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What Does Trader Joe’s Do With Returned Food? (Explained)

What Does Trader Joe's Do With Returned Food

Trader Joe’s is a well-known grocery store in America. It is a chain grocery store available in forty two states. Since it is so popular, it has to have a return policy, even for food. What does Trader Joe’s do with returned food?

Trader Joe’s has a very lenient return policy. The policy is risk-free, allowing you to bring back any item, including food. No matter if it’s open or unopened, you can return the food and get a full refund. Trader Joe’s does this to encourage you to buy foods outside your comfort zone. Most food returns will be thrown out if they do not meet reselling conditions.

The rest of this article will cover Trader Joe’s return policies, what happens to returned food at Trader Joe’s, Trader Joe’s returned food procedures, Trader Joe’s returned food donation program, Trader Joe’s food waste reduction efforts, and frequently asked questions.

Trader Joe’s Returned Food Policies

Trader Joe’s accepts returns of all their items, including food items whether they are opened or unopened. You do not need a receipt to return your food. However, it is recommended you have a receipt so they can see the total cost of your purchase.

If you have your receipt, you will receive exact reimbursement for your purchase. Without a receipt, you will get a lower amount. You will get the lowest advertised price. 

The reason why they don’t need a receipt is because each product is marked with a Trader Joe’s label. Thanks to these labels, employees know you got it from their store and aren’t trying to return items not from them. 

What Happens to Returned Food at Trader Joe’s

Opened food returns are required to be thrown out. Due to safety concerns, food must be disposed of after exposure to customers. Reselling returned food would cause massive issues and possible serious illnesses, leading to lawsuits.

Unopened food is more lenient, but perishable foods must be thrown out. Frozen foods must be thrown out because there is no way of knowing how long the frozen food was left out. That could lead to health issues, meaning the frozen foods need to be thrown out.

However, unopened cans and boxes can be resold or donated. Since these unopened items are intact and kept in good condition, they are fit for consumption. As long as the unopened items are in suitable condition, they can be resold or donated, but most likely donated.

Trader Joe’s Returned Food Handling Procedures

Trader Joe’s values food and customer safety above all else. They keep an archive of all their recalled products for the convenience of the customer.

They also have recycling resources available on their website for those who want to recycle their products rather than return them.

When they receive a returned food item, they first give the customer the refund. Then, they have to determine if the product is opened or unopened. All opened food is thrown out. Perishable unopened food is thrown out as well, such as frozen meals.

If an unopened food item passes the quality test, it can be donated or resold, but more commonly it will be donated. Due to liability issues, most returned food will be disposed of.

Trader Joe’s Returned Food Donation Program

Unsold food is common in grocery stores. Trader Joe’s is no different. All unsold food gets donated to local communities. If you are running a non-profit organization and need food and beverage donations, reach out to Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s has donation resources on their website where you can see all their donation options. You can go on their website and see if your organization fits the qualifications for their donation program.

Trader Joe’s has a Neighborhood Shares program. This program is a donation program that sends food and beverages to those who need it. This includes, but is not limited to, unsold foods, beverages, and utilities.

Trader Joe’s Food Waste Reduction Efforts

When having such a lenient return policy on food, there needs to be an effort to combat food waste. Without the effort, people would get more food than they need and or like, then they’d return it for a full refund either opened or unopened.

For starters, they encourage recycling to cut down on waste of all types. All their recycling resources are on their website. Not only are there resources, but they specify what recycling means depending on the label on the product.

Trader Joe’s encourages food recycling by educating customers about what different types of recycling there is, something that isn’t common knowledge. 

Another way they reduce food waste is by making sure no unsold food goes to waste. Instead of throwing out the food, they put it back into the community by donating it. The whole purpose of their Neighborhood Shares program is to cut down on food waste.

Frequently Asked Questions

Trader Joe’s handles countless food products daily. They have several practices to combat food waste and enforce their return policies. Here are a couple frequently asked questions about their practices.

What Does Trader Joe’s Do With Returns?

Since Trader Joe’s accepts returns of all kinds, they make preparations for reselling, donating, or disposing. For unopened goods that meet their requirements, they can be resold to the public. For damaged or perishable unopened goods, they will get thrown away.

What Does Trader Joe’s Do With Unsold Food?

All their unsold food goes to local food recovery organizations. For every time they have unsold food, they will donate it. They also donate to other local communities and non-profit organizations.

There are also several ways for non-profit organizations to come to Trader Joe’s for donations. These organizations can receive donations of all types, but there are limits on the food and beverage donations. Trader Joe’s can donate food and beverages once per year per organization.

Thanks to their Neighborhood Shares program, Trader Joe’s has donated $349 million dollars of food and beverages in 2020. That means they’ve provided approximately 63 million meals to their neighbors across the country.


Shane is a fitness enthusiast who also has a passion for trying and cooking new foods. His favorite stores to shop at include Trader Joe's, Wholefoods Market, Sprouts, Stater Brothers, and Target.

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