What Are Salvage Grocery Stores? (And Do You Have One in Your Neighborhood?)

published Sep 5, 2021
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Personal perspective of a shopper pushing shopping trolley along product aisle while shopping in a supermarket
Credit: Getty Images/ d3sign

We’re conditioned to seek flawless food, but those high standards lead to major food waste: America throws out 40 percent of all the food it produces, which includes losses in distribution and retail. Surplus Halloween candy, a dented can of tomatoes that survived a delivery truck fender-bender, the last bottles of a limited-edition soda flavor, blemished lemons — all of these items are still delicious and, thankfully, salvage grocery stores don’t want them to go to waste. So these stores will sell those groceries (and more) at a discount.

Every salvage grocery store is different, but the majority of them offer scratch-and-dent items or products that are nearing or have passed their best-by dates for a major discount

This means savings for you, the shopper. Shopping at one of these stores can save you up to 50 percent off your food bill — or more. For example, this vlogger spent $193 on a grocery haul that should’ve cost $500! Salvage grocery stores often sell more than food, too, so you can score a deal on anything from pet food to party supplies. 

Of course, salvage grocery stores are nothing new. The Amish have been in on this grocery secret for years. If you live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or anywhere with a high Amish population, you’re bound to bump into one. Not in Amish country? This handy store locator is not a comprehensive list, but it’ll help you find a few salvage grocery stores in your state.

How do items end up at salvage grocery stores?

The journey of salvage groceries begins when a store, distributor, or manufacturer wants to get rid of slightly damaged items, or those that aren’t selling all that quickly. These products are usually bought by third-party distributors that load the goods onto semi trailers bound for food pantries and salvage stores. You might’ve heard of Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods? They’re two new-ish companies that essentially offer delivery versions of salvage grocery shopping, but a visit to a brick-and-mortar one can help you save even more — and be choosier about what goes into your cart. 

You’re probably asking, “Are these kinds of savings safe to eat?” I did some research: Turns out that baby formula is the only “food” that can’t be sold after the date on the package. All other foods are fair game, and those best-by, use-by, and sell-by dates are just freshness suggestions from manufacturers — not a ticking time bomb for when it’s unsafe to consume. All salvage grocery stores are required to take the same food storage precautions as conventional grocery stores. Health inspectors visit regularly just like they do conventional ones, too, and are required to examine perishables. 

Related: Those “Use By” Dates on Food Are Confusing a Lot of People

That being said, it doesn’t hurt to do your own quality control. Small dents on cans are OK, but avoid bulging tops, leaks, or dents on the lids, as that can be a sign of botulism (most stores are good about tossing these goods before placing them on shelves.) Don’t buy expired over-the-counter drugs, baby formula, or any product with a broken seal. You might want to break up with your shopping list, too, as these stores aren’t stocked like conventional ones. Instead, stop at a salvage store first, then hit up your go-to grocer to buy whatever else you couldn’t find — or to gloat over how much you saved when you pass those full-price items.