Q: I'm new to frugality so please do not be offended by this question... Isn't the quality of the food compromised? If it is in a discount store that means it didn't sell at the regular store so who knows how long it sat there and then who knows how long it has sat at the discount store. Is it really saving money to buy something that isn't as fresh as it should be? This isn't a put down. It is a genuine question. I don't even go into Aldi's because I have this fear of "good food gone bad." Please enlighten me!
A: First, let me reassure you about Aldi's freshness. Aldi is not a salvage grocery or dented can store. Aldi is an international chain of groceries which sells its own line of foods, in the same way that Walmart sells its house brands for less. Amy at Momadvice has the scoop on shopping Aldi here.
Now, you are right to be careful about salvage groceries. They sell food at or near its expiration date--or even after that date, as day-old bread stores do. Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette offers an excellent explanation and strategy for shopping salvage stores. I would recommend anyone who shops salvage to read her advice.
The date on a package is not always absolute, as it may be for milk and eggs. Often, the date stamped is "best by..." (an indicator of peak freshness) or "sell by" (the date by which the store can sell it, not the date by which your family should eat it.) I would rather have Pepperidge Farm bread at its sell-by date than Wonder Bread right off the truck.
Many folks don't have the luxury of shopping elsewhere. Salvage grocers offer a way to get a more balanced diet on a budget. I approach salvage food shopping as an adventure. It's my chance to try gourmet goodies, find expensive sugar-free mixes, and fill my pantry with organic salsas. Sometimes, salvage groceries sell fresh produce from hometown farmers alongside cheese and meat "ends" from local processing plants.
Here are a few "rules of thumb" for shopping salvage:
- Don't buy a product if you can't find a date stamped on it. Even if I'm willing to try a month-past-freshness box of cookies, I'd like to know what that month would be.
- Don't buy if the packaging is suspect. Use your own judgment for crumpled boxes or dented cans. I don't mind a mashed box if its inner packaging is intact.
- Don't pay more for an item than its generic equivalent at Aldi or Walmart.
- Taste test before buying in bulk. The Tightwad Gazette describes opening a package in the car, only to buy more before leaving the parking lot.
I no longer have a salvage store nearby. I don't search them out on vacation, but if I happen to spot one, my husband usually lets me investigate! Here are a few of our salvage store experiences from the archives:
Salvage Store Centerpiece
$20 in Food From Salvage Store
Georgia Salvage Stop
End of an Era: Turrentine's Salvage
Russell Stover Outlet and Faye's Discount Grocery
Metter Mennonite Market
United Grocery Outlet store directory
SonShine Discount Grocery in Winchester, TN
Salvage Store Pie Crusts
Salvage Store Birdseed
House of Bargains