Freegan Food Safety and Legality

Is dumpster diving legal?
Technically, yes [in the United States] dumpster diving is legal, for when a person throws something out they are showing that they no longer have a use for it personally, so that item is now public domain, according to a 1988 Supreme Court Ruling (California vs. Greenwood). However, if a dumpster is … inside a fenced enclosure that says No Trespassing, you can be arrested or ticketed by the police.

Is freegan food safe to eat?
‚ÄúI guess you could hurt yourself falling headfirst into an empty Dumpster. Strange as it sounds, most food that’s thrown out by stores is still safe to eat if you clean it and cook it appropriately.‚Äù
-Dr. Ruth Kava, American Council on Science and Health, asked if getting food from dumpsters is dangerous (as quoted in the NY Daily News, 2/13/06)

There’s no reason to assume that simply because a store has discarded food that it is unsafe to eat. Many stores bag all discarded items and don’t commingle food and nonfood items, so contamination from non-food sources may not be a concern. A bag filled with bread or fruit may be no more dangerous than the loaf of bread on our countertop or the fruit bowl at the center of our table. In cold temperatures, items bagged outside a store may be no worse off than those on its shelves. Meat, daily, fish, and eggs carry serious risks whether purchased in a store or recovered outside of it. These items require special care in all weather and should be properly handled and cooked thoroughly. In truth, a vegan harvesting plant-based items that have been discarded by stores is probably safer than a shopper who buys animal products, though a freegan who harvests meat items in cold weather and handles and cooks them appropriately may be no worse off than a meat buyer.

Dented Cans
It‚Äôs okay to eat the food from dented cans…as long as the dent isn‚Äôt sharp enough to have pierced the can or isn‚Äôt on the seams that run down the side or around the top and bottom. But if the contents of a can (dented or not) spray when the lid seal is broken by the can opener, the food may harbor Clostridium botulinum‚Äîa bacterium that secretes the neurotoxin that causes botulism, a frequently fatal disease. Wipe up the sprayed contents immediately with a paper towel. Note any code or batch number that‚Äôs on the can before (carefully) throwing it in the trash. Use a disinfectant cleaner on the counter top and use a paper towel to wipe it up. Then report the incident to the manufacturer and to your local Health Department.
Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest,

Sell-By Dates
Product dating is not required by federal regulations and varies by state to state. “Sell by” or “use by” dates are NOT safety dates. They tend to denote either how long a product can remain on store shelves or when they are recommended to be eaten for best flavor or quality. Properly stored, unopened packaged foods can typically be eaten safely for days after these dates have passed.
Source: Freegan Food Safety Tips by Dr. Michael Greger, MD,