The best containers for storing foods long-term protect them from oxygen, light, moisture, and physical damage. Not just any container will do because survival foods like white rice, wheat, hard and soft grains may be sitting in storage for 10 to 30 plus years.
Let’s take a look at the 6 best “Do It Yourself” container options for your survival food storage.
Top 6 Food Containers Used For Long-term Food Storage
From ball jars to Mylar bags, there are 6 common container choices for storing your emergency food. Most preppers use a combination of types but rely on #10 cans or a combination of Mylar bags, food-grade buckets, and oxygen absorbers for bulk dry foods stored long-term storage. And away we go.
Mylar is outstanding D.I.Y. Long term food storage.
- moisture, and
- light barrier if Mylar is at least 5 mils thick
- kill bugs, eggs, and pupae within two weeks when used with Oxygen absorbers
- Easily damaged by rodents
- Prone to physical damage
A plastic bucket has one superpower. It’s tough but the plastic in a bucket is not a true oxygen barrier, and even the best lids are known to fail over time.
- Act as a light barrier
- Excellent protection for Mylar Bags
- Food-grade buckets can be repurposed for pickling and fermenting
- Not an oxygen barrier
- Bucket lid seals are prone to failure
Storage Tip: Non-food-grade buckets cannot be used for direct food contact because they have unhealthy chemicals that may leach into food.
Tin Cans With Enamel Lining (#10 Cans)
#10 cans are the flagship of dry food storage containers.
- Keep an excellent seal
- Excellent oxygen-barrier
- Excellent light barrier
- Excellent food protection
- Rust in a high humidity environment
- Special equipment is necessary to dry can food at home
- Foods may acquire a tinny flavor
- Professionally packaged is expensive
You can purchase #10 canned foods from an LDS cannery (you don’t have to be LDS) or a commercial survival food store.
Recycled PET/PETE Bottles
This is a popular method of packaging dry foods because it’s inexpensive. This isn’t a method I use but some swear by it. I think whether or not you use PETE bottles is going to depend on how long you want to store dry food(s). If you are going for the maximum shelf life of say white rice, you probably don’t want to use this method because these bottles won’t hold up for 30 years.
- Virtually free if you are using leftover juice or soda bottles
- You’re recycling
- Weak plastic
- Not a true oxygen barrier
- Not a light barrier
- Require cleaning, disinfection, and drying before use.
- PETE for long-term storage requires a metal lid or a rubber seal.
Glass Jars/Ball Jars
Ball jars are great for storing dry foods in small quantities, but some other methods, such as Mylar, are superior for bulk storage.
- Excellent Oxygen Barrier
- Require delicate handling and break easily in storage
- Expensive in bulk
- Don’t protect food against light oxidation
- Rubber Seals often fail with oxygen absorbers (lids require rubber seal)
- If storing in bulk you need a lot of room, you can’t really stack them and they are more difficult to work with in large numbers
The Trifecta (Food-grade bucket, Mylar bag, Oxygen Absorption)
A food-grade bucket lined with a Mylar bag and oxygen absorption is a preferred container for storing bulk dry foods low in fat. When done correctly, it’s a darn near bulletproof method, and it’s inexpensive and easy to do at home. Yeah, I’m a fanboy when it comes to the Trifecta.
- Protects Food From
- physical damage, including rodents.
- Provides an excellent seal
- Easy stacking and storage
- oxygen removed to .01% or less
- kills, bugs, eggs, and pupae within two weeks
- use cheap bucket lids without a seal
- Bulk foods are heavy
- Buckets take up a lot of room
- Buckets are stacked no more than 3 high to avoid cracking
- Food-grade buckets should be used, even when lined with Mylar bags
- The typical 18×24″ Mylar bag(s) used to line buckets exposes a lot of food to the elements when opened.
- You can remedy this by using smaller Mylar bags and storing them inside a bucket or a large plastic bin.
I built most of my emergency food supply by purchasing bulk grains and repackaging them myself.
So what is the best DIY Container?
Absolute Best Storage Containers For Long Term Food Storage
The Best Do It Yourself containers for long-term dry food storage are a combination of sealed Mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and food-grade buckets with lids. This combination protects food from oxygen, light, moisture, physical damage, and all stages of bug life.
Mylar itself is excellent for long-term food storage in every way but one. Mylar is easily damaged. It can tear, pin-hole, or be decimated by rodents without the extra protection provided by a lidded food-grade bucket or another tough plastic container.
The correct cubic centimeter of oxygen absorption takes advantage of Mylar’s excellent barrier qualities by removing almost all of the oxygen from a sealed Mylar bag (down to .01%.)
