If you need to make drastic cuts to your grocery bill and are willing to step outside of your favorite grocery market, shopping at a salvage grocery store could be the answer. Salvage grocery stores, sometimes referred to as outlet or discount grocery stores, specialize in selling items that traditional grocery stores can't or won't sell. Here's a look at what salvage grocery stores are all about.
What Is a Salvage Grocery Store?
Most salvage grocery stores buy their merchandise from grocery reclamation centers, which include:
- Food that is near or past its expiration
- Items in dented or torn packaging
- Items in seasonal or otherwise-dated packaging
- Store closeouts
- Manufacturer overstock
- Salvage from truck wrecks
Unlike a traditional grocery store, which stocks the same items each week, salvage grocery stores stock different items weekly depending on what's available. The prices at a salvage grocery store are typically half of what you'd expect to pay at the grocery store—but could be even cheaper.
Is the Food Safe?
As long as you follow a few rules, the food at a salvage grocery store is just as safe as the food you'd get at a grocery store. Salvage grocery stores are inspected and regulated by the government just like regular grocery stores.
All items are also inspected for serious damage at the reclamation center before they're shipped to stores. Leaking or bulging cans and broken jars are tossed immediately. Torn or dented boxes are OK, as long as the plastic bag that the food is wrapped in is still sealed. If it's something like macaroni, where the food sits directly inside the box, you should probably pass on torn boxes.
Tips and Warnings
If you decide to shop at a salvage grocery store, there are a few things to consider:
- Frozen foods are still safe after their expiration date as long as they've been kept frozen. If you see any evidence of improper food storage at the store, skip them.
- Sell-by, use-by, and best-buy dates all mean different things. Educate yourself on the difference, so you understand what you're buying.
- Never buy expired baby formula and baby food at a salvage store. It's the only food product that the federal government requires dating on.
- Avoid expired over-the-counter drugs. They may lose their potency or undergo an adverse chemical change after expiration.
- Dented cans aren't always safe to buy. A small dent is fine, but if you see cans with big dents or any dent along the top or side seam, leave them at the store. Ditto for bulging or leaking cans. They could be a botulism risk.
- Recalled items shouldn't end up at salvage stores, but it's good to stay on top of recent recalls just in case.
Additionally, salvage grocery stores may not be as organized as a regular grocery store, but they should be just as clean. If a store appears dirty or you see signs of bug or rodent activity, take your business elsewhere.
Locating a Salvage Grocery Store
Extremebargains.net maintains a directory of salvage and discount grocery stores in the United States. Check there first. Then, look in your local phone book under "grocers" to see if you can turn up any more. Any listing with the word "salvage," "outlet," or "discount" in the name is a good bet.
If you live near an Amish community, there's probably an Amish-run salvage store nearby. Just ask around, and you're sure to turn up at least one salvage grocery store in your area.
What to Know Before You Go
Salvage stores may not accept credit cards or out-of-town checks. Many take cash or debit cards only. Salvage stores may only be open on certain days or for a limited number of hours each day. Call ahead before you go. Some salvage stores even take manufacturer coupons.
While the prices are great, you may still be able to do better at the grocery store by buying store brands or by taking advantage of coupons and sales. Know your price points before you go. Salvage grocery stores sell more than food. You may also find deals on cleaners, health and beauty products, pet food, party supplies, paper products, office supplies, and more
You probably won't be able to do all of your grocery shopping at the salvage store. Start your shopping there; then, finish up at the grocery store. Since inventory changes rapidly, you can't count on salvage grocery stores to have the same things from week to week. Stock up when you see something you want and check back regularly to see what else they're stocking.
There are a few more things to keep in mind before shopping at a salvage grocery store.
- If you're trying a new brand or product for the first time, buy a small amount. Stock up later, if you like it.
- Since you're likely to be buying older items, only stock up on as much as you can use in a reasonable time.
- Salvage grocery stores don't usually accept returns. You may get a bad item on occasion, but the overall savings will more than make up for it.
If you don't like the first salvage store you go to, try another one. It could just be the way that particular store is run or an issue with their supplier.