by Gail Browser
(Los Angeles, California, USA)
Salvage grocery stores are a great way to find pricey food items at ridiculously cheap prices But you have to know how to shop them.
Salvage groceries, as their name implies, are stores dedicated to selling ‘salvage’ grocery items… things that have been dented or damaged in transit, or that have passed their expiration date but haven’t yet “expired.” You can often purchase bottles of expensive salad dressing, just a couple of weeks past their expiration date, at 3 for $1. (Store price: $2.47)
Canned vegetables can sometimes be found 10 for $1 (store price 2/$i on sale). The bargains you can find are amazing, if you’re willing to look past the packaging.
But there are a few things to remember when shopping salvage grocery stores.
1) Avoid boxes – insects can get into boxes easily. Items such as cereal, which come in boxes but have plastic linings, are often okay, but things such as boxes of pasta, muffin mixes, and other straight-from-the-box items should be avoided generally. If you do find an absolute dream bargain, check the box carefully before buying it. When you get home, empty the box immediately into a glass canning jar with a tight lid.
As you empty it, check for small dark flecks which could indicate bugs. If you see cobweb-like strands inside the box, it’s a dead giveaway; discard the box immediately. The good thing is, if you’ve bought something for 10 cents, you haven’t wasted too much money if you find bugs in it. But since even 10 cents is still money wasted, think carefully before buying boxes at the salvage store.
2) Cans: dents are okay, bulges are not – a dent in a can, even a big one, is no big deal, as long as the metal hasn’t actually been punctured. When buying cans, be sure the ends aren’t bulging out. If they are, that means bacteria has gotten into the can through a tiny hole, probably too small to see, at the comers of the dent. The can is no longer safe for consumption. If the ends are not bulging out, however, the can is probably safe. Just be sure to smell the contents when you get it home; if there is an acidic or metallic smell, don’t eat it.
3) Expiration dates – how important are they really? Many times, items will be sold at a salvage store in otherwise good condition, just because they’ve passed their expiration date. Are these items still eatable? The answer is usually going to be Yes After all, how often have you thrown out that jar of peanut butter at the back of your refrigerator, just because the expiration date was a couple of months back? Ifyou do that, you should probably eschew salvage stores; some of the best bargains are the ones that are outdated.
Consider the kind of product. Salad dressings are nearly always good for several months after their expiration date, as long as the bottle is undamaged. Potato chips start tasting stale just a week or so past their expiration date, but pretzels can last forever.
There are three main food preservatives: salt, sugar, and vinegar. If a product is extremely heavy on one or more of these (such as pickles, for example, which are loaded with salt and vinegar), chances are good that it will last longer than its expiration date.
One final word of advice: if an item is both past its expiration date and damaged, think very carefully about buying it. The chances that you’ll get it home and have to throw it away are much higher when you’re talking about food that is both old and vulnerable.