How-to: Storing food in buckets

One of the top category of questions I get via email has to do with storing food.  For the beginner, storing food in buckets sounds bizarre and mysterious.  Here are a few tips to de-mystify this process along with a video that provides a nice explanation as well.

1.  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.  Buckets should be made from food safe plastic.

2.  A mylar bag can be used as a liner in any bucket and provides a double layer of protection for the food.

3.  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.

4.  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.

5.  Ask for free buckets at grocery store bakeries.

image by karpacious

6.  Buy oxygen absorbers online.  You’ve seen these absorbers before in packets of dry soup mixes and similar foods.  They literally absorb the oxygen inside a container. (The process of oxidation ruins food.)  Use these general guidelines for deciding how many absorbers to use.

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

The amount of absorbers needed depends on the size of container but also the amount of head room you leave at the top of the container and the size of the food.  Tiny pieces of food, rice, for example, will have much less oxygen in between rice grains than will lima beans or larger foods, but these guidelines are good for most foods.

7.  If you’ll be sealing a lot of mylar bags, check with Ready Made Resources about their hot-jaw sealer loaning program.

8.  Store buckets a few inches off the ground and don’t stack them more than 3 buckets high.

9.  What to store in the buckets?  Just about anything, including toiletries (these won’t need to be sealed in mylar).  Typically, people store dry goods, such as beans, cornmeal, wheat, and rice, in buckets.

10. 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.  These lids allow for easy access to food you’re using and yet provide an air-tight seal when closed and can be used for years.

This video walks you through the process of sealing buckets with mylar bag inserts.




There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. rainy says

    When I started asking stores and bakeries for buckets they were plentyful, not so much anymore. I started buying white food grade buckets and lids at the Home Depot. We use mylar bags with 02 absorbers inside. 10 gallon buckets really saved our bacon when one single mouse got into our food pantry, the sruff he got was newly purchased items I had not gotten into the buckets. Will never make that mistake again and we now have Decon on the floor of the pantry room.

  2. says

    That's spot-on info. And you're absolutely right about using an iron to seal bags; I've had the same problem and found that you cannot pack as much food inside mylar bags when using a iron because you need extra space for sealing the bag closed to combat this very problem.

  3. Anthony says

    -When I seal my bags with a iron, I use a metal masons level that has multi-metal ridges on one side. This creates multiple seals, and insures that the bag is truly sealed.

    -If there is a very small amount of air left in your sealed bag by the next day, don't worry. Most air is composed of nitrogen (about 78%), oxygen (about 21%), and argon (about 1%). The oxygen absorbers, absorb only oxygen. The air leftover is likely nitrogen and is nothing to be worried about.

    • feather jacobs says

      I do the mylar bags exactly the same with a metal leval & a hot iorn & vaccume most of the air out with a small vaccume b4 sealing! We do a double seal as well , just to be absolutely sure its well closed & going to stay that way. We also pack some in smaller bags, (seal a meal type vaccume sealed )of 5# each or less depending on the how much of the item is used each time you cook.
      (Think no refergeration & how fast would it spoil or become contaminated with bugs or critters) You could easily loose those expensive 5 gal buckets of food, once opened>

  4. MaryB in GA says

    Thanks, good info, brings me to a question though, I have some food stored in mylar bags (with absorbers) in Home Depot buckets too. The question, I've heard yes and no about; whether Home Depot buckets are food grade. This video indicates they are. I started out using them but switched away from them after reading one of the articles that says they aren't food grade. Any additional information would be appreciated.

    • Anthony says

      Mary, home depot buckets are not food grade buckets (meaning you can't put food directly in them for storage). That being said, as long as the food is inside a mylar bag within your home depot bucket you are ok.

      • MaryB in GA says

        Thanks Anthony, the food in mine is sealed in mylar bags, I have worried about it, but have so many of them I guess I'll just leave it as it is. Again, thanks!!

    • MaryB in GA says

      Hi Lindsey, there are so many great companies out there, that offer many products and have great customer service, etc., but to me, Honeyville Grains always wins out. It doesn't matter if you order a lot or a little, total shipping on your order is always $4.49 and they email you specials about every other month. While they don't have everything, they do have MOST everything!

