5-gallon food-grade buckets are legendary storage containers for a reason. In the world of prepping and long-term food storage, they provide an excellent oxygen barrier and, if properly stored, keep food from spoiling for decades. I hope this post helps you to use buckets for survival food.
Buckets are an excellent choice if you are looking for a fairly inexpensive way to store lots of calories for decades. Many preppers start with white rice and dry beans because they are inexpensive and provide a whole protein. Not to mention they offer a 30+ year shelf-life.
Keep on reading if you are serious about getting started with your survival pantry.
15 Dry Foods You Can Store In a 5 Gallon Bucket
The following list insn’t comprehensive but it lists some of the more common staple foods preppers store for long-term survival and emergencies.
|Food Type||How Much Food Will a 5-Gallon Bucket Hold||Shelf- Life In Years *|
|Non-fat Powdered Milk||29 lbs||20|
|Dried Eggs||20 lbs||10|
|Dried Beans, Legumes and Pulses||33 lbs||30|
|Dried Macaroni||20 lbs||30|
|Dried Spaghetti||29 lbs||30|
|Corn Meal||33 lbs||25 to 30|
|Popcorn||37 lbs||25 to 30|
|Flour||33 lbs||10 to 15|
|White Sugar**||35 lbs||Indefinitely|
|Iodized Table Salt||50 lbs||Indefinitely|
|White Rice||36 lbs||30 +|
|Rolled Oats||20 lbs||30|
|Hard Grains||29 lbs||30|
|Dried Potato Flakes||12 lbs||20|
|Dried Whole Corn||37 lbs||25|
*Storage life in years is dependent on optimum storage conditions, cool, dry and dark, and moisture contents of less than 10% when stored. Also required, 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.
5-Gallon Buckets of Food Needed For One Person For One Year
Don’t get overwhelmed when you look at the amounts of food needed. Staple food items like wheat, long-grain rice, and beans are super cheap compared to purchasing pre-packaged foods. The hardest part is finding a place to put all of it.
|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)||–|
|White Rice||65 lbs||2|
|Rolled Oats||29 lbs||2|
(Beans, Split peas, Lentils)
(Nonfat-Dry, 15 yr shelf life)
|Dried Apple Slices||6 lbs||1|
|Dried Carrots |
(10 Year shelf life)
|Potato Flakes||22 lbs||2|
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.
If you would rather read , check out the article, How Much Food to Stockpile Per Person
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 store for decades.
#1 Food-grade buckets with Oxygen absorbers 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 present in most grains, so you don’t have to freeze foods before storage.
#2 Don’t store food with a 10% or higher moisture content because bacteria may grow in a low Oxygen, high humidity environment, leading to Botulism.
#3 Store buckets in a 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 a shed. Heat kills food and deteriorates emergency supplies. A good storage environment will maximize shelf-life.
#4 Non-food grade buckets may leach chemicals into your food. Please don’t use them to store food. Especially important if you are not lining buckets with Mylar bags.
#5 Food-grade buckets are flexible; You can repurpose them 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 Keep buckets off of the floor or on a pallet. Direct contact with the floor may transfer chemicals from concrete or surrounding containers. The chemical transfer can occur during flooding or just direct concrete to bucket contact. Some of the chemicals in concrete are said to break-down plastic.
#7 Don’t stack buckets more than three 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 Food-grade buckets are excellent to protect food and supplies from physical damage. Mylar bags are an excellent oxygen barrier but they are weak. Put them inside buckets for an armored layer.
#9 Buckets normally keep rodents at bay. Mice and rats make short work of Mylar bags.
#10 Don’t’ store foods high in fat inside buckets. 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 the husk and natural oils on it, so you will get a maximum of 18 months 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 To get maximum shelf-life, line buckets with Mylar Bags and use Oxygen absorbers to remove oxygen from containers.
#12 Consider using desiccants to remove excess humidity, especially if you live in a high humidity location.
#13 Tag Your buckets with the type of food stored and date, or you will forget what’s inside.
#14 Only put one type of food in each bucket to keep away off-flavors or reactions between unlike foods
#15 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.
#16 Whole grains have an exponentially longer shelf life if they are 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
#17 Use Gamma Lids on buckets you access regularly
#18 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. Use smaller Mylar bags, so you expose less food to oxygen when you open 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.
#19 Store Foods You Eat, avoid storing foods that you haven’t eaten before. I learned the hard way when I purchased a 50lb bag of quinoa nobody would eat.
#20 Rotate Buckets With FIFO, use the first in, first out method used by restaurants, basically eat the oldest food first. When storing food for long-term storage, it’s a good idea to eat and cook with foods you will use during an emergency. That way, you will have honed the skills necessary to make meals.
#21 Use A Bucket Wrench when you remove lids unless you’re a sucker for pain. Pulling the lids off without a wrench hurts. These wrenches are also called Paint bucket openers, you can find them at big box stores.
#22 Do Not Use Oxygen Absorbers When Storing Sugar, it’s unnecessary, and it will turn sugar into stone.
9 Supplies To Store Food In Buckets With Mylar Bags
#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 as it is 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 5 mils or thicker. They are a little tougher, 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. also specifically for 5-gallon Buckets,” and 20″ x 30″, which fits 5 and 6-gallon buckets. Personally, I think 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 almost never 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 33lbs. I put the extra 3 lbs in 1-gallon bags and store 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 to use 500 for a little 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.
I don’t practice what I preach but try to purchase the amount of absorbers you need for a specific job. I reseal mine in Mylar bags but it’s better to use them all at once and buy new ones.
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 onto 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 you can 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 really small, and you can just 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.
Storing Food In Mylar Bags and Buckets: 7 Easy Steps
#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 200lbs of food by myself, so it’s definitely doable.
#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 in 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.
#3 Place oxygen absorber in
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 Size||Oxygen Absorber Size|
|1-Gallon Mylar Bag||300 to 500cc|
|5-Gallon Bucket or 18×28″ Mylar Bag||2000cc|
#4 Heat seal the Mylar bag
I use a regular household iron to seal my bags. If you don’t mind spending extra money, you can purchase a Mylar bag sealer.
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 some other 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 of the bag. 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, just 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 useful 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 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 coming back to a stack of food buckets 5 years from now with no information. You would have to 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 the storage space you have.
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 3 high or you might crack the lids. You can stack buckets 5 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 be able to get away with just one 5-gallon bucket depending on your family’s size and what you actually store.
Included in a 72 Hour emergency kit suggested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency
Food and Water, 1 gallon of water per person per day, and 2000 calories of non-perishable food per person 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
#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
- adhesive tape
- ace wrap bandages
- bandages of various shapes and sizes
- super glue
- cloth bandages
- an arm sling
- aluminum finger splint
- instant cold packs
- cotton balls
- duct tape
- petroleum jelly
- plastic bags
- safety pins, scissors
- hand sanitizer
- antibiotic ointment
- antiseptic towelettes
- eyewash solution
- 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 line, 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, 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 ground-water 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 on-line 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