Hot Dogs: Questions and Answers

Three different studies have come out in the past year, finding that the consumption of hot dogs can be a risk factor for childhood cancer.

Peters et al. studied the relationship between the intake of certain foods and the risk of leukemia in children from birth to age 10 in Los Angeles County between 1980 and 1987. The study found that children eating more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia. A strong risk for childhood leukemia also existed for those children whose fathers' intake of hot dogs was 12 or more per month.

Researchers Sarusua and Savitz studied childhood cancer cases in Denver and found that children born to mothers who consumed hot dogs one or more times per week during pregnancy has approximately double the risk of developing brain tumors. Children who ate hot dogs one or more times per week were also at higher risk of brain cancer.

Bunin et al, also found that maternal consumption of hot dogs during pregnancy was associated with an excess risk of childhood brain tumors.

Q. How could hot dogs cause cancer?

Hot dogs contain nitrites which are used as preservatives, primarily to combat botulism. During the cooking process, nitrites combine with amines naturally present in meat to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. It is also suspected that nitrites can combine with amines in the human stomach to form N-nitroso compounds. These compounds are known carcinogens and have been associated with cancer of the oral cavity, urinary bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain.

Q. Some vegetables contain nitrites, do they cause cancer too?

It is true that nitrites are commonly found in many green vegetables, especially spinach, celery and green lettuce. However, the consumption of vegetables appears to be effective in reducing the risk of cancer. How is this possible? The explanation lies in the formation of N-nitroso compounds from nitrites and amines. Nitrite containing vegetables also have Vitamin C and D, which serve to inhibit the formation of N-nitroso compounds. Consequently, vegetables are quite safe and healthy, and serve to reduce your cancer risk.

Q. Do other food products contain nitrites?

Yes, all cured meats contain nitrites. These include bacon and fish.

Q. Are all hot dogs a risk for childhood cancer?

No. Not all hot dogs on the market contain nitrites. Because of modern refrigeration methods, nitrites are now used more for the red color they produce (which is associated with freshness) than for preservation. Nitrite-free hot dogs, while they taste the same as nitrite hot dogs, have a brownish color that has limited their popularity among consumers. When cooked, nitrite-free hot dogs are perfectly safe and healthy.

HERE ARE FOUR THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. Do not buy hot dogs containing nitrite. It is especially important that children and potential parents do not consume 12 or more of these hot dogs per month.
  2. Request that your supermarket have nitrite-free hot dogs available.
  3. Contact your local school board and find out whether children are being served nitrite hot dogs in the cafeteria, Request that they use only nitrite-free hot dogs.
  4. Write the FDA and express your concern that nitrite-hot dogs are not labeled for their cancer risk to children. You can mention CPC's petition on hot dogs, docket #: 95P 0112/CP1.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Cancer Prevention Coalition c/o School of Public Health
University of Illinois Medical Center
2121 West Taylor Street
Chicago, IL 60612
Tel: (312) 996-2297, Fax: (312) 996-1374
Email: epstein@uic.edu


REFERENCES:

  1. Peters J, et al " Processed meats and risk of childhood leukemia (California, USA)" Cancer Causes & Control 5: 195-202, 1994.
  2. Sarasua S, Savitz D. " Cured and broiled meat consumption in relation to childhood cancer: Denver, Colorado (United States)," Cancer Causes & Control 5:141-8, 1994.
  3. Bunin GR, et al. "Maternal diet and risk of astrocytic glioma in children: a report from the children's cancer group (United States and Canada)," Cancer Causes & Control 5:177-87, 1994.
  4. Lijinsky W, Epstein, S. "Nitrosamines as environmental carcinogens," Nature 225 (5227): 2112, 1970.