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Should I Buy Reduced-for-Quick-Sale Food?

Salvaged groceries can save you money

En español | As soon as I enter the supermarket, I make a beeline for the dented cans and crushed boxes bin at the back of the store, followed by tours of the produce, meat and bakery departments to see if they have any deals on aging delicacies.

See also: Save at the supermarket.

This entertains my wife to the point of saying, "If you are what you eat, then my husband should be reduced for quick sale."

So, if you're up for searching for scratch-and-dents in the supermarket, here's what you should know before you go hunting for reduced-for-quick-sale bargains:

Is It Safe? Here's the official scoop from the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding labels on food and other perishable items:

  • A "sell by" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy a product before that date.
  • A "best if by (or before)" date is a recommendation for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A "use by" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product. The USDA says that because the "use by" date usually refers to best quality and not product safety, "even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality — if handled properly."

While there is no federally mandated food-dating system in the U.S. (other than for infant formula and some baby foods), the USDA website provides a wealth of information on food storage and safety.

Don't Underestimate the Savings. If you're not on the lookout for reduced-for-quick-sale food items at your grocery store and other places like the dollar store and even drugstores, you're missing out on some real savings. In my experience, you can expect almost a 50 percent discount — or even more — on dented canned goods, as well as on boxed items like cereals and cake mixes that got a little crushed in shipping. Discounts on meat, produce and baked goods approaching their "sell by" date are often discounted by 30 percent.  For extra values, look for grocery stores that mark down meat with preprinted, fixed-value labels (e.g., "$1.50 off"), which of course means that the best values are on the smallest packages.

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