For grocery store rotisserie chicken, there's a food safety 'danger zone'

Rotisserie chickens at the grocery store, seasoned and cooked to juicy perfection, can make for a quick and easy meal. However, they can also be recipes for danger and make you really sick.

According to food safety consultant Jeff Nelken, there's a pecking order when it comes to rotisserie chicken.

"Go for the ones that are hotter as opposed to the ones that are cooler, because you know this one has been receiving adequate temperature," Nelken said. "And usually they'll even have a dot that tells you how long that chicken has been there."

Most importantly -- be sure the chicken is actually hot

"When you are touching it, it should be very warm to the touch, and it should be fully making contact with a heating environment so you know that it has been properly connecting to the surface," he added.

Bacteria grows at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature of your chicken drops below 140 -- it's in a "danger zone" and the bird could be unsafe to eat after just four hours.

FOX 11 went to one Southern California grocery store and found thermometers were not even working on the heated display. Employees told us the chicken had been sitting out for three hours and they insisted the heat lamps made them safe to eat, despite there being no way to tell whether the chicken was maintained at the proper temperature.

Our producer: "Is that hot enough for these?"
Store employee: "Yes it is. What the book says."
Producer: "I just don't want the people who I'm serving this to get sick. That's why I'm asking."
Employee: "We have to go by what the book says."

A store manager eventually told us they test the temperature every hour. When he learned the thermometers weren't working, he said he would have them replaced.

Keeping the rotisserie chicken at a safe, hot temperature is key. Here are some other tips:

-Make sure your rotisserie chicken is the last item on your grocery list.
-Bring the chicken straight home.
-Eat it or refrigerate it within two hours, or within one hour on hot days.
-If you do choose to refrigerate the rotisserie chicken, remove the meat first so that it can cool down to a temperature below a safe 40 degrees more quickly.

"You don't want you driving around for two hours with the chicken in your car not having adequate temperature maintenance, so that we don't a chance of bacteria growing in that situation," Nelken said.

He added, "if you're going to not use it in two to three days, you certainly could start putting it in the freezer but you have to use the proper cooling down process and then packaging it correctly so that you don't end up with freezer burn."

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