Grocery prices have shot up faster than we’ve seen in decades. The latest Consumer Price Index for North Texas showed prices for food at home rose 16.8% from September 2021 to September 2022. That’s the biggest 12-month increase in 48 years.
The NBC 5 Responds team spoke to North Texans who are looking for other options in surplus and salvage grocery stores.
'IT HAS BEEN ASTRONOMICALLY EXPENSIVE TO EAT THE WAY WE USED TO'
With a big family to feed, Dana Ellsworth said her monthly grocery receipts were competing with the cost of her mortgage.
“I have six kids at home and they bring friends,” Ellsworth said.
She said the family was spending between $1,500 to $2,000 a month on groceries.
“It has been astronomically expensive to eat the way we used to,” Ellsworth said. “Especially with fresh produce, we haven't been able to manage it.”
DATED, DISCONTINUED AND DISCOUNTED
This is why Ellsworth said she drives 40 miles from her home in Wylie to shop at the Grocery Clearance Center in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Ellsworth said a friend brought her to the store a few weeks earlier and she’s been making regular trips since then, searching for bargains.
Store owner Gary Gluckman said inflation has brought new faces into the store which sells food that didn’t make it to traditional retail grocery stores. Gluckman said the food comes from a variety of sources: some of it is discontinued, past or approaching its “sell by” date.
“We have stuff on our shelves that will be going out tomorrow, next month or two months from now. Or, six months ago, they went out,” said Gluckman. “They are still good and wholesome to eat.”
Walking through the store’s produce section, Gluckman held up bagged salads, “This is dated today, but it's still going to be good a few days. You can get three of these bags for $2.”
UNDERSTANDING FOOD DATES
The USDA says many dates on food refer to quality, not safety. The federal government doesn't regulate the dates you see on food packages. Infant formula is the exception.
Salvage grocery stores in Texas are licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The director of the agency’s food and drug section, Kevin Veal, said food safety requirements in salvage grocery stores are no different than other grocery stores. He said the state inspects salvage grocery stores at least once every two years.
“We look for sanitation, we make sure that they're storing things properly, we make sure that we look at their records, that we're making sure that they're purchasing from appropriate places,” explained Veal.
The Texas Department of State Health Services lists 235 salvage businesses it regulates, but they’re not all grocery stores. Some are food banks. Others are salvage cosmetics, drug or medical device businesses.
The FDA says when shopping salvage grocery stores, follow the same safety tips you would when buying food anywhere.
That includes avoiding canned food that is swollen or bulging. Don’t buy a can that is dented or rusted along the seams on the top or side of the can. The damage could have let bacteria in. Avoid sealed packages with a leak or hole.
TACKLING FOOD WASTE
When it comes to finding salvage grocery stores, Lynne Ziobro, has made it her mission by launching a website that maps out stores across the country.
“A lot of people have never heard of these stores,” said Ziobro.
Ziobro’s site also offers tips to help combat food waste, pointing out some perfectly fine food in salvage stores may have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
“I saw this opportunity where I could list stores, try to keep it up to date, and also try to teach people about food waste,” Ziobro said.
Gluckman points out inflation hasn’t spared surplus and salvage stores.
“Stuff that we were maybe getting $1.59 on just a few months ago, we may be getting a $1.99 on. However, the discount you're getting remains the same. In other words, if it's a $1.99 here, it could be $2.99 plus in the store,” said Gluckman.
He said he tells new customers to shop salvage stores first because what’s in stock changes. Customers may not find everything on their shopping lists.
Thomas Muniz, a first-time customer, said he and his wife came to the store with an open mind.
“We had to come today and check it out for ourselves,” said Muniz.
They left with several bags of flour, “My wife said it was a good deal. Ninety-nine cents per bag.”
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