Hot dogs are on almost every child’s list of favorite foods. Second ranking would probably be bologna and pepperoni sausage. Many kids also eat deli lunch meats on a fairly regular basis.
But could these American staple foods be killing our children? In 1995, a petition was brought before the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting the FDA to require a cancer risk warning on packages of hot dogs that contain preservatives called nitrites. The grounds for this petition were alarming: scientific information on excess risks of childhood brain tumors and leukemia have been linked to the consumption of hot dogs-specifically hot dogs containing nitrite preservatives.
Why do food manufacturers use these additives in deli meats? Nitrites, specifically Sodium Nitrite or Potassium Nitrite, are used to prevent botulism as well as improve the color and flavor of the meat.
Nearly all processed meats are made with sodium nitrite: breakfast sausage, hot dogs, jerkies, bacon, lunch meat, and even meats in canned soup products. During the cooking process, nitrites combine with amines naturally present in the meat to form cancer-forming compounds called nitrosamines or N-nitroso. When consumers eat these nitrosamines, they promote the growth of various cancers in the body, including colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and cancer of the oral cavity, urinary bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain.
Plenty of evidence points to risks to cancer in children from eating foods containing nitrities. In 1982, a study found that pregnant women who ate meats treated with sodium nitrite had a higher chance of brain tumors developing in their children.
Recent case-control studies have confirmed the risks of cancer from consumption of hot dogs. Eating many hot dogs by children, as well maternal hot dog consumption during pregnancy, has been shown to be associated with brain cancer and leukemia in children.
Another study was performed between 1986 and 1989 on children who were diagnosed with brain cancer before age six. Of 53 foods and beverages and three alcoholic beverages consumed by mothers during pregnancy, only hot dogs were associated with an excess risk of childhood brain tumor.
A study in Denver of 234 children with cancer found another strong connection between brain tumors and hot dog consumption. Mothers who ate hot dogs one or more times a week during pregnancy had about twice the risk of brain tumors developing in their children. Children who ate hot dogs at least once a week were also at higher risk of the disease. Perhaps the most interesting fact in this study is children who ate hot dogs and didn’t take vitamins (which retard the development of N-nitroso carcinogens) were more linked to acute lymphocytic leukemia and brain tumors. The study concluded with:
“The results linking hot dogs and brain tumors (replicating an earlier study) and the apparent synergism between no vitamins and meat consumption suggest a possible adverse effect of dietary nitrites and nitrosamines.”
A study in Los Angeles area in the 1980’s looked at the connection between eating certain foods and the development of leukemia in children before the age of 10. Children who consumed a dozen or more hot dogs a month had nearly nine times the regular risk of contracting childhood leukemia. They also found a connection between fathers who ate a dozen hot dogs a month and their children developing childhood leukemia.
The harmful effects of nitrites affect more than children. A study in Sweden discovered that Swedes who consumed about 3 ounces of processed meat daily had a 15% higher risk of contracting stomach cancer compared to those that ate 2 or less ounces.
A report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute studied 190,000 people of age between 45 and 75 across seven years. Conducted by the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and the University of Southern California, the study concluded that those who ate the most bacon, ham, or cold cuts (processed meats) had a 68% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to those who ate the least.
Per 1,000 calories consumed, “most” was determined as consuming a minimum of 1-ounce beef, 0.3-ounce pork, or 0.6 ounce of processed meat.
The meat processing industry likes using sodium nitrite to make meats look more appetizing. In the 1970’s, the USDA tried to ban the additive but failed. The meat industry said that despite the risks, sodium nitrite helped contain the growth of bacteria that causes botulism.
However, there are safer methods of slowing the growth of botulism – they just do not improve the coloring of the meat. Botulism spores germinate more slowly with refrigeration, but the meat manufacturers say consumers may not be as careful with refrigeration as they should, causing needless deaths. Cooking the meat properly also keeps the problem in check. And it takes some time for botulism to form in food. Dr. Ross Hume Hall conducted an experiment of leaving bacon at 80 degrees Fahrenheit and discovered it took 10 days for the spored to reach toxic levels (or much better if it was refrigerated). Hall stated that throw-away dates on meats is something consumers could adopt easily.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather have an earlier expiration date, especially if it would mean putting an end to sodium nitrite in our food.
Expectant mothers should avoid consuming meats that contain sodium nitrite due to the greatly heightened risk of brain tumors in infants. Parents should also be warned to avoid feeding their children products that contain sodium nitrite, including all popular hot dogs, bacon, jerkies, breakfast sausages and pizzas made with pepperoni or other processed meats. Sodium nitrite is especially dangerous to fetuses, infants and children.
Sadly, nearly all school lunch programs currently serve schoolchildren meat products containing sodium nitrite. Hospital cafeterias also serve this cancer-causing ingredient to patients. Sodium nitrite is found in literally thousands of different menu items at fast food restaurants and dining establishments. The use of this ingredient is widespread and it’s part of the reason we’re seeing skyrocketing rates of cancer in every society that consumes large quantities of processed meats.
So, look for labels on meats that say nitrate-free or nitrate free. You can also cook your own turkey or chicken to make your own lunch meats. When it is made with your hands, you can know for sure that it’s free of this harmful additive.