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15 Foods to Store in a 5-gallon Bucket and How To Do It

If you are serious about prepping learn about the food to store in a bucket because 5-gallon food-grade buckets are legendary storage containers for a reason. In the world of prepping and long-term food storage, they provide excellent protection for Mylar bags and, if properly stored, keep food from spoiling for decades. I’ve been storing most of these foods for a while now and I hope this information helps you do the same.

Buckets are an excellent long-term storage container if you are looking for a reasonably inexpensive way to store lots of calories for decades.

If you are serious about getting started with your survival pantry, keep on reading.

Long term food storage

Chart #1 15 Prepper Foods to Store in a 5-Gallon Bucket

The following list isn’t comprehensive, but it lists some of the more common staple foods preppers store for long-term survival and emergencies.

Food TypeHow Much Food Will a 5-Gallon Bucket HoldShelf- Life In Years *
Non-fat Powdered Milk29 lbs20
Dried Eggs20 lbs10
Dried Beans, Legumes, and Pulses33 lbs30
Dried Macaroni20 lbs30
Dried Spaghetti29 lbs30
Corn Meal33 lbs25 to 30
Popcorn37 lbs25 to 30
Flour33 lbs10 to 15
White Sugar**35 lbsIndefinitely
Iodized Table Salt50 lbsIndefinitely
White Rice36 lbs30 +
Rolled Oats20 lbs30
Hard Grains29 lbs30
Dried Potato Flakes12 lbs20
Dried Whole Corn37 lbs25
Remember that most of these foods need to be processed and require clean potable water.
*Storage life in years depends on optimum storage conditions, cool, dry and dark, and moisture contents of less than 10% when stored. It also required, a sufficient cc oxygen absorber and a good oxygen barrier like Mylar, food-grade buckets, or both. Regular store packaging will not provide anywhere near the shelf-life listed. **Do not use oxygen absorbers with sugar

Check out Pounds of Food In A 5-gallon Bucket for more info.

How Many Buckets of Food for One Year?

Don’t get overwhelmed when you look at the amount of food needed. Staple food items like wheat, long-grain rice, and beans are cheap compared to purchasing pre-packaged foods and it is easy to do. The hardest part of storing long-term food storage is finding a place to put all of it.

Chart #2 Buckets of Food for One Year

Long-term food items with a 30 Year Shelf Life
(Unless Otherwise Stated)
# Of 5- Gallon Buckets
(Types of grain are interchangeable depending on preference, i.e. 1 case of rice for 1 case of wheat)
Wheat132 lbs5
White Rice65 lbs2
Rolled Oats29 lbs
Pasta 21 lbs1
(Beans, Split peas, Lentils)
62 lbs2
(Nonfat-Dry, 15 yr shelf life)
62 lbs2
Sugar70 lbs2
Dried Apple Slices6 lbs1
Dried Carrots
(10 Year shelf life)
8 lbs1
Potato Flakes22 lbs2
Information Compliments of BYU Education

When you are ready to start planning your food storage check out the Ready Squirrel video below. It is a comprehensive article covering short and long-term food storage, daily calorie counts, and much more.

Suppose you would instead read, check out the article. How Much Food to Stockpile Per Person

Up next, are 18 top tips for storing food and survival gear in 5-gallon buckets.

18 Tips For Storing Food And Supplies In 5-gallon Buckets

Big food-grade buckets are the easiest and cheapest way to build your family’s food pantry providing thousands of inexpensive calories that are stored for decades.

#1 Use buckets with oxygen absorbers (food storage)

Use oxygen absorbers with buckets to keep food from being oxidized or spoiling due to oxygen’s presence. This storage method also inhibits the growth of bugs, pupae, and bug eggs in most grains, so you don’t have to freeze foods before storage.

#2 Food moisture content 10% (low moisture food only)

Do not store any food that is higher than 10% moisture oxygen-free because bacteria may grow in a low oxygen, high humidity environment, leading to Botulism. Also, avoid storing high-fat foods because they will still go rancid.

#3 Cool, dry location with low humidity

Ideal storage temps for your buckets are 75° F or less. Avoid storing food or supply buckets in the garage or shed. Heat kills food and deteriorates emergency supplies. A good storage environment will maximize shelf-life.

#4 Non-food grade buckets only

Please don’t use non-food grade buckets to store food. Especially important if you are not lining buckets with Mylar bags. The main reason is the transfer of chemicals (not an issue if lining with Mylar bags), but also so you can use them for other food and water-related tasks in an emergency.

#5 Food-grade buckets are flexible

Repurpose buckets for other food-grade tasks like pickling, cider, or mead without having to keep track of food and non-food-grade buckets. Down the road, you may decide that your apples need to be hard cider.

