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MSN: How to get groceries for free by gleaning

MSN posted an interesting article recently on how to get groceries for free by gleaning:

A truck pulls up, two people jump out, and, within minutes, they’ve loaded up a few cases of dented cans, a box of ripe pears and a few dozen loaves of day-old bread. Jumping back in the cab, they pull out of the grocery store parking lot and head for the next store on their list.

Some call it food rescue or grocery recovery, or even an old biblical term: gleaning.

But no matter what you call it, the practice of rescuing food before it hits the garbage bin is becoming increasingly popular as a way of reducing waste, feeding people who’ve fallen on hard times and even helping average families save hundreds of dollars a year on groceries.

Read full article.

Thanks to Ashley for passing along this article!

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  • Jamie Rathbun says:

    Just an FYI, dents in canned foods can compromise the seal on the can. This exposes the food to air and bacteria. Dented cans could be contaminated with bacteria that you cannot see. This bacteria could lead to a case of foodborne illness.
    According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:
    Additionally, consumers buying fresh, packaged, or canned food should
    always check to be sure the package or can is intact before purchasing.
    Do not purchase packages that are punctured or appear to have been
    opened. Follow label advice for products that are packaged with safety
    seals. Do not consume food if the seal has been broken. For canned
    goods, do not eat the contents if the cans are dented, cracked, or bulging.
    These are warning signs that the product may not be safe.

    • Heather says:

      I volunteered at a food bank in France back in the 90s. They took cans that were dented, as long it was not near the top or bottom of the can, because that could compromise the seal, as you say. But slight to average dents in the middle were considered safe.

    • charity crawford says:

      Very informative thanks for sharing! Makes a lot of sense…I would rather pay full price then compromise my health….being cheap just sometimes is not worth it.

  • It is hard to glean around here, but we frequent Scratch and dent type stores all my life. You learn how to see dangerous dents and okay ones…..
    If you are careful, you will never be sick. The FDA has many rules to prevent lawsuits which is why also the laws make so many stores not have gleaning and just throw away food instead of giving it to people who really need it.

  • Nora says:

    Thank you for sharing, I’m intrigued!

  • Amy says:

    This is very interesting…. I would love to hear more from someone who has done this. I have several questions one of which is – how often does everyone come together to get their “share” since you wouldn’t want to hold on to day old bread or produce for more than a day or so. I live in a town with several chain stores (each w/ mutiple locations) and several smaller stores (like natural food, produce, farmers mkt type).

    Hoping to hear more 🙂

  • Gail says:

    I’ve often been so upset at the good food thrown out when so many people are hungry. I wondered though, if there might be a recall on a box of canned goods, so even if they look perfect, they might have something seriously wrong with them. Nowadays, recalled or unsafe products are disposed of rather than incur the expense of shipping them back. How could you know?

  • Chrissy says:

    I’ve heard that gleaning is illegal…does anyone know about this? Or is it only illegal if you don’t have permission? I am interested in “gleaning” if anyone can tell me more about it 🙂

    • Chrissy says:

      Never mind, I found more information. “The Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act…was created [in 1996] to encourage food donation to nonprofits by minimizing liability, in accordance with the Model Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Signed into law by President Bill Clinton, this law…makes it easier to donate food by allowing donor liability only in cases of gross negligence.”
      I’d still love to hear more about this!

  • Blythe says:

    I live in a small town. Once a week a few wonderful ladies from my church drive 30 minutes to the nearest city to pick up bread and things that the stores are giving away, because they are about to expire. Then they bring them back and we divide them up. Making sure to take only what we can use before it goes bad. We pay the ladies $1 for a box of goodies for there time and gas.
    We mostly get loaves of bread, rolls, bagels and other pastries. However sometimes get crackers, or even juice.
    I often get $20-25 worth of stuff for only $1!

  • AJ says:

    I was a part of Foodnet Inc. when I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. You can go to their website for more information. I considered starting one in SW Florida but I’d have to check the laws first. The group in NE consulted a lawyer so getting a group started may take some work, but it does save people money and tummies are filled, not landfills.

  • Lydia says:

    I would highly recommend staying away from dented cans in the store or otherwise – ripe for a good batch of food poisioning. I don’t think the savings is worth the risk especially with children. Buying and using expired items is not a good idea either unless you are on the streets eating out of dumpsters to stay alive and it is the only source of food you would have.

