to nitrite by bacteria.  The concern was that if nitrate was not converted, it could form nitrogen-containing chemical compounds (nitrosoamines) in the stomach, and these could cause cancer.  Nowadays, the use of sodium nitrate has pretty much been discontinued in favor of sodium nitrite. Also, in order to be sure that the nitrite is in a reduced form, a cure accelerator (a reducing agent) is required during the manufacture of  cured products.  These changes do not completely eliminate the possibility of  nitrosoamine formation and its associated health risks, but the risk is greatly reduced.

Sodium nitrite, which has been controversial, actually makes product safer because Clostridium botulinum grows in the absence of air.  If hot dogs didn’t contain nitrite, it would be unsafe to vacuum-package them because there would be nothing to stop the growth of this deadly organism.
Medical Library | Safety Of Sodium Nitrite In Cured Meats


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