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Emergency storage food in buckets: beginner’s guide

Food-grade buckets are one of the top three containers for DIY emergency food storage, but buckets alone are insufficient for storing most dry foods for decades.

We can’t talk about using buckets for food storage without mentioning Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers. Buckets are only part of the container solution for maximum emergency food shelf-life.

Emergency Food stored in 5-gallon food-grade buckets has a shelf life of 2 to 5 years with the exception of salt, sugar, and honey which last indefinitely. Dry staple foods like dried beans, polished white rice, rolled oats and wheat will store for two to five years in just a bucket and thirty or more years if buckets are lined with Mylar bags and treated with oxygen absorbers.

It’s good to know that the plastic in a bucket is not an oxygen barrier so food will spoil quicker via oxidation and, bugs eggs and pupae may not be irradiated so they can spoil your food.

Salt and Sugar will store indefinitely in just a plastic bucket because they are not affected by degradation via oxidation or the transfer of oxygen in and out of the bucket.

Removal of…oxygen in food is crucial to provide extended shelf-life of foods that may become deteriorated through enzymatic, microbiological and biochemical mechanisms

“Oxygen Absorbers In Food Preservation,” Simon Angelo Cochello, La Trobe University, Victoria Australia

Let’s take a look at Emergency foods commonly stored for long-term survival.

Shelf Life Emergency Food In A Bucket

If stored in buckets most of the suggested emergency foods in the list below will last twenty to thirty years.

The LDS church suggests storing 400 pounds of dry staple food, “starvation food” for each individual in your family or survival group for a year’s supply.

The backbone of my survival pantry is hard white wheat, polished long-grain white rice, dry pinto, and black beans, and rolled oats. Stored properly, in buckets, these foods will last 30 years in storage without rotation.

Chart 1: Shelf-life of 19 Suggested Emergency Foods

Emergency Food TypeShelf-life (Years)
Oxygen-Free Bucket Storage
Non-Fat Powdered Milk Alternative
Augason Farms Moo
Dried Powdered Eggs10
Dried Beans30
Dried Lentils30
Split Peas30
Dried Macaroni30
Dried Spaghetti30
Corn Meal30
Flour 10
Table SugarIndefinite (do not store oxygen-free)
Table SaltIndefinite (do not store oxygen-free
White Rice30
Hard White Wheat30
Hard Red Wheat30
Rolled Oats30
Hard Grains30
Soft Grains8 to 30
Dried Potato Flakes30

To learn more about the types of food, you can store in a bucket, check out the Ready Squirrel article, “What Foods Can I Store In a 5-gallon bucket?”

This article isn’t for the casual food saver; it is geared toward the aspiring long-term food storage warrior. Someone interested in preparing for the possibility of a severe long-term event like societal or economic collapse or job loss.

Get started with emergency food storage. Read on.

The Downside of Buckets For Food Storage

Food stored in 5-gallon storage buckets without using Mylar bags and Oxygen absorber(s) will not last as long and has a higher chance of going bad before maximum shelf- life is attained.

Salt and sugar are the acceptions.

How Long Will Food Last In A Bucket

Why Buckets aren’t Enough Protection For Shelf LIfe

Two of the main elements that kill food in long-term storage are oxygen and moisture, and buckets don’t do a great job of protecting food from either element.

The plastic in food-grade buckets is not actual oxygen or moisture barrier, and oxygen and moisture will enter a 5-gallon bucket at some point over 30 years and degrade your food.

Plastic lids have spotty construction and tend to leak at some point.

Buckets stored for 30+ years are inevitably damaged. You might not see cracks, but air will get in. Sealed Mylar bags act as redundancy in protecting food in long-term storage.

Grains and flours: wheat, white rice, rolled oats, dried beans, and other hard and soft grains have dormant bug eggs that will hatch under the right conditions.

Killing bugs, eggs, and pupae are one reason grains are repackaged into oxygen-free storage.

Experiments were conducted to determine how long the oxygen content of 5 gal buckets filled with wheat could be held below 1% when various numbers of oxygen absorber packets were packaged with the wheat. Although it was possible to use oxygen absorbers to reduce the oxygen level below 1% for 12 d, this treatment was shown to be an unreliable disinfesting [kill bugs] method because the oxygen levels in the samples exceed 1% too frequently.

Ogden, Lynn V. and Griffin, C., “Can Grain Be Disinfested In 5-Gal HDPE Buckets Containing Oxygen Absorber Packets?” (2010). Faculty Publications. 91.

If oxygen gets into a food storage bucket, the bugs don’t die, and they multiply. The stored food becomes a nursery and outhouse for weevils and other pantry pests.

Learn how to store hundreds of pounds of rice on the cheap. Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “How to Store Rice in 5-gallon buckets.”

The Upside of Food-grade Buckets for Shelf Life

Buckets are part of a super-storage trifecta, the perfect DIY method of storing dry foods. Buckets, Mylar, and Oxygen absorbers.

