Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, March 11, 2004


Page 15



I Say It’s a Turkey Dog—And I Say to Hell With It




My wife and I were at a chili cook-off in Malibu over the last Labor Day weekend.

Why were we at a chili cook-off in Malibu? Because it was staged by the Malibu Kiwanis Club, of which our daughter is [he says proudly] the president.

At one of the booths, I bought a chili dog. A couple of bites were enough. I tossed it in a trash can.

It was one of those fowl dogs made with turkey or chicken.

They’re not juicy; they don’t taste right.

If I had been “taken” for $2 at a Kiwanis fundraising event at a booth sponsored by a local Catholic school, it would hardly be worth writing about. What I think is worth noting is that such sales of poultry sausage, masquerading as hot dogs, are perfectly legal in California.

In this era of truth-in-advertising, you would think that a hot dog—a sausage traditionally composed of finely ground beef or beef and pork—would have to be designated as something other than a “hot dog” if the casing is stuffed with pulverized bird meat.

Surely if you ordered a “burger and fries,” you would expect a hamburger—that is, a patty of ground beef—and french fried potatoes, not a turkey burger and fried pimentos. Under common parlance, a burger is a hamburger unless preceded by some modifier. Likewise, if you ordered a hot dog (or a wiener, or a frankfurter, or a frank), you would probably assume you’d be getting a sausage made of beef, pork and beef, or, arguably, just pork, unless there were a contrary indication.

Yet, notwithstanding the general conception of what a hot dog is, California’s Health & Safety Code §113805 (adopted in 1995) says:

“ ‘Hot dog’ means a whole cured, cooked sausage that is skinless or stuffed in a casing and that is also known as a frankfurter, frank, furter, wiener, red hot, vienna, bologna, garlic bologna, or knockwurst, and that may be served in a bun or roll.”

To say that a hot dog is also known as balogna is baloney.

More to the point, by failing to limit the definition of “hot dog” to what has for generations been known as a hot dog, the Legislature has given the green light to something that ought to be considered consumer fraud.

If it weren’t for the overbroad statutory definition of “hot dog,” the sale of a turkey frank in a bun to someone who orders a hot dog would come under the proscription of another Health and Safety Code provision that says: “Any food is misbranded if it is offered for sale under the name of another food.”

But so far as the State of California is concerned, a stand or a restaurant may sell something as a “hot dog” that is comprised of poultry…or the meat of a goat.

Under federal standards, a hot dog is a form of cooked sausage, and a cooked sausage may be made of goat meat.

A regulation of the Department of Agriculture says that when cooked sausages “are prepared with meat from a single species of cattle, sheep, swine, or goats they shall be labeled with the term designating the particular species in conjunction with the generic name, e.g., ‘Beef Frankfurter.’ ”

If Dan, proprietor of “Dan’s Gourmet Hot Dog Stand,” buys a box of sausages made entirely with goat meat (along with seasonings and possibly fillers and byproducts), they would have to be labelled “Goat Frankfurters.” If they included other meats, they wouldn’t be so designated, but the contents would, mandatorily, be listed in order of prevalence. Either way, Dan would know that he’s selling a goat-based product. But his customers wouldn’t—unless he apprised them of that on menus or placards. If state law did not require that he do so, it would seem unlikely that Dan would make the disclosure. California law does not require it.

Okay, in all probability nobody manufactures “goat frankfurters”—though for all I know, they would be tastier than those made with beef. The point is that California would permit sales by restaurants, food stands, lunch wagons, and so on, of hot dogs made of ground roosters or goats with no indication to customers that the meat traditionally used was supplanted.

Indeed, my aforementioned daughter wrote a series of restaurant reviews on eating places in the Los Angeles civic center about 10 years ago and found that most hot dogs being sold were of a brand that combined beef, pork and chicken.

The concept of fair warning to consumers does not apply in California to sales of hot dogs.

So, if that chili dog you buy doesn’t taste like chili dogs used to taste, it just might be that’s it’s made with an imitation frank which the law permits to pose as the real thing.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company


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