What’s With Costco’s New Rotisserie Chicken Bags? And Are They Safe?

Even though my hunt for a plastic rotisserie bag was a flop, I wasn’t foolish enough to leave Costco without at least one rotisserie chicken, which cost me $4.99 and could feed two hungry people. My chicken was packaged in its traditional hard-plastic shell and tray (others come in clamshell packaging). I shook it like mad over my kitchen sink—no liquid leaked out. It wasn’t until I turned the container upside down and shook it some more that a small stream of liquid finally seeped through the packaging. 

I noticed that the hard top of the old packaging was rigid and more of a dome shape and that it didn’t really make contact with the top of the hot, steaming chicken inside. (This may vary depending on the size of the chicken, and the bottom of the chicken, of course, touches the plastic tray.) I asked Tunde Akinleye, CR’s test program leader of food safety, whether Costco’s new softer plastic, which is flexible and absolutely makes contact with the hot, cooked chicken, poses more of an issue when it comes to plastic chemicals that could leach into food

“The answer would depend on the type of plastic bag,” Akinleye says. “The FDA-approved plastic bags for storing hot food include polypropylene or PP (plastic #5) and polyethylene terephthalate or PET (plastic #1). Both are considered safe for storing hot food items. Others, such as high-density polyethylene or HDPE (plastic #2), or low-density polyethylene or LDPE (plastic #4), are not as effective for hot food storage as PP or PET.”

That said, Akinleye adds that it’s always advisable to keep hot food in contact with any plastic material to as short a period as possible. “That’s because both conventional heating and high-temperature storage of food in most types of plastic can lead to leaching of very small amounts of plastic additives or breakdown of the plastic polymer itself over time,” he says.

And under no circumstances should you reheat rotisserie chicken in its plastic bag or in any plastic, Rogers says. Instead, you can reheat chicken without skin in a pan or oven-safe glassware dish by adding a shallow pool of chicken broth or water, covering it with a layer or two of foil, and baking it at 375° F for 15 to 20 minutes or until it registers 165° F using a meat thermometer.