The food-grade bucket is armor for Mylar bags and limits the possibility that Mylar will be damaged.

Buckets are stackable and easy to store and organize.

Re-use food-grade buckets for fetching water, fermentation, pickling, and other food-related uses.

Let’s take a look at how long common foods will last when stored in the trifecta.

How Much Food Fits In a Bucket?

Below is a list of foods commonly stored in buckets to maximize shelf-life. You will notice that almost all of them are dry staples. Use the list to plan how many buckets, lids, oxygen absorbers, and Mylar bags you need to maximize the shelf-life of your food stockpile.

The amount of food you can store in a bucket will vary because the size of the food and air volume varies. I suggest having 1-gallon Mylar bags and extra oxygen absorbers on hand to repackage extra food that won’t fit in your food pails.

Chart #2 How Much Food Fits In a 5-Gallon Bucket

Food TypeHow Much Food Will a 5-Gallon Bucket Hold
Non-fat Powdered Milk29 lbs
Dried Eggs20 lbs
Dried Beans, Legumes and Pulses33 lbs
Dried Macaroni20 lbs
Dried Spaghetti29 lbs
Corn Meal33 lbs
Popcorn37 lbs
Flour33 lbs
White Sugar**35 lbs
Iodized Table Salt50 lbs
White Rice36 lbs
Hard White Wheat33 lbs
Hard Red Wheat33 lbs
Rolled Oats20 lbs
Hard Grains29 lbs
Dried Potato Flakes12 lbs
Dried Whole Corn37 lbs
Warning: Do not store foods high in fat or more than 10% in moisture content in Oxygen-free storage. There is a risk of Botulism poisoning.

Learn to store sugar in a 5-gallon bucket, check out Ready Squirrel’s article, Storing Sugar in Long Term Storage

Oxygen Absorbers

The chart below will help you choose what size bags and oxygen absorbers you need to store food in buckets.

For example, I typically store wheat and rice in a bucket lined with an 18 “x28” Mylar bag, with a 2000cc oxygen absorber placed inside the bag. The bag is then sealed, and I put an inexpensive lid on top of the bucket.

Chart #3 What Size Oxygen Absorber Do I Need?

Mylar Bag SizesOxygen Absorber Size(s)
More Compact/’Less Air
Oxygen Absorber Size(s)
Pasta Beans
Less Compact/More Air
20″x30″ 5 & 6 Gallon Buckets2000 cc 2500 to 3000
18″x28″ 5 & 6 Gallon Buckets2000 cc 2500 to 3000
14″x20″ (2 gal)1000 cc 1500 to 2000
14″x18″x6″ (2 gal)10001500 to 2000
12″x18″ (1.5 gal)8001200
12″x16″x6″ (1.5 gal) 8001200
10″x14″ (1 gal)400400
8″x12″ (1/2 gal)200400
6 “x10” (1/4 gal)100200
6 “x8” (1/4 gal)100200

How to store food in buckets

How Much Dry Staples Per Person

Below is a list of food suggested by Brigham Young University to supply one person with enough food for one year.

Long-term food items with a 30 Year Shelf Life
(Unless Otherwise Stated)
Approximate # of 5-Gallon Buckets
Wheat132 lbs4
White Rice65 lbs2
Rolled Oats29 lbs
Pasta 21 lbs2
(Beans, Split peas, Lentils)
62 lbs2
(Nonfat-Dry, 15 yr shelf life)
62 lbs2.25
Sugar70 lbs2
Dried Apple Slices6 lbs1
Dried Carrots
(10 Year shelf life)
8 lbs1
Potato Flakes222
Dried Onions21
Iodized Salt_1
Vitamin C tablet (90 mg)_365 Tablets
Information Compliments of BYU Education

How Much Short-Term Foods To Store (non bucket food)

These are foods that don’t go in buckets but that you should store. The amounts are based on how much you need for one person for a year.

Short-term food itemsApproximate unopened shelf-life in yearsPer Person Amount Per Year
Cooking/Salad Oil (e.g., soy, olive.)1+2 Gallons
Shortening or Frying Oil1+3 cans or 3 lbs
Butter/Margarine (stored in the freezer)16 lbs
Mayonaise/Salad Dressings13 quarts
Peanut Butter/other nut butter1+6 lbs
Fruit Drink Mix23 #10 Cans
Dried Eggs For Baking3+2 #10 Cans
Yeast5+2 lbs
Other Sweeteners (e.g., Honey, molasses, brown sugar, jams, jellies, syrups__
Information Compliments of BYU Education

Bucket Type For Food Storage (food or non food grade)

When storing food long-term, you want to use food-grade buckets if the food contacts the bucket.

The bucket should be clean with no prior use to hold chemicals or non-food-grade materials.

Store food in a non-food grade bucket and a sealed Mylar bag should be used.