Why Repackage Food For Oxygen-free Storage
Your goal when repackaging dry foods is to protect them against spoilage, loss of nutritional value, degradation of color, texture, bug, and physical damage. Using the proper containers, you can also slow down the clock and control storage times. Store-bought packaging does not protect dry foods for long-term storage.
8 Reasons To Repackage Food For long-term Storage
- Aerobic and anaerobic bacteria
- Light oxidation
- Oxygen deterioration
- Physical Damage
Two General Rules of Oxygen Free Food Storage
- Start with dry foods at or below 10% moisture content to prevent anaerobic bacteria like botulism from forming
- Choose foods that are low in Fat because Oxygen-free storage doesn’t increase the shelf-life of fatty foods
Why Use Buckets, Bags, and Oxygen Absorbers Together?
Together buckets, bags and oxygen absorbers provide a higher level of protection for foods stored for decades. Alone, they are not as effective.
Mylar bags are relatively weak but provide a superior barrier for oxygen, light, and moisture. When storing dry foods, the goal is to remove oxygen and keep it out of the container; Mylar does this job well. Mylar also blocks food spoiling light and moisture.
Buckets are plastic, so they don’t provide a true oxygen barrier. Once oxygen gets into a storage container, you’ve lost decades of storage life. They won’t protect food from oxidation or bug eggs once breached by oxygen. But buckets are tough, easily stored, and protect Mylar from damage caused by rodents and handling. Plastic pales can also be reused in other food-grade operations like pickling and fermentation.
When combined with a true oxygen barrier (sealed Mylar bags), absorbers remove Oxygen down to .01% or less (USA Emergency Supply).
Storage Tip: Salt and Sugar should not be stored using oxygen absorbers, and they can be stored in, only, a plastic food-grade bucket with a lid. Both will clump if stored in an oxygen-free container.
5 Benefits Of Oxygen-free Food Storage
- Extend shelf life
- Prevents growth of aerobic pathogens and spoilage organisms, including molds
- Eliminates the need for additives such as BHA, BHT, sulfur dioxide, sorbates, benzoates, etc
- It helps retain the fresh-roasted flavor of coffee
- Prevents oxidation of vitamins A, C, and E
Sorbent Systems/Impak Group
Foods Stored Oxygen-free: Low Moisture And Low Fat
When I first started repackaging foods for long-term storage, I was a little confused. I thought you could package just about anything with Mylar and oxygen absorbers, but that isn’t the case. The only foods stored this way are dry staple foods that are 10% in moisture content or less and low in fat.
Never store foods higher than 10% moisture in an oxygen-free container. You risk anaerobic (without air) bacteria forming. The big one is botulism food poisoning. You can’t see it, taste it or smell it. It’s rare but deadly.
Oxygen-free containers don’t increase the shelf-life of foods high in fat, oxygen-free storage is a waste of materials.
For example, brown rice (not white rice) is high in fat, so you’ll never get more than a 6 to 18 months shelf life, regardless of how the food is packaged.
3 Foods Prime For Long Term Storage
You have a lot of options in what you store. Dry staples are the cheapest and easiest, but you should be aware of some of the other dry foods as well because together, these types of foods fit every survival scenario you might face.
#1 Dry Staple foods
Hard and soft grains, including white rice, dent corn, wheat berries, rolled oats, low-fat dried milk, dry pasta, dried beans, and legumes. These foods are the backbone of long-term storage.
Favored by the LDS community who has done a lot of testing and takes food storage seriously. The easiest to buy and package yourself, provides long-term sustenance during SHTF.
The main downside to dry staples is the amount of preparation necessary, depending on the staple it might be just cooking it or it might include something labor-intensive like milling wheat berries into flour.
#2 Freeze-dried food
Stores 30 plus years in long-term storage. Most of us will have to purchase freeze-dried food(s), or if you are lucky enough to have a home freeze-drying unit like a Harvest Right, your golden.
Freeze-dried foods are outstanding for bug-out bags, camping, and other activities all you need to prepare is hot water. The food is super lightweight and maintains 95% of its nutrition.
#3 Dehydrated Foods:
If you are dehydrating foods at home, you may have difficulty getting the moisture content down to 10%.
Don’t store dehydrated foods in an O2-free container unless they snap when you bend them. If they are rubbery or don’t break, they have too much moisture and could contract botulism food poisoning.
