Group Seeks Hot Dog Redesign To Prevent Choking

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The American Academy of Pediatrics has a message for parents — Hot dogs can be dangerous to young children — and it's calling for a redesign. Eric Hummel, director of marketing at Hummel Brothers Meat Products, has his own message: Cut them up into bite-sized pieces.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From the American Academy of Pediatrics comes this caution: Hot dogs can be dangerous to young children. Every year, more than 10,000 kids under 14 are taken to the emergency room choking on their food. As many as 77 die every year, and we're told 17 percent of those deaths are hot dog induced. Now granted that's all of a dozen kids choking on a dozen hot dogs out of who knows how many millions that are happily, if not all that healthfully, consumed. But it did lead the pediatricians to suggest a redesign of the hot dog, either in shape or size or texture to make it less of the perfect stopper fatally fitted for a youngster's windpipe.

So, we've called up Eric Hummel who is director of marketing for Hummel Brothers Meat Products in New Haven, Connecticut, to talk hot dog reform. Hi.

Mr. ERIC HUMMEL (Marketing Director, Hummel Brothers Meat Products): How are you?

SIEGEL: You've been making hot dogs for a long time, I guess.

Mr. HUMMEL: Yes, we have. I'm actually a third generation (foreign language spoken).

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: So, can you imagine making not a worst but a better hot dog that would be less dangerous if eaten?

Mr. HUMMEL: Well, you know, we read the report here this morning. And we're at a loss on a redesign. You know, when my kids were little, even though I make hot dogs, I would always cut them up into bite-size pieces for them.

SIEGEL: So, that is one way to take an otherwise potentially fatal hot dog and turn it into a benign food for the smallest child.

Mr. HUMMEL: That's right, that's right. And, you know, the way we make a hot dog, it would be virtually impossible to make it in really any other shape. And I don't know if that's what the pediatricians were getting at, to change the shape. But the recommendation that we always give families with young children is to make sure that the hot dog itself is a skinless hot dog and you try to buy the skinniest ones that we make.

SIEGEL: But what is it that is inherently true of a hot dog apart from aesthetics that makes it impossible say to make a patty out of it instead that might be less dangerous?

Mr. HUMMEL: Well, because when a hot dog is made, the meat is ground up and then it's put through an emulsifier, which has small little pinholes on it. So, all the meat is pushed through there. So, it comes out the emulsion as more like a dough. And then that dough is put into a casing whether it be a natural casing, a collagen casing or a cellulose casing, which is how you make a skinless hot dog, and then they're cooked. So, a hot dog is a pre-cooked item before you open the package.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HUMMEL: So, there's really no way to stuff that emulsion or dough into anything other than sort of a long narrow casing. There's no way to make a hot dog in say like a hamburger patty form.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HUMMEL: Because there'd be no way to cook it. One thing I recommend is bologna. If you took a thicker slice of baloney and grilled that, then you could put that on a hamburger roll and eat that fine. It's basically the same formulation and recipe as a hot dog.

SIEGEL: Obviously, everybody in the business read this article that came out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUMMEL: I'm sure it's going around all day today.

SIEGEL: And this is like the surgeon general's report...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: ...on hot dogs.

Mr. HUMMEL: That's right. That's right.

SIEGEL: Well.

Mr. HUMMEL: But, you know, we feel that we do manufacture a safe product. You know, if you're buying these behemoth hot dogs, I wouldn't recommend you feed those to a kid. If you're looking for a nice narrow hot dog, a less diameter hot dog, I think that's a lot safer for a little kid to eat.

SIEGEL: Well, Eric Hummel of Hummel Brothers Meat Products in New Haven, Connecticut, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. HUMMEL: It was a pleasure speaking with you, Robert.

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