#6 Buckets off the floor

Buckets making direct contact with a concrete floor may transfer chemicals from concrete or surrounding containers. Also, the chemicals in concrete are said to break-down plastic.

#7 Don’t stack buckets

Avoid stacking buckets more than 3 high or the lids may crack. You can get away with stacking a maximum of 5 buckets high if you use a board between each column of buckets to redistribute weight.

#8 Buckets protect food & supplies

Buckets protect food and supplies from physical damage and moisture. Mylar bags are an excellent oxygen barrier, but they are weak so put them inside buckets for an armored layer.

#9 Rodents don’t like buckets

Buckets act like armor against chewing mice and rats. So use buckets to protect Mylar bags.

#10 Low-fat food (only)

Avoid Storing food with high oil or fat content in an oxygen-free bucket. It doesn’t extend shelf life by much. For example, brown rice still has husk and natural oils, so you will get a maximum of 18 months of shelf-life before the fats go rancid. On the other hand, white rice has the husk and oils removed, so you can get a 30-year shelf life if properly stored.

#11 Maximize Food life with Mylar

and use Oxygen absorbers to remove oxygen from containers.

#12 Identify the contents

Write the type of food and the date you packaged it on the outside of buckets or on the top of Mylar bags or you will forget what’s inside.

#13 One food type

Store one type of food in each bucket. to keep away off-flavors or reactions between unlike foods

#14 30-year shelf-life

5-gallon buckets lined with sealed 5+mil Mylar bag(s) and oxygen absorber(s) will store dry foods like white rice, dried beans, wheat berries, and rolled oats for 30+ years.

#15 Whole grains in buckets

if left unprocessed. For example, white flour will last 5+ years in a sealed 5-gallon bucket, but wheat berries left unprocessed will store for 30+years

#16 Use Gamma lids

If you are using buckets to store your favorite food or equipment and you access the bucket often consider getting a Gamma lid for that bucket to make life easier.

#17 Use small Mylar Bags for smaller portions.

5–gallon buckets with the full-sized Mylar bag of 18″x 24″ expose a lot of food at once so use smaller Mylar bags to expose less food to oxygen when opening a bag.

If you go with smaller Mylar bags, consider using lidded plastic bins for storage and leave the food-grade buckets for the larger bags to maximize storage space.

#18 Store food you eat

They say to avoid storing foods you haven’t eaten or don’t like. I learned the hard way when I purchased a 50lb bag of quinoa nobody would eat. I would add one caveat try to store dry staple foods that last decades whether they are a favorite food or not.

#19 Rotate buckets with F.I.F.O.

When eating stockpiled food use the first in, first out method used by restaurants, basically eating the oldest food first.

#20 Bucket Wrench

Use a bucket wrench also called a paint bucket opener to remove lids unless you’re a sucker for pain.

#21 Sugar and Salt

If you store sugar or salt in buckets or Mylar bags don’t use oxygen absorbers because it will turn sugar into stone.

Up next, storing the best emergency foods in Mylar bags and buckets for maximum shelf-life.

Supplies for storing food in food-grade buckets

Store Food in Buckets With Mylar Bags (supplies)

#1 Five Gallon Food-grade Bucket and Lid

You can get these in all price ranges. If I was using buckets with no Mylar bags, I might splurge for higher quality pales, but I get the cheapest food-grade buckets I can find. Most of mine come from Walmart’s hardware section.

#2 Mylar Bag for 5 Gallon Bucket

The 18″x 28″ Mylar Bags are the superstars of my pantry. Look for bags that are five mils or thicker. They are a little more challenging, and they don’t let lite in that can oxidize the goodies in the bag. 18″ x 24″ bags fit well in a 5-gallon bucket with an excess bag at the top, so you can reuse the bags if you choose to.

Another typical size is 18″x 28.5, specifically for 5-gallon Buckets,” and 20″ x 30″, which fits five and 6-gallon buckets. The 20″x30″ bags are a little sloppy for 5-gallon buckets.

#3 One Gallon Mylar Bags

These aren’t a requirement, but I like to have them on hand to put extra dry goods into. I seldom fit one bag of food in a 5-gallon bucket. I usually have a little leftover but not enough to fill another food bucket.

For example, if I have three 12 lb bags of dry beans, I know a 5-gallon bucket will only hold 33 lbs. I put the extra 3 lbs in 1-gallon bags and stored them in plastic bins.

#4 Oxygen Absorbers

Use 2000cc absorbers for full-sized 18″ x 28″ Mylar bags and 5-gallon buckets.

You can use multiples of smaller absorbers, say four 500 CC absorbers, to get 2000cc, but I prefer to use the correct size.

