How to shop for groceries at the dollar store

99-cent Only Stores has always focused on providing its customers with fresh produce, deli, and other basic grocery items. Lately more independent dollar stores are adding food and medicinal items to their inventory in an attempt to draw cash-strapped shoppers into their stores. That's a good thing but, with this added value, come a few cautions.

Misspellings on labels may simply be mistakes, which could be part of the reason a product comes to a dollar store, but food and medications with unfamiliar labels slapped onto familiar products or weird spellings on labels, should be viewed with suspicion.

Some independent retailers have been known to remove expiration dates from packages by cutting boxes or blacking out information. I've never heard of a major dollar store chain resorting to these unethical practices, but you need to be aware that it does happen.

Check expiry dates on everything to do with food and medications. We sometimes do it at a regular grocery stores but we need to be extra vigilant when shopping at dollar stores, especially independent ones. When I shop at a large grocery store, I confess that I don't usually check expiry dates. I trust the store not to stock out-of-date food, even though I have had one or two instances when something was out-of-date and had to be exchanged. Mistakes happen.

On the other hand, I generally look for expiry dates on food items at my local dollar store, even though, in the over five years I've been shopping there, I have never encountered any out-dated food products on its shelves. I guess it's a matter of how we perceive things. We trust a major grocery store but mistrust the dollar store because prices are so much lower.

The next time you are in a dollar store that sells frozen foods, watch to see how it is handled. Frozen food will last well past the expiration date, but if it is not put into freezers or refrigerators by the store's staff as soon as possible, it may develop bacteria. That's why it's important that frozen food is always put away by a designated stocker. The amount of time it takes for a store to put away refrigerated or frozen food may have a substantial impact on its quality and, consequently, your health.

Marlene Alexander is a freelance writer and dollar store diva. She writes tips and ideas for home decorating using only items from the dollar store.

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