Last Updated on February 5, 2020
Hot dogs (and all their counterparts like brats or bratwurst, bockwurst, and frankfurters) are a common craving among pregnant women. The advice on whether you can eat them in pregnancy isn’t always clear, because it depends on if the hot dog is cooked, and to what temperature. Here, I’ve tried to offer some clarity on how to eat hot dogs safely in pregnancy.
Can I eat hot dogs while Pregnant? Pregnant women can eat hot dogs if cooked to an internal temperature of 165f/75c and are steaming hot when served. Grilling and microwaving are good ways to cook hot dogs to eliminate the risk of listeria. Lukewarm or uncooked hot dogs are not safe in pregnancy.
There are many further questions surrounding hot dogs and similar products including whether or not you should eat nitrate-free versions, all-beef or those found in cans, jars or tins. I’ve tried to cover each of these below so you can make a safer choice of what to eat in pregnancy.
What Kinds of Hot Dogs are Safe to Eat in Pregnancy?
Hot Dogs require some caution because they’re made from processed meats. Hot dogs may contain listeria (or be contaminated with it after manufacture) and therefore need to be cooked thoroughly to a temperature that kills Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that causes listeriosis. Listeriosis is a serious but rare illness that can cause significant problems in pregnancy, including miscarriage.
The safety of hot dogs relies upon the cooking and serving temperature rather than what the hot dog is made of. Hot Dogs should be heated to an internal temperature of 165F/75c. You could use a meat thermometer to test this if you’re preparing them yourself, or if eating at a BBQ or somewhere else, the hot dog should be ‘steaming hot’ and not just merely warm.
Extra caution should be taken when cooking hot dogs from frozen, particularly on the grill or BBQ. They may look cooked on the outside but still be undercooked or cool on the inside. The only reliable way is to use a meat thermometer, to be absolutely sure.
What Kind of Hot Dogs Are Unsafe for Pregnant Women?
In short, any that aren’t eaten steaming hot soon after being cooked. Real-life examples of hot dogs that would be unsafe to eat in pregnancy are:
- Any that are raw, straight out the packet, jar, pouch or so on. Always cook them first until steaming hot.
- One from a street vendor, hot dog stand, petrol/gas station or similar, where the hot dogs are kept warm, but not hot. This includes the ones you see rolling around on a hot plate or kept in warm water in groups until they’re placed in the bun.
- Hot dogs at a BBQ or party that have been cooked, removed from the barbeque or grill, plated and then left for a while.
- Hot dogs that have been previously cooked and mixed in with something else (e.g. chopped up in a salad)
- Any hot dog, cooked or otherwise, that has been improperly stored – i.e. left out at room temperature or too long out of the fridge. This includes hot dogs that were left too long somewhere warm or at room temperature before cooking them.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Hot Dogs in Tins, Jars or Cans?
Almost all hot dogs are made in the same way and the method of storage doesn’t make a difference to whether you can eat them in pregnancy. No matter how they are packaged, they should be cooked thoroughly before eating them, if you’re pregnant.
How to Cook Hot Dogs to Make Them Pregnancy-Safe
Any of the usual methods of cooking hot dogs are fine, it’s the internal temperature (175f/75c) that is the essential thing to look out for. When cooking hot dogs yourself, ensure you eat them soon after cooking and don’t leave them sitting or cooling down for too long. Be careful when cooking from frozen to ensure they are cooked all the way through.
Below is a general guide to cooking methods, but bear in mind that hot dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and recipes so this is a general guide only. Always check the cooking instructions on the packet and ensure that the hot dog is steaming hot and served/eaten immediately.
- Grilling or Broiling– Cook hot dogs until sizzling hot and steaming. If you’re at a BBQ or having one yourself, eat a freshly cooked hot dog or brat and not one that has been taken off the grill and left standing for a while.
- Boiling – rather than merely simmering the hot dogs in water as many packet instructions tell you to do, boil the hot dogs instead for a good 2-3 minutes. The hot dogs should be steaming hot when taken out of the water. Don’t let the hot dogs sit long in the warm water before serving.
- Microwaving – it’s common to microwave hot dogs with some water in a microwave-safe bowl. Many people alternatively wrap the hot dog in a paper towel and cook for around a minute, but this depends on the power of your microwave. The ‘steaming hot’ rule applies here, too.
- Oven baking – hot dogs can be oven-baked for around ten minutes at about 350F/175c too cook them thoroughly but again, check the instructions given. Turn them frequently so they are heated through on all sides.
Why Can’t Pregnant Women Eat Cold, Raw or Uncured Hot Dogs?
Hot dogs are almost always pre-cooked, so when someone asks if they can eat a ‘raw’ hot dog, it usually means eaten cold straight from the packet, pouch or jar. Hot dogs are often stored in brine, other types of water or in vacuum pouches. Even though they’re cooked when manufactured, the way hot dogs are made and then subsequently stored makes them more susceptible to listeria contamination.
The danger of listeria in hot dogs is two-fold: factories themselves can have outbreaks of listeria at any stage of the manufacturing process in any of their machines. It’s rare, but it does happen. Products are usually only recalled after a problem has been identified, such as the outbreak at Bil Mar Foods in 1999 affecting over 100 people (source: jfoodprotection) and Bar-S Foods in 2016 (source: CNN).