Use 300 to 500cc for one-gallon bags. You can use 300, but I prefer 500 for a bit of overkill.

Don’t forget to put your Oxygen absorber(s) in the bag before sealing. It is a pain when you remember after the fact and have to cut and reseal the bag. I know because I’ve done it.

You have about thirty minutes before absorbers activate and start to lose capacity.

#5 A Household Iron or Hot Jaw Sealer

To seal a Mylar bag, I use a Household iron. Just set the household iron to the highest setting or temperature, and let it heat up. My wife was worried that the Mylar would melt into the iron, but this hasn’t happened.

If you want to spend the money, purchase a hot jaw sealer used specifically for sealing Mylar bags, or use the type of iron used for straightening hair.

#6 Stick or Board For Sealing Mylar Bag

This can be any flat wood board with a straight edge. My go-to board is a 1″x3″ pine board cut to size. You can use anything you have lying around. Even a broom handle would probably work.

#7 Sealable Bucket Lids

Most of my lids are basic and inexpensive. If you plan on accessing a bucket regularly, you might want to check out Gamma lids.

Gamma lids have a screw top that allows you to remove part of the lid without removing the outer rim. I have never used them because they are expensive.

You may be tempted to skip lids, but I advise against it. Without lids, vermin-like mice can chew through your delicate Mylar bags and get into your food.

#8 Labeling Materials

Most of the time, my buckets are labeled with a permanent marker.

Write small, and you can cross out the information the next time you use the bucket. Or purchase labels for the extra expense.

#9 Dry Goods or Bulk Food

Keep in mind you want to store foods with 10% moisture or less.

Use the list above to determine how much food will fit into each bucket. This will allow you to figure out how many buckets, lids, oxygen absorbers, and Mylar bags you need based on the number of buckets you will use. This process is much smoother if you plan.

How to Store Food in Mylar Bags and Buckets: 7 Easy Steps

Food Grade Bucket and Mylar Bag

#1 Open your Mylar bag and put it in the 5-gallon bucket

Get your bucket, open your bag, and place it inside the bucket. Filling buckets with food is much easier to do if you have some help, but I did 200 lbs of food by myself, so it’s definitely doable.

Black Beans and Mylar Bag

#2 Dump your rice or other dry goods in the bag

Pour your food into the bag. As you fill the container, gently pull the Mylar bag up a bit and let it fall back into the bucket to compact the rice, beans, or whatever food you are storing.

If you have some off-size bags of food, you may have more than you can put in the bucket. I remedied this by having 1-gallon Mylar bags handy that I could put excess food into.

Leave about 2″ of space at the top of the bucket.

Don’t overfill. I filled one bucket with black beans and accidentally mounded beans higher than the bucket edge. I couldn’t get the lid on after sealing the bag.

2000 cc Oxygen Absorber

#3 Place oxygen absorber in
the bag

Place your O2 Absorber into the top of the bag. I forgot to do this with a bag of rice and had to open it back up. Double-check to make sure you put an absorber in the bag.

Once your bag of absorbers is open to the air, they activate. You have about 30 minutes to get your bags filled with food and sealed with the absorbers.

I keep leftover absorbers in a sealed Mylar bag when I’m done with them.

Keep in mind that you can’t use too many oxygen absorbers. Extra absorbers won’t hurt anything, but they are an added expense.

For a 5-gallon bucket, use a 2000cc Oxygen absorber.

Container SizeOxygen Absorber Size
1-Gallon Mylar Bag300 to 500cc
5-Gallon Bucket or 18×28″ Mylar Bag2000cc
USA Emergency Supply, Required Oxygen Absorbers in CC, As Per Container Size and Dry Food Type, Downloadable PDF
Sealing Mylar Bag With Household Iron

#4 Heat seal the Mylar bag

I use a regular household iron to seal my bags. You can purchase a Mylar bag sealer if you don’t mind spending extra money.

If you use a Household Iron, put it on the hottest setting. On my iron, that is the setting for linens.

I fold the bag over a 1″x 3″ board or straight edge.

Seal the bag once the iron is hot. Push as much air out of the bag as you can.

Seal the bag towards the top so you can reuse it multiple times.

You can tell your bag is sealed when you can’t push air out. It may be puffy, but that’s nitrogen. Just make sure you can’t squeeze the air out. That indicates a broken seal. If this happens, start over.

#5 Press your lid onto the Container

Gently fold your bag into the bucket so it’s not hanging over the edge. You don’t want to cut the bag when you put on the lid.

Some people find it helpful to use a rubber mallet to put the lid on. I was worried I’d crack my lids, so I pressed them on and tapped them with the heel of my hand. Do whatever works best for you.