  • Jan says:

    the grocery stores around here donate old bread and stuff to the food bank- they don’t throw it away

    • Rachel says:

      Same here. The stores all donate food that is close to expiration to local food banks, churches and ministries (which is also why I seldom see marked down produce because this goes to those in need).

    • dee says:

      Same here. I live in a small city of 52,000 in Connecticut. Our community is very active with supporting our food bank. The food bank van is at the local grocery stores several times a week picking bread, produce, etc. That way it is very organized and people in real need have access to the food.

      • Stephanie says:

        Not everyone in real need can access food stamps or be eligible for a food bank. The food bank here allows one bag per family PER MONTH.

  • mart says:

    A woman in the UK got arrested for this – when she had gotten back to her home. Please be careful & check you have permission first in case you end up with more problems being on the wrong side of the law.

  • Jenny says:

    I work for an affiliate of the Campus Kitchens Project and that’s exactly what we do- we receive donations from the local Wal-Mart (everything for at date meat to torn non-perishables, to cartons of eggs with some of them cracked), Kroger (bread), and prepared food from the local colleges’ dining halls. We are able to serve over 600 meals in the community each week AND give hundreds of pounds of extras to the local food pantries for distribution. It’s so great that people are being fed but also that 60,000+ pounds of food per year aren’t going to the landfill!

  • Mary Bond says:

    I tried ‘gleaning’ as I watched the produce man take perfectly good food off the shelves to dispose of it. I asked him if I could take it and make good use of it, but he said the store used to do that, but then the takers would come back and say it spoiled on them and get their “money back”.

  • Kelly Welch says:

    There has been a coop in the Portland area for a long time called “Gleaners” and for $30.00 a month they would allow accepted patrons (you had to apply to get in on this, it was for folks struggling to make ends meet, not just low income) You would get a time to come in and shop, and each shelf would have instructions, such as “You may have 2 items off this shelf, you may have 1 item from this cooler”. My friends who needed the help LOVED it, however, because all sorts of companies donated stuff. Imagine coming home with a pair of Danner hunting boots!

  • MaryEllen says:

    Here in my area, they don’t give or sell the products to consumers. They send them to what they call “reclamation centers” where people can go purchase the items for a fraction of the cost. From what I understand, the items can only be purchased in bulk, so it’s only worth it for re-sellers. We actually have several stores that resell (grocery salvage stores they call them). Examples of what I find at the grocery salve stores: Cereal – $1/box; canned vegetables – $.35/can; Diapers – $4 – $5/pack; Juice – $1/bottle. You never know what you’ll find there, so it’s best to stop in often. As some people mentioned, be careful that the dents aren’t very deep or too close to the top or bottom of the can. Check dates, too. Most food products can be eaten up to 60 days past the expiration date, but sometimes the flavor or texture is compromised. I’m always too nervous to give outdated products to my kids at all, but I don’t have a problem eating them myself if they’re only a little bit outdated. Know your target price, because a lot of items don’t really end up being a good deal when you consider what you could pay for them with a sale and a coupon at a regular grocery store.
    Anyway, all that to say, if you can’t glean from the grocery stores yourself, you might be interested to check for grocery salvage stores in your area.

  • Kate B says:

    I live in a tiny town. Our local grocery store and pharmacy (both are large chain stores) donate all of their day old bread, about to expire food/produce/HaB, and meats to our tiny food shelf. So nothing goes to waste. Although, sometimes, there are some strange items at the food shelf.
    Personally, I think it is a good thing, and would have a hard time “gleaning” because I was too cheap to buy my own groceries if I am able to.

  • Amber L. says:

    Interesting. I used to work at a catering company and we were not allowed to donate the food if it sat out on ice or in heat wells after 3 hours. So the chef would throw it away. I remember coming home from a shift with a box filled to the top with food in plastic containers. The food was still perfectly good, but due to a law we could not donate it. I would freeze anything we couldn’t eat in 2 days time. It was a huge help to my family at that time in our lives. My cousin works for a warehouse and anytime a pallet of items is damaged they MUST throw the whole pallet away. She asked her manager and he said as long as the pallet was damaged she was allowed to “save” anything off it she wanted. Sometimes the bottom row of items would be cut but the top boxes unharmed. She gives family members packs of toliet paper, laundry soap, dish soap, paper towels all the time, they would have been sitting in a landfill. Such a shame!

