Salvage stores offer cheap food, but not for the faint of heart

The recession has been a real boon for supermarkets as more people having been buying store brands and eating at home instead of going out to restaurants. But what can you do when even the supermarkets are not cheap enough for you?

In a continuing trend, some people have begun shopping at salvage food stores. These are the types of stores — usually located in metro areas — that sell dented cans and all kinds of food that is very nearly expired or past expiration date.

When you think about it, traditional supermarkets have so many items on their shelves. Those that don't sell through (referred to as "unsellables" in the industry) end up past date and are then salvaged out.

Is it a good idea or not for you to buy salvage groceries? There is, of course, a lot of controversy about food safety. But Dr. Ted Labuza, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota, told The Atlantic, "Foods can remain safe to consume for some time beyond sell-by and even use-by dates provided they are handled and stored properly."

Unsellables typically sell for half the supermarket price. Their sales are up 40% from just a year ago as more and more people find themselves hurting in the wallet. Back when he was in college, my producer Joel tried salvage stores. He jokes that he's surprised to be disease-free after repeatedly going around 10 or 12 times. They can be that dirty in his experience!

It goes with saying this is not for everybody. But if it is for you, locate a salvage grocery near you using a state-by-state directory at As a general rule, states with higher unemployment will have a proliferation of salvages stores. Those with lower unemployment won't. (Editor's note: The ability to visit this link has been spotty because of the increased traffic from If you're having difficulty, please check again in several hours.)

Feel I'm way off base even raising this topic? Go to my Clark Stinks forum and let me know why. (Editor's note: Free registration is required before you can post.)

Clark Howard