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      I don't know where you live, but for some bulk items, you could check out stores that have buckets of things like millet, rice, oats, etc. that you scoop out. I bought a lot of macaroni from Thrive when it was on sale, but even then, it was only a little less money than the macaroni in the bulk bins at Sprout's, a chain of natural grocery stores. You might also call an LDS church and see if they can suggest where you might buy wheat, beans, or whatever, since a lot of their members do food storage.

    • Anthony says

      I buy my food in bulk from a local co-op store. I get 5% off for buying in bulk then a additional 10% off for being a member. Membership only cost me a 30 dollars a year.

      The LDS church has food storage down to a art. LDS churches in most major cities have a have their own food store called a Bishops Warehouse. This is where most of their members buy there food in bulk, they even have sealed #10 cans of most of your basic foods, such as wheat and rice . The Warehouses also conduct classes that teach you how to pack your food away for long term use. The great part is non-LDS members can shop at these stores too, and most items you buy are almost at cost (big savings!). Just do a search online to find if one is near you.

  5. MaryB in GA says

    Lisa, Anthony,
    You two are right, the LDS canneries are the least expensive. The closest one to me is an hour away and until recently had stopped selling outside of their membership., They have just started back and I'm going in a few weeks. It is typically about 1/3 of Honeyville prices. Still, Honeyville is a deal compared to other retail outlets. I really like Aldi too!

  6. Moi says

    If you need food grade buckets, go to the fast food establishments and ask them for their pickle buckets. You can usually get them for free.

    • Debbie says

      if I could ask, how do you get the pickle smell out? I just bought two from a deli shop (they donate the proceeds to the local firefighters so I don't mind the small purchase amount).

      • TheSurvivalMom says

        I\’ve heard it\’s nearly impossible to get the smell out. You might try setting them out in the sun, putting some wadded up newspaper in them or maybe some baking soda to absorb the smell. If that doesn\’t work, use them for non-food items.

        • Grannytraveler says

          The sun has worked the best for me including pickle jar lids. You just have to be patient. Also if you are putting the food into mylar bags before putting into the buckets it should help if there is still a faint odor. Just my opinion. Plus I really like pickles!!! LOL

  7. Don says

    I ordered buckets and lids from Gamma Seal. A little pricey but easy to reseal. I am not using a Mylar bag inside. If you want to take a portion out it is a hassle with the bag. Unsealing, sealing ect. Think I am making a mistake not using the Mylar?

  8. Sierra Dave says

    I have some buckets and am planning on getting dry ice, I have read about a cubic inch of dry ice, on the bottom, with dissolve and force all Oxygen out. Don't completely seal the bucket, leave the lid partially opened to let the lighter, unwanted elements out. I have 300 pounds of rice to put away.

    Sierra Dave

  9. stetsongirl says

    I have been wanting to start preparing for awhile now and finally managed to convince my husband, even though he says "I'm crazy" but, I have a quick question, I"ve got the food grade bucket, 20 lbs of flour and i'm stumped…is it possible to use the dry ice method with flour, like put it on the top of the flour in a coffee filter or something? I"d like to get the oxygen absorbers but, with my husband not to keen on this food storage I need to find another way…

    Any hints would help!

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      Don\’t use dry ice with powdery foods. First, place your flour in moisture proof containers and place them in the freezer for 7 days. That will kill any microscopic insect eggs. Flour has a shelf life of only a year or so. Oxygen absorbers and storing it in a cool, dry place can help extend it, but not by much. Next time, buy wheat, which has a shelf life of 20-30 years and find a wheat grinder on ebay or in a second hand store, like Goodwill.

  10. Crystal says

    I have done the same thing as Don and have the same question: I am storing food in the Gamma buckets without a mylar bag. Is this a problem? I have researched online but have not find any comments saying that it is safe to use a gamma bucket without ua mylar bag.

  11. libbylindy says

    You might want to check your local WalMart store. In eastern Washington and central Oregon, they are selling Aguasson Farms #10 cans of dried and canned emergency food. The prices are great compared to shopping on line and it will also encourage them to continue to bring it to other parts of the country. So far, no luck in Texas.

  12. Steve Whit says

    I saw or read that other people used dry ice to remove the oxygen, If you were worried about the oxygen absorber wearing out you could have a bucket with dry ice in the bottom and the oxygen absorbers in a colander above mas the dry ice melts (not sure if that is what dry ice does), but anyway the dry ice give off CO carbon dioxide which deplaces the lighter oxygen. So what you are doing is creating a bucket of carbon dioxide.

