Undercooked hot dogs pose health risk

Published July 16, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

Hot dogs, the best-loved food of baseball games and summer barbecues, may pose a health threat to consumers if left uncooked or undercooked, according to laboratory tests conducted for the Los Angeles Times.

The tests found that 20 percent of major brand hot dog products analyzed contained bacteria that most commonly cause flu-like symptoms but can cause serious illness, the newspaper reported.

The presence of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, the newspaper said, is troubling because hot dogs are often not thoroughly heated and some people eat them straight out of the package.

The tests were conducted by a federally accredited food laboratory that performs testing for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and USDA-approved methods were used to detect the pathogen, the Times reported.

Last year, an advisory issued by the USDA and other federal agencies recommended that hot dogs be cooked to "steaming hot" _ 160 degrees for several minutes _ in order to destroy harmful organisms that may be present. But some food outlets and consumers still undercook hot dogs.

A healthy adult can typically consume small doses of the bacterium and not develop any illness.

The allowable amount of Listeria monocytogenes in fully cooked, ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs is zero in the United States. Hot dogs are classified by the government as a "processed" meat item and are required to be fully cooked and ready to eat at the time of purchase.

The groups most vulnerable to Listeria infection include pregnant women, infants, the elderly, AIDS and cancer patients and those suffering from cirrhosis and diabetes, the Times said.

The early symptoms are fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but in advanced stages it can cause meningitis and blood infection, the newspaper reported.