  • My sister-in-law has been doing this for a year now, and she has been sharing with us when she gets enought. She gleans from many different places.

    Both she and I truly do glean, by picking fruit at homes where people are not going to use it (we ask first, and we ask around. If we see a house with tons of food on fruit trees that isn’t being used, we’ll knock–and we have been offered to have some or even all of the fruit many times. People are glad that it is not going to waste. Often we have been told that others will be coming, too, or that they have already come. I gleaned hundreds of pomegranates last year this way).

    She also does the kind of “gleaning” that is mentioned in this article. She pickes up from many different places and donates to those in need. At first, it was day-old breads and pastries (and more cakes than you can imagine!). For a while, she started to get dairy that was about to expire; that helped her a lot as her own family was out of work. She could sometimes share eggs with us (like when some of the eggs in the carton were broken, but the others were good).

    On other days of the weeks, other people would pick up as well for their organizations.

    However, right around the time of the egg recall, someone who picked up on one of the other days complained about the eggs–and ALL of the stores throughout the nation of that chain STOPPED giving out dairy to these groups because of one complaint. My sister-in-law still picks up bread there, but she walks by the dairy cart each time and sees the dairy and eggs that are no longer available to her (and are now just thrown out) because of ONE person’s complaint.

    It is because of complaints that the laws get made that sometimes make it extremely difficult to glean in this way (and make it difficult for stores to donate to those in need).

    I have another sister-in-law who works at an elementary school. The needy children who attend there get used clothing at garage sales and thrift stores, but underwear and socks are harder to come by. For a while, Walmart was donating opened packages (which they could no longer sell) that had been returned or were just opened at the store (missing one pair of underwear or one pair of socks) to these families.

    ONE person wasn’t happy with what was free–and sued. Since then, the families in need has gone without, because someone wasn’t happy about getting it for free. Walmart had to discontinue their donations.

    So, if you get involved in gleaning, please, please, PLEASE do NOT bite the hand that feeds you! It hurts many families who truly needed that food. Understand that there are risks involved with taking food that is past its prime. Sometimes some of the milk will be bad, and you’ll have to throw it out. Sometimes some of the fruit is moldy. Use what is good and toss the rest (or compost it, or share it with someone who has pigs and chickens, because they can use it!).

    A lot of getting involved means asking questions to those you know who are in positions to share their excess. Many companies have policies in place. Many restaurants, bread stores, etc. already have gleaning programs. You can ask farmers at the end of a season if you can pick the green tomatoes and what is left in their fields (this is truly gleaning, and my sister-in-law did this, too, coming back with a truck full of green tomatoes, perfect for frying and pickling, and watermelons and cantelopes for several families).

    Know that it takes TIME. It can take a LOT of time, and there is the cost of gas as well, which is part of the consideration when you are truly struggling. You have to commit to be there every week. Sometimes there might only be a little, and sometimes there is a whole lot.

    If you know how to can, gleaning fruit can have great benefits. I canned quite a bit of pomegranate jelly from all of those pomegranates. You can can ripe bananas, which I have done from gleaned bananas (yes, you can freeze them, but when you have more than a freezer’s full of bananas, canning is even better, and keeps them for longer!) I was able to glean tomatoes last year that were quite overripe–and I canned 73 quarts of them! I also recently canned tangerine jelly and grapefruit from gleaned fruit. Because the fruit is past it’s prime, you need to be prepared to not only go get it that day, but to drop everything and can it THAT DAY (or freeze it, depending on what it is).

    If you get involved, know that it is done quietly, for the reasons I mentioned above, and keep in mind those who are truly in need for what comes.

    • I do this as well! I pick plums, apples, and other fruit from people’s yards so the deer and bears don’t come to eat it. I also take garden produce that is extra as well. It is a great way to be able to share with others. It is alot of work, but can save you tons of money on things. I live in the NW of MT, so it is cold here and yet, we have this too.

  • bonnie says:

    I know of a business man in the Greenville, SC area that does this. He collects the food and gives it to local churches to distribute for free. One of the churches is in a very poor area of town and it has been a great blessing to the neighborhood and the church people.

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