#6 Put the date packaged and food type on the bucket

Make sure to put the date and type of food on each bucket, or you will forget what’s inside. Imagine returning to a stack of food buckets five years ago with no information. You must break the seal to find out what food is inside.

I write the information directly on the bucket and the Mylar bag with a permanent marker. I don’t trust labels or tapes to last 20+ years.

If you end up using the bucket of food, scratch out the information and write the new info in another spot.

#7 Ideal storage for 5-gallon food buckets

The ideal storage temperature for long-term food storage is 75° F or less, but do your best with your storage space.

Avoid storing buckets in the garage or an outside shed. Heat and fluctuations in temperature reduce shelf-life by decades.

The best storage environment for long-term foods is cool, dry, and dark.

Try not to store your buckets more than three high, or you might crack the lids. You can stack buckets five high if you put boards between each row of buckets to re-distribute weight.

Ideally, your buckets are stored up off the floor. Especially in a basement, plastic in the bucket can interact with chemicals in concrete, and there is a greater chance of flooding or water backup.

5 Gallon Bucket: 11 DIY Emergency Survival Kit Ideas

Five-gallon buckets are great waterproof storage containers for emergency kits, survival food, emergency tools, and supplies. They are inconspicuous, water-proof, and airtight. Imagine carrying a food-grade bucket out to your car filled with ammo and pistols vs. in a tactical bag. It’s less noticeable.

The only time buckets don’t work for survival storage is if you are bugging out on foot. Check out the following kit ideas to get the juices flowing. Mix and match the supplies to fit your most likely emergency scenario.

#1 72-Hour Emergency Kit In a 5-Gallon Bucket

Store food, water, emergency lighting, hygiene, and first aid supplies in your bucket(s). You may get away with just one 5-gallon bucket, depending on your family’s size and what you store.

Included in a 72 Hour emergency kit suggested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency

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

#2 Weapons Kit In a 5 Gallon Bucket

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 Emergency Shelter Kit In a 5 Gallon Bucket

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.

#4 Power Outage Kit In a 5 Gallon Bucket

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

#5 Sanitation Kit In a 5 Gallon Bucket

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

#6 Hygiene Kit In a 5 Gallon Bucket

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

#7 Medical Kit In a 5 Gallon Bucket

Buckets make excellent storage containers for medical supplies because they will keep everything dry. Let’s take a look at what to keep in your emergency medical kit.

  • adhesive tape
  • ace wrap bandages
  • of various shapes and sizes
  • super glue
  • tourniquet
  • cloth bandages
  • an arm sling
  • aluminum finger splint
  • instant cold packs
  • cotton balls
  • duct tape
  • petroleum jelly
  • plastic bags
  • safety pins, scissors
  • tweezers
  • hand sanitizer
  • antibiotic ointment
  • antiseptic towelettes
  • eyewash solution
  • thermometer
  • turkey baster for flushing wounds
  • hydrogen peroxide, sterile saline
  • PPE mask
  • first aid manual
  • medications like calamine lotion, antidiarrheals, laxatives,s, and pain relievers.

Information Compliments of the Mayo Clinic

#8 Fire Starting Kit In a 5-Gallon Bucket

Include multiple methods of starting a fire, kindling, newspapers, matches, lighter, Ferro rod, waterproof matches, candles, tinder, cotton balls, lint from your dryer, vaseline, fatwood, jute, bow-drill set, a clean coffee can, and directions for different types of fire-starting methods and ways of stacking fuel.

#9 Emergency Tool Kit In a 5-Gallon Bucket

Store wrenches and other tools for emergency water and electrical shut-off. Make your tool buckets for specific types of vehicles like your car, a bug-out boat, or for specific 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.

#10 Emergency Sprouting Kit In a 5-Gallon Bucket

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.

#11 Emergency Fishing Kit In a 5-Gallon Bucket

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.

#12 Emergency Water Supply Kit In a 5-gallon Bucket

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.

Where Can I Get Free Food-Grade Buckets?

Get buckets for free at locations most likely to store food in them.

Check your local bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, donut shops, and delis, to name just a few. As long as chemicals weren’t stored in the buckets after food storage, you can clean them and use them in your long-term storage.

Purchase buckets in bulk online or at big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, Tractor Supply, or at online package companies like U-line.

Get to prepping and stay salty my friend!


A Guide To Food Storage For Emergencies, Extension Utah State University, Downloadable PDF

For a comprehensive list of what should go in your 72 Hour emergency kit check out Ready.gov

USA Emergency Supply.com, Oxygen Absorbers, Recommended CC Amounts By Storage Container Type PDF

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