  13. Jill Perry says

    We've found that a flat iron (hair straightener) works great for sealing mylar bags. Much easier than a regular iron.

  14. david says

    take lowes bucket with sealable lid, drill hole in the side near the top insert a valve stem (like you use in a wheel)hook up a vacum pump to a set of air conditioner manifold guages and run hose from valve stem to guages and pull a vacum on it for about 10 to 15 min. when finished close the valve on the guage leave everything hooked up for 10min if needle on guage stays in vacum you have no leaks and all air has been removed.

  15. L says

    I can afford food grade buckets, but not mylar bags–can I still use the buckets? will pasta, grains, and wheat berries still have a very long shelf life?

    • says

      Yes, you can use the buckets on their own. Just make sure you include either oxygen absorbers or the dry ice method to eliminate oxygen. Also, put those dry goods in air-tight containers and then into the freezer for at least a week to kill any insect eggs that might be present. Pasta doesn’t have the same long shelf-life as grains but is still a good item to have stored.

  16. SueAnn says

    I’ve been stockpiling Idahoan potatoes and such, and wonder how to best store them. If you take them out of the boxes, you could put the potatoes in the mylar bag, but what about the packets of sauce mix? I’m confused…help!

  17. snb says

    Another way to get smells out of buckets is cat litter. Use the kind for multiple cat households put a pan in the bottom and add cat litter. You can leave it open or put a lid on it.

  18. Vic says

    I’m not sure if someone else has asked this but I would like to be using this food from time to time. Being in the south I know I would use the red kidney beans and rice almost weekly. (I’ve made attempts to get prepared before and it always stalls out with the end of hurricane season but with the threat of hurricane Isaac this year I’m back at it.) Anyway my mother will only support it if we can benefit from it sooner rather than 10 years from now. My question, finally, is if I would be using it so much the mylar bags would just get in the way right? I’m not even sure if you can open and close them again in the same place. So the Gamma Seal lids and an oxygen absorber in the 5 gal bucket would be best? But then that means not the home depot questionable food grade buckets right? So many questions but I would hate to go to all the trouble and lose five gallons of food at a time! Thanks.

    • says

      I think the best solution for you is to package a percentage of your food for long term storage and the rest of it for short-term use, say within a year or so. Use smaller containers and forget about the oxy absorbers for the food you’ll be consuming. Use mylar bags/buckets for the stuff you want to set aside and then, as you can, add to the long-term stash as you’re able to.

      Regarding your question about resealing mylar bags, yes, they can be resealed. Just make sure to use fresh oxy absorbers each time and to inspect the sealed opening to make sure it’s well and truly sealed.

  19. martha says

    Why would anyone put this much food away for long term storage (over a year)? For what are we preparing? I live in a city, is that why I’m confused?

    • Kathryn says

      Prepare for job loss or economic meltdown. A year is daunting but start buying 1 extra day’s worth of food each week. Your favorite canned items or boxed items. Store though so pests won’t get into them.

  20. gale says

    The way I always did it was long term storage on all my buckets and then we just had one of each type with an accessible lid. So the Gamma lids, while wonderful, are really only needed on the one bucket of wheat, beans rice etc that you are currently using. Everything else could just have a sealed lid that opens with a lid lifter – then when you use up the “open” bucket, move the Gamma lid to another stored bucket of wheat and replace the regular lid. You can even color code them – different colors for wheat, rice, beans etc.
    I used to buy lids with a place to punch an opening under a screw on lid that exactly fit a regular canning jar lid. So we only punched the hole in a few, and then moved them around as we opened new buckets. Gamma lids would be treated the same way. Just a way to make life easier and still save some money.

  21. gale says

    During an employment crunch once we spent ZERO dollars on food for the entire month. Used my beans, rice and wheat, the garden started coming in (glad the job loss wasn’t in the dead of winter) and we got invited out a couple of times to eat at other homes (by folks who didn’t even know we were broke). The children (four of them 3 – 12 years old) didn’t gripe because they didn’t go hungry and I even made dessert a few times – I’m not even sure they noticed.
    By forgoing all grocery expenditures, we were able to keep the power on, although we did have to give up the phone, which was really hard as we lived far away from family and 30 minutes from town, but sometimes life IS hard. For a few months on either side of the zero month I bought a few 10# bags of potatoes and a few veggies, but I am really aware of the zero month because it was such a blessing to have survived with what we had in the house.
    That’s been over 20 years ago, but I would imagine other families are facing the same thing today. I’ll never give up on putting away food, because I’ve experienced how important it is. (My mother calls it squirreling away – every time I can peaches.) And did I have everything I wished for?r – absolutely not – I just got really creative with what I did have.

