You May Want To Reconsider Buying Your Snacks At The Dollar Store

Whether you are in a pinch for last-minute party decorations or in need of a cheap snack for the road, dollar stores have you covered. Plus, there are so many of them — Dollar Tree, 99 Cents Only Stores, Family Dollar, and Dollar General. While most of their products are cheap — figuratively and literally — they get the job done. However, when it comes to purchasing food, drinks, or products with expiration dates, you may want to think twice before heading to the checkout line.

Things like plastic or silicone cookware may not be the most durable, but odds are you are not shopping at the dollar store for top-of-the-line products. Items like pens, paper towels, plastic plates, and beauty tools don't go bad so whether they have been sitting on the shelf for five days or five weeks, it doesn't really matter. Food, on the other hand, now that's a different narrative.

Dollar store snacks may have more chemicals and additives than grocery stores

Have you ever wondered how dollar stores are able to sell their products for so cheap? Oftentimes, to help keep costs low, they don't sell brand-name products. Manufacturers that aren't paid the big bucks purportedly can't afford high-quality ingredients, which might mean the generic products you're buying could possibly have unhealthy or chemically enhanced ingredients, according to Cheapism.

So what foods are safe to buy? Obviously, any brand-name products like Cheez-It, Doritos, or SkinnyPop are okay, just check for an expiration date and for any openings on the bag. For refrigerated snacks, it might be best to only stick to brand-name soft drinks and under no circumstances ever buy dairy products. YouTuber Sensational Finds noted that her bag of "cheese" was not even cheese but labeled — by the brand itself — as "sandwich slices." The first ingredients listed on the Sunny Acres sandwich slices label include water, food starch, and partially hydrogenated sunflower oil, per Open Food Facts. Another YouTuber, CassieTV, tried shredded cheese from Dollar Tree, and it didn't melt after being in the oven. Sketchy!

You could be purchasing expired foods

Secondly, as customers, we don't know how often employees are checking the expiration dates on food items (via Kiplinger). Because everything or almost everything in the store is only a dollar, checking for stale food may not be a top priority. It's up to the patron to make sure the food and drinks they're placing into their shopping cart are not spoiled. Which means you may need to dig deep, all the way to the back to find a bag or box without an outdated expiration date.

Though. to be fair, the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service recognizes "best if used by" dates as suggested "best flavor or quality" dates. Simply put, you can purchase and/or consume the product after the stamped date, but it won't be at its peak freshness. The same can be said for a label that reads "use-by." The only exception is infant formula. Per the USDA, be on the lookout for an off odor, flavor, or texture. If any of these arise, the food is spoiled. It's best to air on the side of caution, and when in doubt, don't take expired foods off the shelf.

Dollar stores may not be as cost effective as bulk grocery stores

It's also worth mentioning that in the long run, shopping at bulk grocery stores like Smart & Final or Costco could be more cost-effective. For example, purchasing a variety box of three dozen chips could cost less at Costco versus having to buy them individually at a dollar store. The same thing goes for household products like paper towels, toilet paper, disposable cutlery, and the like. These items don't go bad. so if you're able to buy them in bulk at a cheaper collective price elsewhere, it makes sense to do so. Plus, you have to factor in time and gas. To give you a better picture, compared the prices of seven food and home items at Dollar Tree to those at Aldi. Spoiler alert: Aldi had the lower price after factoring price per ounce, which is important for families with more mouths to feed. Or, if you're having a party. 

It's much more appealing and convenient to do one big shopping trip than weekly trips for your everyday products (even with dish soap, detergent, etc.). Dollar stores have their perks, there's no argument there. But, these pointers are something to think about the next time you go to grab a box of frosted cookies or a frozen mac and cheese. A good rule of thumb: if something seems off or like it's been sitting there for a while, leave it be.