Dollar stores are known for having good deals, and shopping at one can be quite handy — especially if it’s nearby where you live. However, while saving money plus convenience is most often a winning combination, that might not be the case with some dollar store purchases.
“A few years ago, some of the bigger stores including Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar were all fined for selling expired products,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews. “However, it’s a good practice to be wary of dollar stores in general and to always check the labels before purchasing.”
To avoid wasting your hard-earned money, here are seven items you should check the expiration dates on before making purchases at the dollar store.
Why Do Dollar Stores Often Have Expired Products on Their Shelves?
“The stores often have smaller staff who have to basically handle everything, which means checking for products that have passed their expiration date might not be at the top of the priority list,” Ramhold said.
“Additionally, if there’s little product turnover, that may mean items can hang out on shelves longer than at other retailers,” she said. “Keep in mind that ‘best if used by’ dates are not the same as expiry dates — these basically mean beyond that date the products likely won’t be of the same quality or freshness.
Which Products Are Notorious for Being Expired at Dollar Stores?
It can help to know in advance which products are often expired at dollar stores not only to protect your wallet but also to protect your health. Here’s a rundown of commonly expired products lurking on dollar store shelves, according to Ramhold.
“These can easily be expired, and using these could result in less effective treatment, if not other potentially harmful results,” Ramhold said.
“In addition to sketchy brands that you may have never heard of, the vitamins can also be expired, which means you aren’t getting any of the health benefits associated with them and may end up with health issues instead,” Ramhold said.
“Things like flour and sugar might seem like pantry staples that can hang around forever, but the truth is if they’re old enough, they could taste ‘off’ at best and may be infested with bugs at worst,” Ramhold said. “These items aren’t often purchased at dollar stores, so there’s a greater chance that the selection you find there will be expired or past its ‘best by’ date.”
“Beware of dented or bulging cans at dollar stores as these can be telltale signs of clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism poisoning,” Ramhold said. “No matter how cheap the canned food is, it’s not worth that.”
“Another thing that isn’t purchased often — batteries may be already drained when you purchase them,” Ramhold said. “And even if you can get a little use out of them, they may drain quickly, putting you back at square one, or could even leak and cause damage to your devices.”
“This is another item that is often not purchased at dollar stores and so it may be expired,” Ramhold said. “Purchasing these kinds of items will run the risk of providing you no protection, which could result in serious sunburns.”
“While expired toothpaste might not harm you,” Ramhold said, “there’s a good chance it’ll taste disgusting or be less effective when you use it, so if you care about your dental health, it’s best to watch out for this.”
What Can Consumers Do To Avoid Buying Expired Products?
“Check labeling for ‘best by’ and expiration dates,” Ramhold said. “If you see something that’s long past the date, don’t waste your money.” Here’s more of the consumer analyst’s advice.
Shop at Stores With More Turnover
“Big-box stores like Target and Walmart are likely to have more product turnover, which means shelves will get stocked faster overall,” Ramhold said. “This will significantly lower the chances of you accidentally purchasing something that’s expired, although it’s a good general practice to always check, no matter where you purchase.”
Shop at Warehouse Clubs
“Places like Costco and Sam’s Club will often have a better value on the product anyway, and as long as you’ll use the items before they [expire] in your own home, you won’t have to worry about expiration,” Ramhold said.
Can You Get Your Money Back If You Purchase an Expired Product?
“It’s doubtful,” Ramhold said. “In some states, it’s not even illegal to sell certain expired items, so you may run a bigger risk than in others. But in addition to that, if you do want to pursue recourse, you’ll likely have to go to a legal entity and not just the store itself. While you might be able to receive a refund for unknowingly purchasing an expired product, it’s not a guarantee, so you may have to raise the issue with the state’s attorney general in order to see any kind of action taken. And considering the level of commitment that could take, it might not be worth your time and money to pursue long-term.”
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