wife and I were at a chili cook-off over the last
Labor Day weekend. 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 charitable fundraising event, 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 probably would assume you’d be getting a sausage made
of beef, pork and beef, or, arguably, just pork, unless there were a contrary
Yet, contrary to the general conception of what a hot dog is, California’s
Health and Safety Code 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 — a sausage comprised
of finely comminuted beef or beef and pork — the Legislature has given
the green light to something that ought to be considered consumer fraud.
If it weren’t for that overbroad 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 could
sell something as a “hot dog” that was 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 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 labeled “Goat Frankfurters.” If they included
other meats, the contents would, mandatorily, be listed in order of prevalence.
So, 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 do
so. California law does not require such disclosure.
OK, 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, a brand of frankfurters commonly used by eating establishments uses a
combination of beef, pork and chicken.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Health Services confirmed that vendors
do not have to specify “what kind of meat” is in the hot dogs being
sold, but noted that if they do declare the content, “they do have to be
truthful” in their representations. In other words, Dan can’t post
a sign reading “All Beef Hot Dogs” if they’re all goat.
The problem is that he’s under no affirmative obligation to disclose that
he’s selling goat franks. The concept of fair warning to consumers does
not apply in California to hot dogs.
So, if that chili dog you buy doesn’t taste like chili dogs used to taste,
it just might be that it’s made with an imitation frank which the Sacramento
lawmakers permit to pose as the real thing.
The "55-Plus" column
is written especially for those over the age of 55, by a veteran California
journalist who is himself eligible for the club. Roger M. Grace has
written and edited newspapers for more
than four decades, and has been a lawyer
for more than three.