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how to store food in buckets (max shelf-life)

Learn how to store food in buckets; most of my DIY food storage is in 5-gallon food-grade buckets because they are the cheapest, most effective storage container for stockpiling hundreds of pounds of dry staple food quickly and effectively.

Buckets are tough, stackable, and relatively inexpensive. Still, it is important to note that food will oxidize if stored in plastic buckets. Lining buckets and repackaging into Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers is necessary for maximum shelf-life, especially for preppers working on long-term food storage.

Food will oxidize decades earlier without Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers, and it is likely that bugs, eggs, and pupae, present in most grains, will not be killed.

If food is sealed inside Mylar bags with sufficient oxygen absorption, bugs, eggs, and pupae will die within 2 weeks.

Step #1 Food-Grade Buckets (how to store food long term in 5 gallon buckets)

Food grad bucket for food storage

Food-grade buckets’ are made using chemicals, solvents, and dyes that are food safe for direct food contact. Non-food grade buckets and some recycled plastics contain toxic chemical residue like pesticides that you don’t want food coming in contact with.

New Food-grade buckets have a sticker on them stating that they are food-grade. If you are getting secondhand buckets, make sure they only contain food-safe products. You don’t want to store your rice in a bucket that contains engine oil or solvent.

Food-grade buckets are typically white, though not always.

To determine if a bucket is food grade, look at the bottom of the bucket. There should be a triangle with a #2 inside, indicating that the bucket is made from High-density polyethylene plastic (HDPE) and is food grade.

To learn more about food and non-food grade buckets, check out the Ready Squirrel article, What’s the Difference Between Food and non-Food grade Buckets.

Step #2 Repackage Food

Storing beans in a 5 gallon bucket

Remove the food from the store packaging before you store your food in buckets and Mylar. Pasta, beans, rice, and rolled oats should all be poured into Mylar without packaging.

Step #3 Clean Buckets

If you are using second-hand food-grade buckets, you want to ensure they are clean. Use warm soap and water to clean the buckets and let them dry out completely before storing food.

If you want to remove the odor of foods stored in the bucket, place Baking soda in the bucket, place the lid on and let it sit for a week.

Step #4 Use Mylar Bags

Buckets lined with Mylar bags for long term food storage

Mylar bags create the best oxygen, light, and moisture barrier as long as they are 5mil in thickness or more significant.

Using food-grade buckets, sealed Mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers will increase the shelf-life of white rice, wheat, and dry beans by up to 30 years.

Read Mylar Bags For Food Storage: Beginner’s Guide to learn more.

Step #5 Use Oxygen Absorbers

Oxygen Absorber inside a Mylar bag of food
Oxygen absorber and dry black beans

In a sealed container, treating food with oxygen absorbers increases a food’s shelf-life by decades. When food comes in contact with oxygen, it causes oxidation, drastically decreasing most foods’ shelf-life.

Storage Tip: Don’t use Mylar bags or oxygen absorbers for salt and sugar. These foods with not decline due to oxidation. Both salt and sugar will turn rock hard in the absence of oxygen but will still be usable.

Chart #1 Oxygen Absorbers Needed For Large Containers

Mylar Bag SizesWheat/Flour/Grains/Rice
More Compact/’Less Air
Pasta Beans
Less Compact/More Air
20″x30″ (4.25,5,6-gal bucket(s) 2000cc2500cc to 3000cc
18″x28″ (4.25,5,6-gal bucket(s)2000cc2500cc to 3000cc
14″x20″ (2 gal)1000cc1500cc to 2000cc
14″x18″x6″ (2 gal)1000cc1500cc to 2000cc
12″x18″ (1.5 gal)800cc1200cc
12″x16″x6″ (1.5 gal) 800cc1200cc
10″x14″ (1 gal)400cc400cc
8″x12″ (1/2 gal)200cc400cc
6″x10″ (1/4 gal)100cc200cc
6″x8″ (1/4 gal)100cc200cc

Chart #2 Oxygen Absorbers Needed For Small Containers

Glass/Mason Jar SizeWheat/Flour/Grains/Rice
More Compact/’Less Air
Pasta Beans
Less Compact/More Air
1 Gallon
4 Quarts
8 Pints
16 Cups
128 oz.
1 Quart
2 pints
4 cups
32 oz.
64 Tbs
50cc50 cc
1 Pint
2 cups
16 oz.
32 Tbs
1/2 Pint
8 oz.
1/4 Pint
4 oz.

To learn more about oxygen Absorbers, read the Ready Squirrel article, What is an Oxygen Absorber: Long Term Food Storage

#6 Kill Bugs

Grains like rice and wheat come with weevil eggs, so you need to prepare the food and store it in a way that will kill the eggs so they can’t hatch.

Using the proper amount of Oxygen-treatment, bugs, eggs, and pupae will be dead within two weeks, so there is no need to freeze or bake food before storage.

#7 Name and Date

Write the name of the stored food and the storage date on food buckets or bags so you know what is inside.

In the beginning, this might seem like overkill, but over time you will lose track of what is inside an unmarked bucket.

The only way to find out what is inside is to open the bucket or Mylar bag, exposing food to oxygen and causing more work for yourself by resealing the bag or bucket.

#8 Lids

Use lids on your buckets for maximum food protection and ease of storage.

I use cheap lids because my food buckets are lined with sealed Mylar bags.

For ease of access, consider using Gamma lids if you aren’t using Mylar bags.

#9 Store Food With 10% Moisture or less

Store dry foods in buckets and Mylar bags that contain 10% moisture or less. Store foods above 10% moisture in an oxygen-free environment, and you risk botulism food poisoning.

#10 Store Food Buckets In a Cool, Dry Location

All foods should be stored in a cool, dry location for the most extended shelf life. Ideal storage locations are climate-controlled, such as a closet or pantry.

Avoid storing foods in hot garages, outdoor sheds, or crawl spaces.

#11 Stack Buckets 3 High or Less

Avoid storing buckets more than three high; the lower buckets may crack from the weight.

Stack buckets 4 or 5 high, and you might have a 50lbs bucket dropping on your head, which will make for a bad day.

#12 Store Buckets Off the Floor

Store buckets off the floor using wood pallets, dimensional lumber, or shelving units.

If you store buckets on concrete in a garage or basement, a chemical reaction could occur between the plastic and concrete, ruining the bucket and spoiling the food.

It’s also good to raise buckets off the floor, so the storage area gets good air circulation.

#13 Rotation

Rotate foods stored in buckets without Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers because the plastic in the bucket does not stop the oxidation of food.

The definition of rotating food is eating the oldest food first and replacing it with new food. The most common method is FIFO (first in, first out), which restaurants commonly use.

Food rotation is unnecessary if you use sealed Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers.

Where to find food-grade buckets with lids

Local Stores

  • Home Depot
  • Lowes
  • Walmart
  • Tractor Supply
  • Ace Hardware

Order Buckets and Lids Online

  • Amazon.com
  • Uline
  • package Supply

Free Buckets

Finding free food-grade buckets isn’t as easy as it once was, but it’s still doable. Many big boxes and grocery stores will give you buckets, and some will charge a nominal fee. I got some of my buckets free from a local baker who purchased his pre-made frosting.

You will have to go on a scavenger hunt if you want free buckets. For buckets without lids, you can use Gamma lids.

Do not store food in anything that contains non-food grade items, as this may transfer to your food.

  • Bakeries
  • Delis
  • Cake Decorating at Grocery and big box stores
  • Costco
  • Walmart
  • Local Grocery Store