How to Store Food in Buckets for a Long Shelf Life

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One of the top categories of questions I get via email has to do with storing food. Many of those questions have to do with long-term storage. For the long-term, storing food in buckets is smart because the heavy-duty plastic helps to keep out pests, light, moisture, and oxygen, four of the five enemies of food.

Many bags of bulk food like millet and barley on shelves

Just about anything edible can be stored in buckets. Buying different types of food in bulk and then dividing into smaller quantities if desired is also cost-effective. Common items are dry goods, such as beans, cornmeal, wheat, and rice.

This updated article gives instructions for repackaging foods and how to do it so your stored food has the longest possible shelf-life.

For the beginner, storing food in buckets sounds bizarre and mysterious. Let’s demystify this process.

Tips To Store Food In Buckets

  1. Choose buckets made from food-safe plastic. You don’t want non-fo od-safe dyes, solvents, and chemicals touching your foods.
  2. Size matters. Consider smaller buckets for foods consumed more immediately. Five-gallon buckets are great for longer-term storage. However, gamma seal lids allow easy pantry access to the larger size. See #15 for more on these lids. Think about what makes sense for you. A filled, 5-gallon bucket can be extremely heavy to lift, so if you don’t have that kind of upper-body strength, look for smaller buckets.
  3. A mylar bag can be used as a liner in any bucket. This provides another layer of protection against food and light. These bags come in different sizes. Large sizes can become liners but you can also use smaller-sized bags, fill and seal them, and then have multiple small packages of food. I buy mylar bags and oxygen absorbers from this company.
  4. Even if you’re only using them with mylar bags right now, food-safe buckets are more versatile. They offer more food storage and processing options in the future.  Brining, carrying water, or collecting and storing fresh produce, for instance.
  5. The process of oxidation ruins food, so include oxygen absorbers in mylar bags. As their name indicates, they literally absorb the oxygen inside a container. The amount needed depends on the size of the container but also the headroom allowed and the size of the food. The following general guidelines for deciding how many oxygen absorbers to use are good for most foods.

                               100 cc oxygen absorber                    Large canning jar, 32 ounces

                               300 cc oxygen absorber                    #10 can

                               300 cc oxygen absorber                    one-gallon container

                               1500 cc oxygen absorber                  five-gallon bucket/container

  6. Immediately vacuum pack unused oxygen absorbers in canning jars because as long as they are exposed to air, they’ll absorb oxygen until they are no longer effective. Canning jars provide a tighter seal than regular jars. Or try to order packages of oxygen absorbers in quantities you can reasonably use in one round of sealing. Consider enlisting a helper.
  7. Label the outside of each bucket with the contents, either with a Sharpie, a printed label, or a china marker.  You don’t want to have to open each bucket and mylar bag in search of a certain food.
  8. If you use an iron to seal the mylar bags, check to make sure the seal is tight. The first time I sealed up dried milk in these bags, I was unpleasantly surprised to find white powder trailing along behind me as I carried them to the pantry. The cat loved it, though.
  9. Mylar bags can be resealed using new oxygen absorbers. Two advantages to sealing food in several smaller bags is that it helps with food rotation (using older food first and storing newer, fresher food for later) and the bags are smaller and lighter.
  10. Ask for free buckets and lids at grocery stores and bakeries. Purchasing from a reputable source is always an option also.
  11. To seal a lot of mylar bags, a hot-jaw sealer may be worth the initial investment. For a lower-cost option, try a hair straightener or an iron. Experiment to find the ideal temperature for sealing.
  12. Store buckets a few inches off the ground in a cool, dry location. Elevating them helps the whole container maintain the same temperature as the air in the room.
  13. In general, don’t stack buckets more than three high. Five gallons of food can be very heavy. If you want to go higher, consider reducing the stress on the buckets somehow to lessen the chance of failure. In earthquake-prone areas secure buckets to prevent toppling.
  14. Non-food items, such as toiletries, don’t need to be sealed in mylar bags. As  you stock up on other supplies, you’ll love your buckets even more! They’re a great way to store toiletries, paper goods, and even clothing.
  15. If you plan on using some of what you’ve stored in buckets, invest a few dollars in Gamma Seal Lids.  These have an outer ring that snaps on the top of an open bucket and then a smaller lid that is inserted within the ring and then twisted until closed. The lids allow for easy access to food stored in buckets and yet provide an air-tight seal when closed and can be used for years.
  16. Before closing up the buckets, add the empty packaging for the items inside. It answers any food prep questions when reopening the containers.
  17. Use a heat-resistant straight-edge as an ironing board to create a seal on mylar bags. The width of the tool becomes the width of the seal.
  18. A rubber mallet makes short work of securing the lids on the buckets.
  19. Conversely, store an opener with your buckets. If you store food in buckets, then you need a way to remove those lids when the time comes, right?

Watch a demonstration on how to store food in buckets

Do you use buckets for long-term food storage? What are your favorite how-to tips?

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I’m the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I’ve been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

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