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Is it safe to cook individually wrapped frozen chicken breast in the original plastic packaging (e.g. from foster farms) using sous-vide?

Also, what is the highest temperature I can cook the plastic-wrapped chicken?

EDIT

I finally got a reply from Foster Farms:

Thank you for taking the time to contact our Foster Farms Consumer Affairs Department. The chicken is not meant to be cooked in the packaging, it is not safe.

Sincerely,

Vickie Medeiros Consumer Affairs Representative

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Before you or anyone else can asnwer this question reliably, you would need to know exactly what type of "plastic" is used for the packaging. Food safe in the freezer or at room temperature doe not mean food safe at higher temperature, as you of course know. –  Walter A. Aprile Jan 31 '11 at 10:42
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Sure, it will help keep all the growth hormones and antibiotics locked in for added... um.. freshness? –  Michael at Herbivoracious Jan 31 '11 at 16:44
    
@Michael: They actually claim not to use growth hormones. Antibiotics, they're considerably more weaselly about... –  Aaronut Jan 31 '11 at 16:58
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@aaronut - well, true, I don't know much about Foster Farms in particular, but have a read through Eating Animals (amzn.to/hK0Dik) some time. Factory poultry farms are some frightening places in many ways. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Jan 31 '11 at 18:02
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The only way to be completely sure is to contact Foster Farms and ask them what their packaging is made of and whether or not it is a totally airtight seal. Everything else is speculation.

There are, however, two data points on which to speculate, both from their preparation page, and this is more broadly applicable to any company that distributes food this way:

Can I freeze chicken in its original wrapper?

Yes, the original packaging is fine for freezing up to two months. For longer freezing, over-wrap packages with foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper or plastic bags.

Generally something that's been properly vacuum-sealed will last much longer than that. The above would seem to indicate that it is not completely airtight and may even allow a small amount of moisture to get through.

What's the best method for thawing frozen chicken or turkey?

[...] You can also defrost in your microwave following the manufacturer's instructions. Remove chicken from the original package, and place on a microwave safe dish to defrost.

(emphasis mine)

This pretty clearly indicates that it is not microwave-safe, and proper vacuum bags that are safe for sous-vide are generally also microwave safe (even the cheapo FoodSaver products claim that you can boil, steam, or microwave in the bag).

So I am leaning quite heavily toward no - I don't think that the original packaging is safe for sous-vide, given the various other statements made by the company. But again, the best way to know for sure is to contact them directly.

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Sous-vide chicken at 60ish C is not going to melt the plastic is it? –  TFD Feb 1 '11 at 9:37
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@TFD: That really depends on the plastic, and often it's not a case of outright melting but simply leaching into the food. Plastic wrap and many types of plastic bags are safe, but if the plastic isn't explicitly labeled as safe then I'd generally assume it's not (especially if they say flat-out not to use it in the microwave). –  Aaronut Feb 1 '11 at 14:59
    
@Aaronut I thought the "leaching" into food is mostly an old wives tale? Sure in microwave things get a little intense, but 60C water? –  TFD Feb 1 '11 at 22:13
    
@TFD: I'm more of a skeptic than most, and as I said, the majority of plastic containers and wraps are heatproof. But that doesn't mean you can fire any old plastic straight into a heat source. Plastic doesn't have to melt to be a problem; it deforms at a much lower temperature called the deflection temperature, and several plastics have deflection temperatures around 60° C or so. That could at least cause the seal to be lost and possibly cause leaching because those compounds are lipophilic. (Plus, 60° C is your assumption, that's nowhere stated in the question). –  Aaronut Feb 1 '11 at 22:43
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@TFD: According to the USDA, 165° F or 74° C is the minimum safe internal temperature. Now people may take some liberties with sous-vide because they can hold the temperature steady for a very long time, but this is fundamentally a question about food safety and so the question is not how big is the risk, but is there a risk, and it appears to me that there is. People are free to ignore risks (as I often do in my own kitchen when making food for myself), but we shouldn't advise them to do so. –  Aaronut Feb 2 '11 at 17:28
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I have cooked pre-seasoned turkey breast and pork loin from Costco in their original shrink wrap packaging using my immersion circulator at 141F. Make sure you buy meat with the "heavy" plastic wrap that is vacuum packaged by heat sealing. The airtight plastic seal on these packages are made with heat at a much higher temperature than the 141F bath and it is still safe for consumption so sous vide should not cause a problem.

When the meat is finished. You will want to throw it under the broiler for a short additional period to get a bit of "sear" on the meat for flavor from the Maillard reaction. For the Turkey breast, I put additional herbs and spices (Mrs Dash) on the breast skin and broiled about 8-12 minutes per side to put on a slight sear..

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