|A recent super frugal shopping trip, from a salvage store and reduced rack produce stall|
Lately I've gotten really into my scratch and dent stores, also called salvage stores, and I'm really excited about them, since they save me a lot of money. However, the thing is, when you mention to people that you buy at a scratch and dent store, and immediately everyone has a lot of questions.
What is it?
What can you buy there?
Why would you want to buy there?
Is the stuff there good?
Is it even safe to eat stuff from salvage stores?
So, hopefully this post will answer all those most commonly asked questions so that you, too, can start shopping at salvage stores and save money.
What Salvage/Scratch and Dent Stores?
Well, to answer this question, we have to go back to the whole beginning, looking at the marketing industry and consumerism and the food industry as a whole.
People want perfection today. They want food that looks perfect, like it was made on an assembly line, without any discolorations or malformations. They want pristine packaging, crisp, sharp edges.
Reality isn't like that. Not always, anyhow.
Food doesn't always look perfect. Often when produce grows, it ends up oddly shaped or with marks on it, and that isn't "sellable", people want their produce looking just so, and if it doesn't, they won't buy it. I learned that locally, lots of produce that is grown and that doesn't look right gets destroyed by the farmer, because people won't pay top dollar for that produce, so it's not worth the expense entailed to get those foods to the stores. In some countries, there is a movement to use "ugly food" to prevent food waste, and slowly it's catching on. But the fact remains that when something looks imperfect, it is harder to sell it.
When you buy vegetables and fruit from the reduced rack in the grocery store, or like I do, from entire stalls at the market that are dedicated to grade B produce, you're benefiting from other people's desire for perfection in food. Instead of paying retail prices for this produce, because it looks worse, either misshapen, or oddly sized, or slightly less fresh, you're able to get this food for a fraction of the cost. I have no preference for "beautiful food" and therefore save lots of money on my groceries by buying nearly exclusively from grade B stalls. (You just need to follow these tips to get the most value from your reduced rack produce.)
Salvage stores, or scratch and dent stores are essentially the same thing as reduced rack produce stores, only with shelf stable items instead of produce.
The things are there because other stores or companies decided that they aren't sellable to the average person who shops at the grocery store, so instead of throwing them out and declaring them a complete loss, they sell them to salvage stores very cheaply, which then re-sell those foods to the consumer like myself (and you) who care more about frugality than their food looking "just so".
What Can You Find At Salvage Stores?
The thing about salvage stores is you literally never know what you are going to find there. It's hard to go there with a shopping list and buy exactly what you need, since what is available there depends on what stock they managed to get to re-sell.
If you have a stockpile then you know what foods your family uses regularly (and hopefully you also know the standard prices you pay for them), so when you go to the scratch and dent store, you can then stock up on those items you know you'll use anyhow if they're a decent price. Sometimes stuff at a salvage store actually aren't worth buying if you regularly buy them on sale for cheaper than they have available in the salvage store.
But if you see something that you will use a lot of and it is a great price, stock up- buy as much as you can carry, because you never know if you'll find those same foods at the salvage store again.
If you don't have a stockpile, then shopping at salvage stores won't benefit you, because it really is hit or miss- you have no idea if the things you need are going to be on sale there when you need them, hence the benefit of simply filling your pantry with super cheap things that you buy at salvage stores and on sale and then shopping your pantry. So if you don't have a stockpile, start one! (And if you don't have money to start one, read these tips how to do so even without money.)
Here's a list of things I have bought at salvage stores that I can remember, but I am sure there are many more things that I've forgotten:
- Gluten free flour mix
- Potato starch
- Gluten free pasta
- Chocolate chips
- Gluten free oyster cracker type croutons
- Canned peas
- Cannd chickpeas
- Canned pickles
- Canned olives
- Canned mushrooms
- Canned hearts of palm
- Gluten free cereals
- Gluten free crackers
- Peanut butter
- Peeled and roasted chestnuts
- Ground coconut
- Grape juice
- Gluten free cake
You really never know what you're going to find. And you see the variety of things I've found?
Why Are Those Things At The Salvage Store? What's Wrong With Them?
Everything at the salvage store is there simply because it was declared unsellable by the standard grocery store. However, everything is there for another reason. These are but some of the reasons things may be in the salvage store.
- A store was closing/going out of business, so they sold everything to the salvage store. Happened with a local health food chain lately, so I found a huge variety of health food items at the salvage store recently.
