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Proper hot dog safety
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Follow these food safety rules when serving hot dogs:

* Pay attention to dates on packages when purchasing hot dogs.
* Store hot dogs at refrigerator or freezer temperatures.
* Serve hot dogs steaming hot.
* Wash hands, surfaces and utensils after handling packaged hot dogs.
* Keep packaged hot dogs and juices separate from other foods, utensils and food preparation and serving surfaces.
* Never leave hot dogs or any perishable foods at room temperature for more than two hours; one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher.
* Refrigerate or place leftover hot dogs in a cooler at 40 degrees or below.
* Remember when in doubt, throw them out.

Hot dogs are often a staple food for camping and grilling in the backyard and at tailgates parties.

The same rules of food safety apply for hot dogs as for all perishable food items. The basics are: keep hot food hot and cold food cold when purchasing, storing, preparing and serving hot dogs.

Hot dogs can have several types of dates on the package or label. Product dating is voluntary and the date must state what it means:

* A “sell by” date tells the store how long the hot dogs can be displayed for sale. Be sure to buy hot dogs before that date expires.

* A “use-by” date, determined by the manufacturer, is the last date recommended for use while hot dogs are at peak quality.

* A “best if used by date” helps consumers know a precise date for peak quality or flavor.

* An “expiration date” informs stores and shoppers the shelf-life or the last day hot dogs should be used.

When you purchase hot dogs, place them immediately in a cooler or refrigerator at 40 degrees or below, or freeze.

If there’s no product date, hot dogs can be safely stored in the unopened package for two weeks at 40 degrees or below (refrigerator temperature), and one week at the same temperature once the package has been opened.

Store hot dogs in the freezer for no longer than two months.

Listeriosis, a foodborne illness caused by eating food contaminated with the harmful bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, has been identified as an important public health problem in the United States, according to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. It may occur in certain ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs. Listeria is killed by pasteurization and cooking; however, the bacteria can contaminate foods after processing and before packaging.

The ability of Listeria bacteria to grow at refrigerated temperatures can permit the multiplication of the bacteria in refrigerated foods such as contaminated hot dogs and can cause the foodborne illness. Listeriosis can be very harmful to high-risk individuals such as children, elderly, pregnant women (it can be deadly to an unborn child) and individuals with weakened immune systems, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension reports.

Although all hot dogs are fully cooked, always reheat them as a precautionary measure. Persons at risk should avoid eating hot dogs unless they are reheated. Use a food thermometer to make sure hot dogs reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees or cook until steaming hot throughout.

Don’t let foodborne illness spoil the fun.

Sandra Stringer is a nutrition educator with the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8290.

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