In the upside-down world of labeling, hot dogs can be “all-natural” even if they contain nitrates.
Here's what fireworks, chemical fertilizers, and frankfurters have in common: They all contain nitrogen compounds. Sodium nitrates, which are used as a preservative in standard hot dogs, have inspired a decades-long scientific debate over their possible health risks to humans. Perhaps you'd like to keep tabs on how much nitrate is in the hot dogs you're scarfing this summer. Unfortunately, you can't.
Here's the thing: Even uncured, “nitrate-free” meats contain healthy doses of nitrates. So do many raw vegetables and most municipal water supplies. In fact, "natural" meats can contain even more nitrite than your standard heavily-processed bacon strips and hot dogs. A recent report in The New York Times pointed to a study that found “natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrates that conventional hot dogs contained"—usually courtesy of naturally occurring nitrates in celery. (Celery juice is often used in the meat.)