Why you should never eat another hot dog

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs every year, or 70 per person annually. But you've got to admit: those little, standardized tubes of mystery meat have always seemed a bit suspicious. That's because that uniform and generic appearance is conveniently disguising a few "things" that you might not want to be thinking about the next time you're at the concession stand at the ballgame.

It's got all the trimmings

"All the trimmings" is normally a euphemism for a bit of a treat, like a properly prepared meal with a bunch of side dishes. But when it comes to hot dogs, the meaning is a bit more literal. When an animal has been slaughtered, and all the steaks and chops and other desirable meat has been removed, there's still quite a lot of usable protein left. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of protein you just slice off and wrap in plastic…unless you like seeing pig lips next to the pork chops at the butcher counter. A hot dog is known in the meat industry as a "pre-cooked meat product," and according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a pre-cooked meat product can contain "lower-grade muscle trimmings, fatty tissues, head meat, animal feet, animal skin, blood, liver and other edible slaughter by-products." Mmmm … nothing like a little head meat and edible slaughter by-products at a fun summer cookout, right?

It's too emulsional

Once all the "trimmings" are collected, they're put through a grinder and come out looking like your usual ground meat. But it doesn't go in the sausage yet. At this point, more ingredients are added and the whole lot goes into yet another machine that continues to cut, mix, beat, pound, pulverize, and generally remove all remaining meat-like qualities beyond the color and the flavor. If the meat, fat, water, and other ingredients are in the correct proportions, this additional process produces what is often referred to slightly flatteringly as a "meat emulsion." Of course, a more accurate description for it would be "amorphous meat sludge." But for some reason, that term didn't do well in focus testing.

The case for the accused

Once the final ingredients have been added and any air bubbles have been vacuumed out, the sludge is injected into the casings. The casings come in two varieties: cellulose, which is a plant-based casing that's removed before the frankfurter is packaged, and "natural," which are not removed and come from the cleaned small intestines of sheep and pigs. Natural casings are more common in more expensive hot dogs, which are usually made of better quality meat than your average wiener … at least on the inside anyway.

A hot dog's salt level is dangerously high

If the origin of the main ingredients isn't turning you off hot dogs, then perhaps the origin of your high blood pressure might. Because according to the USDA, along with all that other awful stuff, that meat tube you're about to devour also contains 567 milligrams of salt (over 20 percent of your recommended daily amount), as well as 40 milligrams of cholesterol (13 percent of your recommended daily intake). Which means just four hot dogs (not even including the buns and condiments) will overdose you on salt, and significantly contribute to your cholesterol levels. If you add in the buns and the toppings as well, you are going to be way over your limits, both dietary and physical.

We really have no idea what animal we're eating

The truth behind the hot dog just became a little clearer thanks to Clear Food, a company that takes food inspection to a whole new level and includes genetic analysis among their standard tests. This enables them to take a sample of a product like a hot dog and tell you exactly which animals went into its production—which is what they actually did with their "Hot Dog Report" from October 2015, which turned up some disturbing results. Out of the 345 hot dogs that they tested, they found 19 that contained the meat of an animal that it wasn't supposed to, like chicken in an all beef sausage, or lamb in a turkey dog. Most disturbingly for anyone with a religious or cultural aversion to eating pig products, three percent of the samples contained unexplained pork.

Your veggie dog might actually be part animal

For someone who eats meat, undisclosed pork is potentially a happy accident, because bacon is pretty great. But if you're a vegetarian, it would be a very different story. And unfortunately for them, in among the grains and greens of that mustard-soaked mouthful, Clear Food turned up some slightly more mobile protein in ten percent of the vegetarian samples—and we're not talking tumbleweeds. We're talking animals in the veggie dogs, you guys.

But wait, there's more, because the ingredients list didn't contain the only inaccuracies. The nutritional description on some of the samples was a little…well…a lot off when it came to protein. That's an important consideration for someone on a meatless diet, because the packaging sometimes claimed that the veggie dogs offered 2.5 times the amount of protein than what Clear Food actually found in the product. If they'd made the same claim about the flavor, people might actually have noticed.

