Hot dogs are an iconic American food eaten everywhere from ballgames to backyard grills. Because they come pre-cooked and contain lots of preservatives, you might assume they have a long shelf life, but do hot dogs go bad?
Yes, hot dogs can go bad, and more rapidly than you’d expect. Unopened, they can last up to two weeks stored in the fridge, but once opened, should be consumed within a week.
Hot dogs also provide a perfect environment for the growth of a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes which can cause serious illness. This is why it’s important to thoroughly heat hot dogs even though they have been pre-cooked.
Shelf Life Of Hot Dogs
If your hot dogs come packaged with a use-by date, the USDA recommends sticking to that date. A best-by date, on the other hand, is a more general guideline, and hot dogs can stay good for up to two weeks beyond that date if stored correctly.
- Fresh hot dogs, unopened – Stored in the fridge, these can stay good for up to two weeks beyond the best by date. If there is no date, store for two weeks maximum regardless. In the freezer, they will remain safe to eat indefinitely, but best quality if consumed within two months.
- Fresh hot dogs, opened – Once opened, hotdogs should stay good for up to one week stored correctly in the fridge, and remain at best quality for two months in the freezer.
- Cooked hot dogs – Consume within four days if stored in the fridge, and up to four months frozen.
Regardless is the hotdogs are comprised of pork, chicken, beef or blended meat products, they all have the same shelf life.
How Long Can Hot Dogs Sit Out?
Bacteria grow very quickly at room temperature, and although listeria can develop even in the refrigerator, it will develop much more rapidly if you leave hot dogs to sit out.
If you’ve left your hot dogs sitting out for more than two hours at normal room temperatures, you should throw them out. At temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above, you should throw them out after one hour.
How To Tell If Hot Dogs Are Bad
Because bad hot dogs have the potential to make you very sick, it’s important for you to recognize the signs of rancidity below.
- Surface changes – if the outside of the hot dogs becomes slimy to the touch, they are no longer good.
- Color changes – the hot dog may change from a clear reddish color to duller brown or grey.
- Sour smell – if you detect any kind of unpleasant, sour smells, throw the package out.
- Freezer burn – frozen hot dogs are prone to freezer burn because of their high moisture content. If there are icy patches within the flesh and skin, the sausage will be dry and not pleasant to eat – although not dangerous.
- Milky liquid – if the liquid in a package of hot dogs develops a milky quality, they should be discarded. This milky substance may only be fat, or it could be a bacterial overgrowth.
What Happens If You Eat A Bad Hot Dog?
While hotdogs often contain preservatives in the meat blend to keep them fresh, they are moist products wrapped in plastic and thus susceptible to bacterial overgrowth.
As they are popular with children, it’s critically important to cook hot dogs thoroughly so they can be safely served.
Listeria can develop in hotdogs and deli meats, even if stored at cold temperatures (although freezing will prevent this.) Listeria is dangerous, especially for pregnant woman or those with a weakened immune system.
Although the chances of contracting listeriosis after eating hotdogs is low, it can be a very serious illness, causing fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. If it spreads throughout the bloodstream and nervous system, symptoms can be much more severe.
Bacteria like listeria can be killed by high temperatures, so it’s important to always thoroughly cook hotdogs before serving.
Can You Freeze Hot Dogs?
Yes. Hot dogs will stay safe to eat indefinitely when frozen, but their quality does decline rapidly; they are prone to freezer burn and will dry out and be much less enjoyable to eat.
To prolong their freezer life, you can wrap them with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and store them in a freezer bag, but we still recommend using them within two months for maximum flavor and quality.
If defrosting hot dogs in the fridge, they can stay there for one or two days after thawing. But if cooking hot dogs using a microwave or cold water bath to defrost, cook them straight away.