Salvage Grocery Stores

What You Need to Know Before You Go

Woman Getting Grocery Bags in Trunk of Car
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Need to make drastic cuts to your grocery bill and willing to step outside of your favorite grocery store to do it? Shopping at a salvage grocery store could be the answer. Here's a look at what salvage grocery stores are all about.

What Is a Salvage Grocery Store?

Salvage grocery stores, sometimes referred to as outlet or discount grocery stores, are stores that specialize in selling items that traditional grocery stores can't or won't sell.

Most buy their merchandise from grocery reclamation centers, and it includes such things as:

  • 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 each week, depending on what they get in.

How Do the Prices Compare to Regular Grocery Stores?

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?

Yes, 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. Here are some things to know:

1. Salvage grocery stores are inspected and regulated by the government – just like regular grocery stores.

2. All items are also inspected for serious damage at the reclamation center, before they're shipped out to stores. Leaking or bulging cans and broken jars are tossed immediately.

3. Torn or dented boxes are okay, 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.

4. 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.

5. Sell-by dates, use-by dates and best-buy dates all mean different things. Educate yourself on the difference, so you understand what you're buying:

6. Expired baby formula and baby food should never be purchased at a salvage store. It's the only food product that the federal government requires dating on.

7. Expired OTC drugs should also be avoided. They may lose their potency or undergo an adverse chemical change after expiration.

8. Dented cans aren't always safe to buy. A small dent is okay, 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.

9. Recalled items shouldn't end up at salvage stores, but it's good to stay on top of recent recalls just in case.

10. 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.

 

How Do I find 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 near by (lucky you). Just ask around, and you're sure to turn up at least one salvage grocery store in your area.

What Else Do I Need to Know About Salvage Grocery Stores?

  • 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 stores 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 them 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've gotten in
  • 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. My favorite salvage store shifted from selling mostly expired foods to selling mostly in-date foods after they switched suppliers. Now, the food I'm buying isn't any older than what I'd find at a regular grocery store; it's just a ton cheaper.