How-to: Storing food in buckets

Some of the links in this post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Image: white plastic buckets, 5 gallon buckets, food storage bucketsOne of the top categories of questions I get via email has to do with storing food.  For the beginner, storing food in buckets sounds bizarre and mysterious. This updated article gives instructions for repackaging foods and how to do it so your stored food has the longest possible shelf-life.

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. You’ll want to include an oxygen absorber in these mylar bags, and this package on Amazon includes both the bags and the absorbers.

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.

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 headroom 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, a hot-jaw sealer may be worth the initial investment.

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.

The following two tabs change content below.
I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

83 thoughts on “How-to: Storing food in buckets”

  1. 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. 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.

    1. If I am using food grade buckets and my bulk peas beans and pasta are in plastic bags from company do I need Mylar or just o2 absorbers

      1. Gail, if you are storing food in those buckets with an air-tight lid, there is no reason to also store the food in mylar bags. However, mylar is more resilient over time than those plastic bags. Oxygen deteriorates food, so adding a few oxygen absorbers would be a good idea. My best recommendation is to pour the dried foods into smaller mylar bags to make food rotation easier and then add a 300 cc oxy absorber to each bag. THEN, store those in the bucket. 🙂 For truly long-term storage, this is the best plan.

  3. -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.

    1. feather jacobs

      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. 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.
    Thanks!

    1. 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.

      1. 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!!

    1. 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!

    2. 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.

    1. 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. 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. 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.

    1. 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).

      1. 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.

        1. 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. 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. 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. 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!

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

  14. 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. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. Chuck Stubblebine

      Yes it will. I’ve been using this method for years. When I put my food in buckets without Mylar bags I sprinkle some de (diotomatious earth) it helps rid of any insects. Hope this helps GOD BLESS!

  16. 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. 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. 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.

    1. 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. 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?

    1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Pingback: Prepper Website hits 2 Million Views! |

  25. 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?

  26. 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.

    1. Chuck Stubblebine

      I order oxygen absorbers on ebay, when I get them in I open them and quickly put them in a small mason jar. When I get ready to fill my jars or Mylar bags, I’ll have bout 5-10 jars ready. I’ll ad oxygen absorbers & I’ll have my son come behind me and seal everything quickly. Never had a problem with sealing anything.

  27. 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.

    1. Another good way to get pickle smell out is wash with soap and water, sterilize with Clorox wipes and leave open for a couple of days

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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?

    1. 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!

  32. A number of comments have been made about freezing flour or other powdery items for seven days to kill insects. Barbary Salsbury in her book Preparedness Principles researched and tested the freezing of items to kill insects and their eggs. It only works if your freezer is actually at 0 degrees F. Otherwise, you have an insect infestation just waiting to happen.

  33. These are great way to store food for a long time, just be sure to place those buckets in a cool dry place so that it can be preserved for a longer time.

  34. This is extremely helpful thank you so much. Most of the posts n blogs I have read make buckets seem so complicated. Thank you again

  35. Just a tip from personal experience freezing your grains before sealing your buckets kills the weavels living in the grains; So you don’t end up with an unpleasant surprise when you open your buckets and If you have extra oxygen absorbers you can save them in a mason jar you just have to remember to work fast enough

  36. Pingback: How to Repackage Survival Foods | Survival Life

  37. Chuck Stubblebine

    I store rice, oats, beans ect. In buckets without Mylar bags. I use oxygen absorbers accordingly. My question is I put my knee in center of bucket and lift lid up on one side and it lets out a lot of air, is this normal? Should I do this or not? I’ve done this to my buckets over and over. It keeps doing it. Thanks!

    1. That would depend on whether or not the lid seal was compromised in any way when you opened the bucket. We’ve had buckets with such tightly fitted lids, that we could only open them with a couple of hand tools and ended up denting the lids. Gamma Seal lids are excellent for providing a very tight fit AND access to your food whenever you want.

  38. Pingback: 53 Frugal Uses for FREE Buckets - The Merrill Project

  39. Flour for example can I put it in zip lock bags then store in a 5 gallon bucket? With oxygen absorbers?

    1. No to the ziplocs. They aren’t airtight and will leak over time. Keep in mind that you need to protect food from oxygen, light, heat, humidity, and pests. Ziplocs protect against none of that. With flour you’d be better off storing it in smaller mylar bags, maybe the gallon size, small size buckets, and/or canning jars.

  40. if I use a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with one und or two pounds of different foods mark, can I open it the bucket that is and take what I need than reseal the lid, or does it hurt the food once open.? ok than if I put rice in a 5 gallon bucket and only need a single serving is the rice still good? or can I put cans of food in 5 gallon bucket with an absorber can I do that

    1. Every time you open the bucket and the food is exposed to the air, oxygen will get into the bucket, and can deteriorate the food over time. If you plan on using everything in the bucket within 6-8 months or so, no problem. But if you’re planning on storing it long-term and only accessing the food every now and then, you’ll need a different plan.

      Here are a couple of suggestions. Pour the food into smaller mylar bags, put an oxygen absorber in each bag, and then seal the bags with a hot iron. Your bucket will contain several of these pouches and when you open the bucket you won’t have to worry about anything.

      A second option is to just use smaller buckets. You can get them in 1-gallon size, and for a lot of people, that’s a better choice than the 5-gallon.

      You asked if you can put canned food in a bucket. Certainly, and since the food is inside sealed cans, you don’t have to worry about oxygen or anything else other than heat affecting the quality of the food.

  41. Can I store white flour and rice in a food grade bucket with no mylar bag? How long will it last? Also does all flour and rice have eggs in it? So if its stored long term will it always get bugs in it? If so how do I prevent this? I’m new to this. I live in Australia and we dont have all the stuff America has for prepping.

    1. Hi Latoya. Yes, you can store flour and rice in buckets without the mylar bags. The mylar adds another layer of protection against pests and light but isn’t necessary. Insect eggs are microscopic and are just a fact of life in the food processing plants. I’d recommend you take small amounts of the flour and rice — put it in large canning jars or something else that will keep out moisture — and then put them in the freezer for a week or so. This should be enough time to kill those microscopic eggs and avoid them from hatching. Past advice was to add bay leaves to these foods but there’s no evidence this does anything at all to deter insect eggs from hatching.

  42. Pingback: 5-Gallon Bucket Food Capacity. - Preparedness Advice

  43. Dorothy Schofield

    So I bought a 50 lb bag of rice, I put it in ziplock storage bags and put them in my freezer…(will it absorb moisture, if so, what is my cheap alternative and what will happening it does?)…at this time I don’t have any mylar bags…can I take this rice out of my freezer in a week and pour it into the 5 gal food grade bucket, and seal it? …hopefully I’ll have the oxygen absorbers by then….will it keep for at least a year?… a few years ago we stored rice at my brothers in 5 gal buckets without doing anything, so I guess I better go see what shape or mess I have, any idea on that as well

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

shares
Malcare WordPress Security