Unless you are getting free buckets, I don’t see a reason to use non-food grade buckets, they aren’t any cheaper, and they aren’t as helpful in a survival setting.

Food-grade buckets can be re-used for food-grade purposes like moving water, fermenting, or pickling.

If you want to learn more about the differences between food-grade and non-food-grade buckets, check out the Ready Squirrel article, “What’s the difference between food and non-food grade buckets.”

13 DIY Emergency Bucket Ideas

5-gallon buckets with a lid are waterproof—the perfect way to separate and organize gear necessary for a specific survival or emergency task.

5-gallon Buckets are excellent for storage because they are waterproof and keep anything stored inside dry. Ok, lets get to the list of Thirteen emergency kits to store in buckets.

#1 First Aid Kit (25 Items)

  1. adhesive tape
  2. ace wrap bandages
  3. bandages
  4. super glue
  5. tourniquet
  6. cloth bandages
  7. an arm sling
  8. aluminum finger splint
  9. instant cold packs
  10. cotton balls
  11. duct tape
  12. petroleum jelly
  13. plastic bags
  14. safety pins, scissors
  15. tweezers
  16. hand sanitizer
  17. antibiotic ointment
  18. antiseptic towelettes
  19. eyewash solution
  20. thermometer
  21. turkey baster for flushing wounds
  22. hydrogen peroxide, sterile saline
  23. PPE mask
  24. first aid manual
  25. medications like calamine lotion, antidiarrheals, laxatives,s, and pain relievers.

Information Compliments of the Mayo Clinic

#2 Ammo and gun cleaning kit

Go “gray man” and store pistols, ammo, gunsmith tools, cleaning kit, and other range gear in a bucket.

Include knives and a sharpening kit.

Consider moving long guns in corrugated boxes.

#3 72-Hour Emergency Kit

FEMA suggests 1 gallon of water per person per day and 2000 calories of non-perishable food per day.

Store canned foods or the more expensive freeze-dried backpacker meals

Emergency Lighting: flashlight, headlamp, extra batteries, light sticks, matches, candles, battery-operated lanterns, and LED string lights

Hygiene supplies, including soap, shampoo, hand lotion, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, washcloth, and 5-gallon contractor bags

First Aid Supplies, including a first-aid manual

Communication, Hand-crank radio, whistle, can-opener, paracord, gloves, emergency charging station, paracord, safety glasses

#4 Water Filtration and Cleaning Kit

Use to move water or store water treatment chemicals, water filters, hand pumps, pots for boiling water, and anything else you need to get water in a power outage or the event groundwater is contaminated.

Make sure to include directions for treating and boiling water.

#5 Hygiene Kit

Soap, shampoo, washcloths, toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss, water filter, hair cutting kit, disinfecting wipes, nail clippers, and feminine products.

#6 Sanitation Kit

Include sawdust for an emergency toilet, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, and contractor-grade trash bags. Throw in personal protection equipment (PPE) for good measure.

#7 Poo Kit

Include extra trash bags, pool noodles for your seat cushion, a fold-up shovel, pinewood chips & soap

#8 Fire Starting Kit

Matches, candles, Ferro rods, kindling kits, long burning candles, dura-flame logs, fire starters

#9 Emergency Shelter Kit

Store items such as an ultralight tent, Mylar sleeping bags, military poncho, hammock, emergency blankets, lightweight tarps, bivy sack, sleeping roll, tent stakes, and parachute cord.

#10 Power Outage Kit

Includes flashlights, headlamps, batteries, candles, matches, a lighter, extension cords for a generator, and directions on disengaging your garage door or using special equipment like generators.

#11 Emergency Tool Kit

Store wrenches and other tools for emergency water and electrical shut-off. Make your tool buckets for specific types of vehicles like your car, or a bug-out boat, or for particular scenarios like power outages at home or a transition from electric to manual utilities like generator usage, hand-pumping well water, or for physical damage like water shut-off in case of a pipe burst.

Also, have a list of directions on setting stuff up with the location of power and water shut-offs.

#12 Emergency Seed Sprouting Kit

Keep sprouting seeds, ball jars, and lids for sprouting. Sprouting can be used at any time but is most useful during the winter months.

Store seeds specifically for sprouting. They are processed differently than seeds you plant in the garden.

#13 Emergency Fishing Kits

Fishing lines, hooks, and lures include a cast net to catch live bait. Crawdad traps, clam digging gear, snorkel gear, or any other tools that will help you forage aquatic wildlife in your area.

Have directions on how to fish or catch specific species in your area, notate seasons, locations where you have had luck in the past, and the best fishing methods.

Store the gear to make and repair what you need, like specific types of plastic bates, jig heads, hooks, and repair kits for the tools you depend on to catch food


A Guide To Food Storage For Emergencies, Brian Nummer, Food Safety Specialist, Utah State University. Link

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