Flavor explosion: Why is Chick-fil-A’s Polynesian sauce eating through its packaging?

condiment packets over table
Photo: Nicole Antonuccio

It’s a well-known fact that I’m a sauce hoarder. I do not need more reasons to keep fast food sauce hanging around; my fear of waste keeps too many packets crammed into my kitchen at all times. Now, though, Chick-fil-A has given us a compelling reason not to keep these condiments on hand in case of boring food emergencies.


According to various comments on Reddit, fast food patrons nationwide are reporting that Chick-fil-A’s very popular Polynesian sauce is eating through its packaging to create an unhappy surprise for those rummaging around their sauce drawers. Mashed looked into the matter, and it seems that this is happening to people all around the country.

Mashed also found out via Twitter that some people have been experiencing this phenomenon for years now. And it seems to be uniquely affecting the Polynesian sauce, not Chick-fil-A’s other sauces. Is it a spice thing? I used to keep Taco Bell’s Diablo sauce in my backpack at all times in case of the aforementioned boring food emergencies, but now I’d better reconsider.

Who knew that a fast food sauce could be an agent of such chaos? It is the Joker of sauces. Mashed doesn’t arrive at a particular conclusion, either, so there’s no word on whether it’s a matter of acid eating through the adhesive that holds the peel-back layer to the plastic cup, or even eating holes through the sturdier packaging on the bottom. Maybe it’s fermenting and creating gas, thereby creating a ticking time bomb in your drawer. Oh man. All I can think about is causing trouble with this stuff. I do not have any enemies but I’m sure I could get one in about five minutes if I play my cards right.

A variety of Chick-fil-A sauces are available at some Target and Publix stores in select locations. But for those of you who are okay with total anarchy, go ahead, play Russian roulette with the sauce packets you can gather from the restaurant and report back to me.



Lord of the Ducks

What is likely happening is enzymatic polymer degradation due to the presence of Bromelain in the sauce.

Per Chick-fil-A, their Polynesian Sauce contains:
Sugar, soybean oil, water, corn syrup, corn-cider vinegar, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, salt, paprika, mustard seed, modified cornstarch, beet juice, onion*, garlic*, xanthan gum, propylene glycol alginate, natural flavor *dehydrated.

Now where is that Bromelain hiding? Likely in the “natural flavors” which given the taste of the sauce involves a type of pinapple extract.

Bromelain is mixture of protein-digesting enzymes derived pineapple. These proteolytic enzymes can be used in breaking down some plastics, though they are usually used to break down proteins (bromelain is commonly used as or in meat tenderizers). It is most efficient at higher temperatures, but given long enough sitting around enough of a reaction could occur.

The only other option that comes to mind would be if some batches of the sauce are contaminated with fungus that is either nipping at the container or producing gas causing the package to burst. Maybe they are using live yeast for the natural flavoring and not bringing the sauce to a critical temperature before packaging.