Messing with the hot dog is like messing with the American summer.
We'll consume an estimated 7 billion dogs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Call them weenies, call them franks or call them red hots. But should we call them dangerous?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says so, because children can choke on them.
Now an inventor says he has come up with a revolutionary idea for an improved hot dog design: Make incisions down the sides so that, as it heats, the dog will open into a floral-type design that will more easily break apart if stuck in the throat.
"What we're trying to do is make a safer hot dog," said idea man Gene Gagliardi Jr. of Creativators LLC in Pennsylvania.
Cindy Fauntz of Fairway, Kan., said she could see the benefit of the design not only for children but for older people.
"It looks kind of weird, and I usually go for looks," Fauntz said when shown a photo of the product while shopping at a neighborhood market. "I would probably purchase something like that, if it's a health issue."
So, are we likely to see these strange-looking things served at ballparks across America?
"I don't think so," said Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. "I think a wholesale redesign of the hot dog from its iconic shape as a long, tubular food product is a bit unlikely."
The pediatrics academy cited a study finding that a child dies from choking on food about once every five days in the United States and that 17 percent of those asphyxiations among children younger than 10 were caused by hot dogs. It called for warning labels on packages of hot dogs.
Riley does not discount the risk of kids choking on hot dogs — or carrots, grapes or any cylindrical food. She said many hot dog manufacturers already put messages on their products advising parents to cut up the dogs for children.
"As a mom, I have always redesigned hot dogs before my kids were old enough to handle them," Riley said. "I've done that in my kitchen with a paring knife. It's a common practice."
Gagliardi said his process improves on that.
"The throat is about the diameter of a pencil, so when a child or adult or anyone gets a piece of hot dog stuck in their throat, even the Heimlich method may not dislodge it," he said. "With this, the piece will fall apart into eight little pieces."
Gagliardi had previously invented a do-it-yourself device called the Guard Dog for people to create lengthwise slits in their hot dogs at home. But he sold that patent.
Now Gagliardi is promoting technology to be adopted by hot dog manufacturers at the factory. He calls it Kinder Cut (with kinder pronounced as the German word for children). He has a first client in Berks Packing Co., a meat processor that distributes in southeastern Pennsylvania.
"The goal is to have every company that makes hot dogs" on board, Gagliardi said, "from the big ones to the small ones."
His market savvy should not be discounted. He is responsible for Steak-umm frozen beef products and for popcorn chicken at KFC.
Aside from being safer, he says, Kinder Cuts will make hot dogs taste better.
"During the cooking process, the slits open up, allowing the condiments to adhere to the hot dog," his company says, "making it more flavorful."