  22. Brenda says

    If you have a Fire House Subs by you, they sell their 5 gallon buckets for $2 a piece and the proceeds go to a fund to help firefighters, police and EMS.

  23. Carol Bennett says

    I purchase my food grade buckets from a local bakery. They cost me about $1.50 with lid and depending on what is available they are either 2.5 gallon or 5 gallon buckets. I prefer the 2.5 gallon ones as a 50 pound bag of product will go into two buckets easily and I can carry them easier.

  24. Victoria says

    About a year and a half ago I filled ten bags in ten buckets with a few different things. Pasta, rice, beans, sugar, oats, and dog food. I have heard mixed reviews on that subject because of how oily it is.
    Today we ran out of dog food and I have been wanting to use the food before it goes bad (if it goes bad). It is important to know that since making these bags we have changed dog foods and I always HATED the smell of this brand. Wet cat food and canned chicken doesn’t offend me as much as this popular dry dog food. Don’t ask me why. I can’t tell if this smell is different than it used to be (because its been a while since we have purchased this brand) but the dogs didn’t seem to mind it.

    BUT I couldn’t open the mylar bag. I tried to peel it apart and eventually I started ripping holes in it so I just went ahead and cut it below the sealed line. So now I have a mini mylar bag. (after ten minutes of trying to open the bag and making the little holes bigger and bigger I just attacked it with scissors) So I have heard that there bags are reusable which is great. But
    HOW OH HOW DO YOU OPEN THEM?! Did I put too much heat on it while sealing or something? Any ideas?

  25. Janet Johnson says

    Today, I talked to a company that sells oxygen absorbers and they told me that the oxygen absorbers activate the moment you open their package and expire within 6-10 minutes, meaning they’ve absorbed all the oxygen they are able to. Only if I was the Flash could I stand a chance of getting them all loaded into prepped mylar bags and sealed before they expired. Unless someone can prove differently, I’m seeing these as a huge waste of money and an exercise in futility.

  26. biscuitsbutter says

    Cheap coffee works the best to get the pickle smell out. I use between 1-2 cups per bucket with the lid on in the sun for a couple days. I tried reusing the coffee in the next batch of buckets and it wasn’t nearly as effective.

  27. mike says

    If you are lining up twenty bags in a row, then you are right. You will not get them sealed quickly enough. Only put O2 absorbers in a few bags at a time. For the remaining absorbers have a mason jar and lid handy. Preferably one just large enough to hold the remaining absorbers without much free space left over. They will absorb the remaining oxygen creating a vacuum in the jar and still be viable. Then seal up your bags and prepare a few more bags for sealing. Open the jar. Pull out what you need and close the lid immediately.They can be stored long term in this fashion. The next time you have a need for some, as long as the lid doesn’t click (there is still a vacuum) the oxygen absorbers are still good.

  28. Mary Arnott says

    Have found using FoodSaver canister for O2 absorbers, open it after every few jars/bags to retrieve more then seal it with FoodSaver. Helps to get 02 absorbers with indicator that changes color when saturated.

  29. Judy says

    I have a question. I dehydrate a lot of my own food. I have tried sealing and using mylar bags. My problem is that food that has been dried and has pointed edges ends up poking a hole in the bag no matter how careful I am. I am looking for something I can store the food in that will be airtight and that I can put in oxygen absorbers. I would like to find some that are only about 2 gals, instead of the larger 5-6 gal. size. Can you suggest something? Thanks.

  30. Quinessa says

    I have a quick question, I just filled my buckets with the mylar bag lining and added my O2 absorbers, then sealed the bags quickly with my mylar bag sealer. But 2 of my buckets are collapsing in a bit. Do I need to re-seal those buckets/mylar bags? Or will they still be fine for long term storage?

    • says

      Your buckets are collapsing? Does that mean they are falling apart? The sealed mylar bag is separate from the bucket, so it should be no problem to lift the mylar bag out of the bucket and place it in another one — or just store the mylar bag on its own. Make sure it’s labeled and dated!


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