Few people who see hot dogs made will be able to resist them forever. The big thing about hot dogs is that they taste like the summertime. Whatever they are made from, however they are made, they are low maintenance to make and low maintenance to store. But how long do they last?
Hot dogs will last two weeks in a sealed package, and one week after the package is unsealed. If you buy hot dogs in bulk, freeze any hot dogs you do not expect to eat in one or two weeks. This will keep them able to thaw and be eaten for up to a month.
This is shorter than most people expect. Hot dogs obviously decay overtime, but the rate of decay seems to be tricky. It will take them a while to go grey, and then they will seem to turn bad all at once. What you should really pay attention to is the dates printed on the hot dog package. These will tell you everything.
Deciphering The Hot Dog Packaging
It is strange that the information on food packaging can sometimes feel so esoteric. Shouldn’t it be more intuitive in order to deliver its information better to the consumer? Well, in an ideal world yes. But in its defense, it is trying to deliver a lot of complex information. As long as it is honest, most labels are doing their best.
But one aspect in which they seem to not be doing their best is the dates printed on them. What is the difference, for instance, between an expiration date and a “use-by” date?
This can be broken down one step at a time. Every kind of label that the United States Department of Agriculture recognizes will be included for completeness.
The “sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Basically, the clock on the food item’s expiration starts to tick after the sell-by date is reached. For hot dogs, that technically means you only need to count its two weeks of life from the sell-by date. For safety, count it from when you buy it.
The “use-by” date is the last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality. This is determined by the manufacturer of the product and only considers what “peak” quality is. So, you can use something after the use-by date without necessarily worrying about your health, it will just be lower quality.
Still, this is a pretty good guidepost for whether or not something is good. If a hot dog package’s use-by date is a week old, you should probably be wary of eating those hot dogs.
The “best if used by (or before)” date states a precise date for highest quality. If this sounds like the use-by date, that is because it is. This is a regional difference decided by state laws. The specifics are essentially semantic, so you can treat it as identical to a use-by date, including the precautions associated with that.
And finally, the expiration date. To quote the official United States Department of Agriculture manual, this date “helps stores and consumers by stating the shelf-life or the last day product should be used while it is wholesome.” In this case “wholesome” means “edible”. So yeah, it is the date at which the food basically dies.
With all this in mind, it should be a lot easier to understand how long hot dogs last. They can be on the shelf till a certain date, they can be tasty till a certain date, and they can be edible to a certain date. If the package only has one date on it, assume it to be the expiration date. Even if you are wrong, you are playing it safe.
This is an increasingly common health concern, and while it seems odd to levy it against hot dogs, it is not without merit. Gluten is usually used in breads, but preservatives are so widely used in foods these days that it is not uncommon to see gluten in foods that have no reason to use it.
So many preservatives are cocktails designed to fit into any food, rather than concoctions specifically made for one food. After all, why reinvent the wheel every time you need to preserve a food?
The short answer is that the most popular brands of hot dog—Oscar Meyer and Hebrew National—do not use gluten. But some hot dog brands do. There are actually too many to list, but the most commonly found hot dogs do not use preservatives which contain gluten, which is something.
Can Hot Dogs be Eaten Cold?
This is a good question to ask even if you know you have eaten cold hot dogs before. The reason for this is that while hot dogs, like many store bought meats, are precooked, that does not mean they are always safe. Most people will be able to eat hot dogs cold. They probably will not taste amazing, but it is physically possible.
However, if you or the person you are serving the hot dogs to has any stomach sensitivity or susceptibility to food borne illness, play it safe and heat the hot dog in boiling water before serving. This will ensure that most of if not all the bacteria that can get into a hot dog is dead before it is served.
And yes, hot dogs do contain bacteria. It is not the right kind, nor is it enough to hurt you. But they are far from the cleanest foods out there. So, stay safe, eat healthy, and watch how long your hot dogs have sat around.