You might be eating people

They're full of animal extras, salt, cholesterol, emulsion, not to mention the unmentioned meat and absent protein. So you would think it couldn't get any worse…but according to Clear Food once again, you'd be wrong. Because when they did their genetic analysis, along with the cows, and pigs, and chickens, and turkeys, and sheep, they turned up the DNA of one animal that is not like the others.

Because that animal is people.

Clear Food actually found human DNA in two percent of the 345 hot dogs they tested, and two-thirds of those hot dogs were vegetarian. And although that only works out to around seven hot dogs containing human DNA, we can all agree that's clearly seven too many. Clear Food never revealed which manufacturer's products contained people, but if their two percent statistic is accurate, then Americans consume 400 million hot dogs seasoned with people parts every year. And that's 400 million reasons to never eat another hot dog.

It might come with a side of cancer

If everything you have read so far doesn't dent your desire to stuff mystery meat tubes in your face, then perhaps reading about it causing cancer might?

Hot dogs very definitely fall into the category of foods known as processed meat, alongside bacon, ham, and pretty much anything that has been modified in some way to enhance flavor or shelf life. While these processes might allow you to enjoy delicious, mouth-watering flavor for longer than ever, like all good things, it comes at a price. And that price is cancer … or at least, a proven increased risk of developing cancer in your lifetime.

Yep, according to the World Health Organization, eating just 1.8 ounces of processed meat a day, which is roughly one hot dog, increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent. If the thought of people-flavored meat emulsion does nothing to stop hot dogs entering your mouth, then be warned, because in a few years, colorectal cancer might show up to stop them getting out the other end.

But hey, it's not like hot dogs are worse than, say, smoking, right? Wrong. That's because, according to the WHO processed meats such as hot dogs actually rank right alongside asbestos, alcohol, arsenic and, yes, smoking, as a leading cause of cancer. So, if you've ever told a smoker they should stop while you're eating a hot dog, then unfortunately you're a hypocrite. Also, if you quit smoking for health reasons, but kept right on eating ballpark franks, then you didn't really quit at all.

The original "special sauce" it left behind

One thing most of us don't consider when thinking about hot dogs is gigantic, stinking, overflowing pools of pig "waste," contaminated water supplies, and respiratory problems in kids. But that's the disgusting reality for the communities in North Carolina, where most of the pigs are raised that eventually become baseball's favorite cartoonishly overpriced food. According to Vice News, North Carolina is home to 7.7 million hot dogs-in-waiting, and between them, they produce 40 million gallons of "effluent" every day. That's a work-friendly term, though the image it give sus isn't safe for anywhere, or for life.

Thing is, all that Porky waste has to go somewhere, and since it definitely won't fit down the sewer, it gets dumped into gigantic "lagoons" to fester and stink. When they fill up (which happens quite quickly, as you may imagine), the excess is sprayed in a fine mist onto nearby fields. Unfortunately, these pools and fields are not located miles and miles from the nearest town, but depressingly often right in the suburbs, surrounded by some of its poorest citizens, for whom moving away is usually not an option.

These people are thus left with no choice but to live, almost literally, in pig dookie, breathe toxic gasses like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, and suffer from otherwise preventable health problems like asthma, seizures, brain damage, and pregnancy complications. This, so the rest of America can continue to stuff their faces with a tube of meat that contains just as many health risks as living next to lagoons of toxic waste, only without the smell.

There's a chance you'll choke to death on one

If North Carolina is too far away, and potential future health issues like heart disease and cancer don't pause your reach for the next "dog", then think on this. Around 17 percent of children who die choking on food, are choking on a hot dog. That's because there are two things hot dogs fit perfectly into: the familiar bun, and a child's airway.

It's such an issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics has even called for a choking hazard label to be added to the packaging. Oh, and the issue isn't restricted to small children either — adults are at risk as well. So, if the idea of eating hot dogs still doesn't stick in your throat, just remember, the next one you eat might, literally.