It's the ultimate in bargain hunting -- salvaging food and other items that businesses toss every day, much of it in excellent condition. See if you have what it takes to dumpster dive.
Step 1: Check local laws Check with your local authorities to see if dumpster diving is legal in your area; laws vary from county to county. In many places it's legal as long as you're not trespassing.
Step 2: Have the right gear Have the right gear: heavy-duty rubber gloves, a headlamp, a broom handle with a nail in it to hook bags, a stepladder or stool, duct tape to seal damaged bags, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, a basic first-aid kit in case you hurt yourself, and heavy-duty trash bags to cart off your haul.
Step 3: Wear coveralls Wear a pair of coveralls over your clothes; when you're done for the night, strip them off, stuff them in a bag, and take them home for washing. Set aside an old pair of shoes for your dumpster dives.
TIP: It helps to have a partner to hold heavy lids open and stand outside the dumpster if you decide to climb in.
Step 4: Time your dives Time your dumpster dives; the best time to hit food stores and restaurants is right after closing time, when they've thrown out what they don't think they'll be able to sell the next day.
Step 5: Understand expiration dates Understand food expiration labels. "Sell by" items remain good for several days past that date. "Use by" indicates the date the item will begin to lose freshness; normally, food remains safe to eat a few days past then; it just might not taste as good. Of course, if it looks or smells bad don't eat it -- especially when it comes to meat and fish.
TIP: Canned foods stay good for years as long as the seal hasn't been broken.
Step 6: Follow etiquette Follow the two rules of dumpster diving etiquette: Don't take more than you can use, unless you plan to share your bounty; and leave the area tidier than you found it.
FACT: In 2010, dumpster-diving college students found a speaking-engagement contract for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and leaked it to a state senator, who forwarded it to the press.