Ah, Dumpster Diving, probably about as budget as you can get when it comes to obtaining food, but damn you can get some good stuff! Dumpster Diving is relatively simple, with a key few points/skills that are important to know so you:
A). Avoid getting in trouble with the law
B). Avoid getting food poisoning
In the US alone, a staggering 40% of food is thrown away. Anyone who’s worked in a fresh produce department will also know that a huge amount of food is thrown out. It’s not all bad stuff (e.g. a bag of 10 apples with one bad apple!), often much of the food is still salvageable.
When dumpster diving, take care firstly to learn the local laws. At the time of writing this, as far as which countries prohibit dumpster diving, it is only illicit in the UK for a nation as a whole. Other countries, such as Canada and the USA have differing laws depending on the province or state you’re in. Regardless, if a cop saw you doing it, you’d most likely just get a telling off rather than a fine or arrest. Be smart about it though. Don’t dumpster dive in an area where you think you’ll easily get caught and, if you do get caught, don’t outstay your welcome.
Now that you’ve checked out the legalities, you know it can be an effective way of getting free food, and now you’re ready to take the plunge (so to speak); so what next? Pay attention to when rubbish is thrown out. Often bread is thrown out at a certain time of day or the bins are emptied on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week, for example. Knowing these times will result in you getting fresher food and avoiding opening an empty bin. You could even just go into a grocery store and ask a worker, it’s that easy.
Target breads, produce, and long life grocery items. Meat and Dairy should be avoided unless you know it was thrown away within half an hour of you retrieving it unless you’re living in a very cold climate. Even then it’s a bit risky and it’s probably only worthwhile procuring red meats, which naturally keep better than fish or poultry. Breads and produce are often in bags and thus are not going to be touched by other contaminated items in the bin. The more hard core dumpster divers may just take items that have are up against rotten material and give it a good wash when they get home.
Note: Some businesses will also pour bleach into the bin to deter dumpster divers. Just like with any chemical, be cautious. If you can smell bleach, save the time and hassle and look elsewhere. Alternately, like in Montreal for example, where dumpster diving is frowned upon, some businesses will ‘assist’ dumpster divers by leaving a bag full of unsellable (but still perfectly ok produce) beside the dumpsters for convenient collection. So, keep an eye out for such bags also.
When it comes to the actual retrieval of goods process, it’s beneficial to wear gloves and a long sleeved shirt. Doing this means you’ll avoid any potential nicks or cuts against rusty edges of metal bins. Also it prevents dirty material getting into cuts that you may already have. Bring a milk crate or small box to stand on so you can lean well over the bin (especially if you’re short!). Alternatively bring reef shoes or similar and wear long pants and you can jump into the bin and pass out good stuff to a dumpster diving buddy. These tips depend obviously on the size of the bin 😉
Lastly try to make sure you aren’t too obvious about your diving. Have a few different supermarkets and bakeries you go too so you’re not always at the same one, and don’t dive when there are lots of people around! And have a good shower when you get home if you’re ever getting into a big bin!