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Oscar Mayer cuts nitrates and some preservatives from all its hot dogs

By Samantha Bomkamp • May 2, 2017 at 7:00 PM

Oscar Mayer has become the first major hot dog brand to remove nitrates, some preservatives and fillers from its entire wiener line.

Oscar Mayer, owned by Kraft Heinz, said Monday that the removal of nitrates, nitrites, artificial preservatives and byproducts is the result of "more than a year of recipe tasting and tinkering." It comes amid growing consumer wariness of artificial flavors and additives in food and increasing evidence that consuming processed meats in large quantities is associated with a higher risk of cancer. Sodium nitrate is a common preservative in processed meat, helping to prevent bacterial growth. Prices won't go up because of the changes, Oscar Mayer said.

"Given the pressure to remove nitrates, additives and other preservatives, the move makes sense," said Darren Tristano, president of the food service consultancy Technomic. "It's been a long time coming."

Some of the brand's rivals also have moved to strip out fillers and additives. Ball Park, owned by Tyson Foods, said last month it removed nitrites and nitrates from its beef hot dogs. The dogs already were made without artificial colors, flavors, byproducts or fillers. But Ball Park's classic and turkey franks still contain sodium nitrite, according to its website.

"Natural" brands like Applegate Farms use celery powder in their hot dogs instead of sodium nitrite. Ball Park now uses alternatives including celery juice powder and sea salt.

For Oscar Mayer, potassium lactate, sodium diacetate, ascorbic acid and sodium nitrite are being replaced with cultured dextrose, cultured celery juice, distilled white vinegar and cherry powder.

Of course, an American kid's idea of a perfect dinner may pair a hot dog with macaroni and cheese _ and Kraft Heinz already made the move to strip out certain nondesirable additives from its iconic comfort food. The company, co-headquartered in Chicago and Pittsburgh, said last year that it removed all artificial preservatives and synthetic colors from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Consumers spent more than $2.4 billion on hot dogs in U.S. supermarkets last year, and about 19.4 million were consumed at major league ballparks in the 2016 season, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

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(Chicago Tribune's Ally Marotti contributed.)

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