It has been said that “laws are like sausages; it is better not to see them being made.” While that may be true, it’s still worth knowing how meat becomes sausage, so that you can decide for yourself whether and what types to eat.
Sausages and hot dogs use the same leftover meats—but more scraps of fat—that are used in ground beef. First, meat trimmings are removed from the bones by hand or by using high-pressure or other advanced techniques. Because of concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow disease”), the process for beef sausages has been refined to keep out any bits of bone. For poultry, small amounts of chicken and turkey bones can be pulverized or ground as part of the process, and the resulting batter or paste is called “mechanically separated.” In fact, poultry sausages can be made entirely of this paste, as long as the product label says “mechanically separated chicken or turkey.”
Next, the paste or batter is mixed with fat, binders, extenders (such as cereal or dry milk), water, and flavorings. Then the meat mixture is pushed through tubes or funnels into casings. The casings on ready-to-eat sausage are made of animal intestines, but may also be artificially colored. If intestine casings are from a species different from the meat inside the casing (such as a turkey sausage inside a pork casing), the label has to say so. For fresh sausage, the casing can be made of animal intestines or even cellulose or plastic—but those casings must be removed by the consumer before cooking. Most popular hot dog brands are skinless, meaning they have already been stripped of their casings.
Precooked sausages (like hot dogs) still need to be fully reheated in case they got contaminated after the precook, so if you’re looking for something that doesn’t require heating, look at other aisles. Another important thing to consider: if you’re pregnant, sausages can carry Listeria that may result in a miscarriage, so it’s best to avoid them altogether for those nine months. You could avoid many of the problems we’ve discussed by choosing vegetarian sausages or burgers.
Apart from the safety of sausages, there’s nutrition. The fat content of hot dogs and bologna is permitted to be as high as 30 percent, and smoked pork sausage is allowed to be 50 percent fat. And there is no limit on sodium. Not surprisingly, sausages are among the least nutritious foods you could eat.
Other relevant links:
- Here’s how to navigate the deli counter to keep you and your family from getting sick. See: Food Safety at the Deli Counter
- Use these tips to stay safe with packaged foods. See: Follow These Simple Tips Regarding Packaged Foods
- Follow these food safety tips to keep your family healthy. See: Food Safety Tips for Packing and Unpacking Your Food