Secondly, the antimicrobial coatings or additives used to preserve the hot dogs for sale may not be adequate or may fail when the hot dogs aren’t cooked to a sufficiently high temperature to kill microbes.
Listeria monocytogenes is the bacteria that causes listeriosis, and it’s one such microbe that is only killed when the cooking (internal) temperature goes above 165f/75c. Listeria thrives in cool, dark, moist environments, even under refrigeration. Eating a hot dog cold, lukewarm or straight out of the packet increases the risk of it being contaminated with listeria, which is why pregnant women should avoid uncooked hot dogs.
Help! I ate a Raw/Uncooked Hot Dog and I’m Pregnant – What Do I Do?
If you’ve eaten a raw or undercooked hot dog by accident, the first thing is not to panic. Stress, guilt, and anxiety will not help you or your baby. Instead, take practical steps:
- Monitor your symptoms (listeriosis often, but not always, causes flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, and nausea).
- If you feel unwell, even if it might be ‘normal’ pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness, consult your doctor or health practitioner straight away and let them know when you ate the raw hot dog and what type it was. They should advise you further and monitor your condition.
- Remember, the chances are that you will be fine – listeria is rare. However, it’s always better to be on the safe side.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Hot Dogs Containing Nitrates?
At present, the FDA in the USA and its counterparts in other countries such as the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) consider that the amount of nitrates present in food is at a safe level for consumers. The FDA specifies that nitrates (or sodium nitrate) should be limited to fewer than 500 ppm (parts per million) in food manufacture to make it safe (source: FDA).
Some foods naturally contain nitrates, but hot dogs have them added as a preservative and to maintain color. When we eat food containing nitrates, it produces nitrosamine compounds in the body, which are known to be carcinogenic. However, there haven’t been any conclusive studies on whether or not nitrates (at the levels found in food) have any significant effect on pregnant women or their babies.
There is, of course, the consideration that hot dogs aren’t a nutritionally wise choice in pregnancy anyway, because they are high in fat and salt/sodium and aren’t a nutrient-dense food. Due to the fact that they also contain nitrates, it would better to limit your intake of hot dogs (or avoid them completely) when pregnant. As with many foods that are processed, hot dog consumption should be moderated in pregnancy where possible. If you’re going to eat a hot dog, perhaps opt for a nitrate-free brand, which are becoming increasingly common and are stocked in many supermarkets.
What About All-beef, Veggie or Turkey Hot Dogs when I’m Pregnant?
Like the packaging method, the ingredients in the hot dog vary but it’s still the cooking temperature that counts. Listeria can thrive in veg, too – it’s not just a meat-based bacteria. Pork hot dogs are just as susceptible to listeria contamination as all-beef ones are. The same goes for turkey hot dogs or ones made from alternative ingredients like soy protein.
Since all hot dogs – no matter what’s in them – are classed as processed food (often made in the same factories as standard meat ones), they should still be thoroughly cooked to the same internal temperature before eating them in pregnancy. Veggie or turkey hot dogs may be lower in fat than their pork or beef counterparts, but they’re still not the best food option for you if you’re pregnant.
Can I Eat Hot Dogs In The First, Second and Third Trimesters?
If a hot dog is thoroughly cooked until steaming hot, then it will be safe to consume at any stage of pregnancy. However, remember that hot dogs are not nutritious food. They are high in calories, fat, salt/sodium and contain nitrates. They are best kept to a minimum in pregnancy, a time when you should be eating nutrient-dense, non-processed food.
Are Hot Dog Toppings Safe in Pregnancy?
Hot dogs, of course, aren’t usually eaten on their own. Here’s a common list of items that either come part of, or as a topping on a hot dog that you also need to consider if you’re pregnant:
- Hot Dog Buns – although there is nothing unsafe about eating regular hot dogs buns, pregnant women should try to opt for whole grain / whole wheat or brown bread where possible, though many hot dogs buns are usually made with white bread only.
- Mustard, relish, salsa and ketchup – all of these are safe to eat if you’re pregnant. Bear in mind, though, that some can be quite acidic and might aggravate indigestion or discomfort if you’ve been prone to it in pregnancy.
- Onions – raw, fried or crispy – these are also safe for pregnant women to consume but may carry the same risk of indigestion.
- Coleslaw and mayonnaise – not often seen on hot dogs, but each to their own! Pregnant women should only eat salads with mayonnaise that has been pasteurized. It’s probably better to avoid coleslaw, though. The same goes for any other slaw-like ingredient such as sauerkraut.
- Cheese should be pasteurized. This is often the case if it’s processed cheese or cheese slices, which should be safe in pregnancy. If in any doubt, check which cheese is used. Hard cheeses are usually fine.
- Salad, (e.g. lettuce) if not prepared yourself, should be avoided as it may be contaminated with listeria if not thoroughly washed.
- Keep in mind that listeria and other microbes can grow under refrigeration on common hot dog toppings if they’re left too long or aren’t stored properly.
As with many aspects of food in pregnancy, it’s always good to exercise common sense. Don’t eat hot dogs that are merely warm and have been swimming in old brine all day. Avoid reaching for the ketchup bottle that has been out in the sun all day, and avoid toppings if any may be unsanitary.
To be on the safe side, hot dogs are better prepared at home where you can control and monitor both the cooking temperature of the hot dog itself, plus anything that goes on to it. With this in mind, hot dogs can be enjoyed sparingly, but safely in pregnancy.