- Factory mistakes. Sometimes a run at the factory went badly, and the packaging didn't come out prettily. Sometimes there's ink that got on the wrong parts of the packaging, the printing was not centered, labels didn't stick on to packages well so they are only half connected or rough around the edges.
- Other packaging damage- dented cans, cans with torn labels, banged up boxes, etc. This might have happened in the factory, in transit, or in the previous store it was in.
- Seasonal foods, like Christmas or Halloween or Easter candies after the holidays.
- Close to or past expiration dates.
- Other miscellaneous reasons.
Is The Food Safe? Is The Food Ok?
There are some common food "rules" that people know, that make people scared to buy from salvage stores.
Number one, that dented cans are dangerous and breeding grounds for botulism and other dangerous bacteria.
Number two, that expired food is unsafe.
Since I use both expired foods and dented cans, I have done to research if they are actually safe, and here is what I found out.
First of all, not all dented cans are equal. Dented does not=botulism. Botulism is a dangerous bacteria that can kill you, and it is odorless and tasteless and colorless, and that is why people are so scared of it. However, botulism needs specific conditions to grow (it needs to be in an anaerobic environment- one without oxygen), which is why improper canning is the most problematic.
According to the CDC, cans are only suspect if they are bulging, swollen, leaking, looks damaged or cracked or seems abnormal in appearance, the container spurts liquid or foam when opened, or the food is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.
Other ways to tell if a can is safe or not is if the top or bottom of the can moves or makes a popping sound when pressed and if the can is rusted. Dents near the seams are especially problematic, making the seal most likely to be broken, but test that by pressing the top or bottom and seeing if it moves- if it doesn't, you're fine.
As to expiration dates, people have this misconception that there is this international (or even national) standard, and it relates somehow to the safety of the food. It really has nothing to do with that. There is no standard when it comes to expiration dates- each company decides on their own what they want to put as the expiration date, and it has more to do with their reputation as a company than your safety. Essentially, packaged foods degrade in appearance, taste and texture over time (but not safety, if properly made and stored), and since the company wants you to have the best impression of their products, they decide at what point the food quality degraded enough that they would rather you not eat it, otherwise you'll think less of their product. So the expiration date is for that reason.
Does that mean that expiration dates are meaningless?
No, they do mean something, but its not about safety. It just may affect your enjoyment of the food. Soup nuts or crackers may be more stale, chocolate may be discolored somewhat in appearance. If you are picky about the quality of your food, then this is something that you should take note of. But if you are less picky, you don't have to worry that the expired food will somehow be dangerous for you to eat.
Are Foods From Salvage Stores Good?
Well, as I just explained, they are safe (provided you follow the instructions regarding safe cans). However, quality may be affected. So if you/your family are picky about tastes or textures, I recommend buying one of each item you're thinking of getting, to make sure you're ok with how it is, and if you like it, then buying more.
For example- the soup nuts that I bought were a little stale. My family and I really don't mind at all. So I bought lots. If you do care about things not being stale, you shouldn't buy them (and certainly not 40 packages like I did!).
The peanut butter that I bought separated- it is dense at the bottom and the oil that was supposed to be in it rose to the top. I don't really mind that, but if you do, don't buy more than that one sample one.
The other stuff that I bought recently at the salvage store, the chocolate chips and hearts of palm and chestnuts, were all perfect. And they weren't even past their expiration date.
I one time DID buy something at the salvage store that was problematic. It was a packaged gluten free chocolate cake, and when I opened it up, I saw it was moldy. I took it back to the store and got a complete refund.
So, in sum- they're almost always safe, and in terms of quality, that depends on your taste and preferences.
Where Can I Find Salvage Stores?
This I can't help with so easily- but I did find this list of discount/salvage stores around the US and hopefully it can help some of you. If you have local frugality message boards people may be aware of ones that are local to you.
If you are local to me (and if you are local to me, you will know that you are), I know of 3 salvage stores in the city nearest to me, so send me an email to email@example.com with what you think my location is, and if that is correct, I'll give you the addresses of the three local salvage stores that I know of.
Otherwise, google your location along with the words "salvage store" or "scratch and dent store" or "discount grocery store" and see if you come up with any results.
Have you ever heard of salvage/scratch and dent stores before? Have you ever shopped at a salvage/scratch and dent stores? What are the best deals you've gotten there? Any thoughts on shopping at this type of store? Any tips you'd add?