Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs / R.I.P.

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Who likes slimy things like silverfish in their packaged foods? Anyone? Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs and Kraft Foods thinks you do! That’s right — those pictures are real. That’s a silverfish about the size of a peanut in my package of Oscar Mayer Bacon Dogs. It gets worse.

I eat a good chili dog or two every few months to maintain my status as an American Male. It’s one of the few indulgences I know aren’t good for me and the only thing I’m getting nutritionally is protein and maybe a few carbs of fiber from the bean chili and onions I slather on top. Definitely a wiggle or two of mustard. Chili dogs are a decadent, delicious, comforting vice, and they are part of my food traditions — you have your own, no doubt. Our food rituals create and apply our unique and individual personalities and perspectives to everyday life. They are the more grounding, seminal events we could ever know, and we do it every single day of our lives.

I got my love of a good chili dog from my Dad. He and I universally agreed long ago that a chili dog is indeed a fine thing. He would eat them for breakfast sometimes, no joke. I lost my dad in 2007 and I still miss him. My chili dog feeds come with a melancholic remembrance of him as well. Our regimen had a few rules: White onions only, minced very finely and aggressively; boil the hot dogs, butter the buns, use chili withOUT beans, etc. They’re still so very tasty, and I can’t help but think of Dad when I eat them now.

The lore and history of the hot dog is a fascinating story. Did it originate in Frankfurt, Germany (hence the genesis of ‘frankfurter’?), or was this an American East Coast creation, from its humble initial beginnings at baseball venues just after the turn of the 20th century? It was the hot dog that fed many a hungry family, and cheaply, during the Great Depression. Far and away, most of what I know of the hot dog is positive, happy, redolent with summer and other good memories. Even the name is plucky and filled with mirth: Hot Dog. It’s cute and funny and the words feel good rolling out of your mouth and there’s nothing like biting into a good hot dog….if you’re not worried it’s got a huge silverfish in it. Which now, it does.

All of my fine memories of hot dogs are now officially destroyed, thanks to The Oscar Mayer Silverfish Dog, brought to you by the Kraft Foods Company of Northfield, Illinois and its CEO, Tony Vernon. The experience of seeing a silverfish-imbedded hot dog in the package on my counter as I prepared to cook them was physically revolting. My mouth went dry. It disgusted me. It was right there, whole, and embedded in the hot dog, and it was HUGE. It was also kind of heartbreaking, as you’ll read below. I cancelled my hot dog feed and had an apple instead. The next morning, I called the Kraft Foods Consumer Hotline. I heard nothing for days.

Kraft Foods then compounded the offense by claiming the silverfish must have got into the package AFTER it was off Kraft Foods’ premises. Like in a separate building. It was someone else’s fault. If you don’t believe that, I kept all the emails. And incidentally, insects can’t permeate a reduced-oxygen packaging without letting air in and “puffing out” the package. It would be like putting neon signs on it. The vacuumed package I bought remained intact, with the silverfish in it. My response to Kraft was simple: “Try again”.

Nearly two weeks later, Kraft Foods Associate Director of Consumer Relations sent me a form letter in the mail. It stated in cold, corporate script:

“Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
It’s feedback like yours that we use to continually improve
the products we offer”.

A $5 check was enclosed as “reimbursement”. They said they were “sorry to hear my purchase did not meet expectations”. Folks, form letters mean this happens A LOT. Yuck.

Memo to Kraft Foods — when you make this bad a mistake and compound the error by lying, you need to do the following:

“Dear Jack – We screwed up. We let a disgusting, germy silverfish get into your Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs and then we lied by incorrectly passing the blame to someone else. We’re very, VERY sorry. Here’s a $1000 check for the charity of your choice and a coupon for free hot dogs for a year, on us. Please find it in your heart to trust us once again and enjoy our hot dogs, as you and your father obviously did and do. We would be forever grateful. — Very Humbly Yours, W. Anthony “Tony” Vernon, CEO, Kraft Foods”.

THAT is an apology, and would have allowed me to give them another try. What Kraft Foods did was as bad or worse than the aforementioned filthy silverfish. Kraft Foods: I’m forwarding these pictures to the FDA and the USDA, as well as the hot dogs I carefully preserved and kept frozen. I would love to see your Corrective Action Report and Kraft’s HACCP Plan and your recall protocols on this matter. (FYI – that’s code for us food manufacturers. An infestation is a serious matter, worthy of a recall, and my guess is Kraft did absolutely nothing about it). We would have seen a recall in the media.

My friends, this all may seem like a tempest in a teacup to some of you, but please understand — a silverfish that size lived for weeks or months in that Oscar Mayer plant and survived because the machinery and the area wasn’t cleaned and sterilized properly. Plain and simple. Think it was the only silverfish around that day? Try hundreds. And they left germs everywhere.

Question — How many of you like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese? You know, the Kraft Mac-n-Cheese you’ve eaten forever, since childhood, the stuff that kept you alive during college, maybe fed your children or grandchildren? I’m guessing there’s tens of millions of houses in America with a package in the cupboard this very moment. Does Kraft Foods care as much for your mac-n-cheese as it does my hot dogs? What about their dressings? What about any and all Kraft Food products?

Answer: If there’s silverfish in my hot dogs, there is bug excrement and mouse sperm all over your Kraft Mac-n-Cheese. Rat urine is mixed in with your Kraft Ranch Dressing. Flecks of silverfish leg are stuck in your teeth. How does that make you feel? Welcome to my world. One of my cherished food traditions has been desecrated by the same label (and people) that helped me establish that tradition. What an odd, sick paradox. It’s even more galling that Kraft won’t sincerely own up to a mistake. I can never look at an Oscar Mayer hot dog or a Kraft Anything the same way again. Thanks, Tony Vernon. I’ll be looking to see if you get a bonus this year — publicly traded companies are required to disclose such information. You’ll be hearing from me again if you do.

I admit, I’m naïve in certain ways — I like to trust people. I’m an American. I like having faith in venerated companies with a long history of tradition, and I’m happy to pay my fair share for a quality product. Kraft Foods and Oscar Mayer products got my trust and my money for over 32 years. But that’s all gone now. Five dollars from you and a form letter, as succor for infesting my food with germy, slimy silverfish…and then lying about it?

Shame on you, Tony Vernon and shame on your pitiful company, Kraft Foods. You took my money under false pretenses and gave me a tainted, disgusting product. Shame on you for destroying my ideal of a great American brand like Oscar Mayer. Kraft Foods, you’re not only lazy, you are out of your fricking corporate, greed-motivated minds.

Most of all, shame on you for ruining my Dad’s and my chili dog tradition.

My Dad was an easygoing guy — a gentleman — but even he would be disgusted with your sad behavior. “Tacky” is a word he used to those who deserved it, and it is what he would call you were he here today. He wouldn’t be mean about it, but you would see in the blue steadfastness of his eyes that you had done wrong. And I would wholeheartedly stand in agreement. I miss my Dad. But now I’ll have to miss the chili dogs, too.

Shame on you, indeed.

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