Chart #1 How Much Food Will A 5-gallon Bucket Hold
Following is a list of foods commonly stored in 5-gallon buckets.
|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|
|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 are a sufficient cc oxygen absorber and a good oxygen barrier like Mylar, food-grade buckets, etc. Regular store packaging will not provide anywhere near the shelf-life listed. **Do not use oxygen absorbers with salt or sugar
Chart #2 How Much Grain Will Fit In A Bucket?
|Food Type-Whole Grain||LBS|
Per 5 Gallon Bucket
|Cal Per Pound|
|Hard Red Winter Wheat||37||1,118|
|Hard White Wheat||37||1,194|
|Pearled Barley (hulled)||36||527|
|Yellow Dent Corn/Maize/Used for making tortillas||37||990|
|Long Grain White Rice||36||820 4 c||29,520|
|Long Grain Brown Rice||35||864 4 c||30,240|
|Parboiled Rice/Instant Rice||36||820 4 c||29,520|
|Rolled Oats||20||750 5 c||15,000|
|Oat Bran||25||308 |
Chart #3 Beans That Fit In A 5-Gallon Bucket
|Food Type-Dry Beans||LBS|
Per 5 Gallon Bucket
|Cal Per Pound|
yield 6 c *
|Black Eyed Peas/Cowpeas||32||1,200||38,400|
|Green Split Peas||33||1,386||45,738|
|Small White Navy||37||1,842||68,154|
Chart #4 Dried Pasta In a 5-gallon Bucket
|Food Type-Dry Pasta||LBS|
Per 5 Gallon Bucket
|Cal Per Pound|
cup yield varies
|Egg Noodles||13||711 3c||9,243|
Chart #5 Dehydrated Fruit In a 5-Gallon Bucket
|Food Type-Dehydrated Fruit||LBS|
Per 5 Gallon Bucket
|Calories Per 1 lb||Cal Per|
|Sliced Banana Chips||11||2,354||25,894|
It doesn’t matter what storage container you use you need a good seal on the container.
Air or oxygen is the enemy of food. If you want the nerdy facts, here they are, the air is approximately 21% oxygen and 79% Nitrogen. Nitrogen doesn’t hurt food because it’s an inert gas and is actually used to preserve food.
Oxygen spoils food by encouraging bacteria and microorganisms’ growth and increases enzyme activity in fats and lipids that cause off-flavor and color. So you want to get rid of Oxygen but don’t need to worry about nitrogen in food storage.
How To Store Dry Food In Mylar and Buckets: 7 Easy Steps
Step 1: Line A 5-gallon food grade bucket with a 18 x24 Mylar bag
Step #2 Pour the dry food into the Mylar bag
Step # 3 Drop in the proper cubic centimeters of O2 Absorber(s)
Step # 4 Seal the bag with a household iron
Step # 5 Write the date and food type on the outside of the bag
Step #6 Fold the top of the bag into the bucket
Step # 7 Place a lid on top of the bucket and gently pound it around the rim of the bucket with the heel of your hand
How Many Oxygen Absorbers Do I Need?
Chart # 6 Mylar Bag Size Oxygen Absorber(s) Required and Food Type
When you purchase oxygen absorbers to purchase or if only a certain size is available it doesn’t matter, just make sure you place enough O2 Absorbers in the container to reach the required cubic centimeters of oxygen absorption or CC.
|Mylar Bag Sizes||Wheat/Flour/Grains/Rice|
More Compact/’Less Air
Less Compact/More Air
|20″x30″ (4.25,5,6-gal bucket(s)||2000cc||2500cc to 3000cc|
|20″x24″ (4.25,5,6-gal bucket(s)||2000cc||2500 to 3000cc|
|18″x28″ (4.25,5,6-gal bucket(s)||2000cc||2500cc to 3000cc|
|16″ x 18″||500cc||1000cc|
|14″x20″ (2 gal)||1000cc||1500cc to 2000cc|
|14″x18″x6″ (2 gal)||1000cc||1500cc to 2000cc|
|12″x18″ (1.5 gal)||800cc||1200cc|
|12″x16″x6″ (1.5 gal)||800cc||1200cc|
|10″x14″ (1 gal)||400cc||400cc|
|10″ x 16″||150cc||300cc|
|8″ x 8″||5 cc||100cc|
|8″x12″ (1/2 gal)||200cc||400cc|
|6″x10″ (1/4 gal)||100cc||200cc|
|6″x8″ (1/4 gal)||100cc||200cc|
|6″x 6″||20 cc||50 cc|
*Note, these are average amounts at sea level. You may need more or less depending on your individual conditions and the remaining residual volume of air. There is no danger in adding too many as this does not affect the food.
Oxygen represents 20% of the total volume of air, and the number in cc’s above represents the amount of oxygen that would be absorbed.Conversions: 1cc = 1ml. 1000ml = 1 Liter. 3.78 Liters = 1 gallon.
Chart # 7 Mason Jars Oxygen Absorbers Required
|Glass/Mason Jar Size||Wheat/Flour/Grains/Rice|
More Compact/’Less Air
Less Compact/More Air
|1 Gallon |
Chart #8 Oxygen Absorber Sizes
|Oxygen Absorber Size cc||Typical Use(s)|
|20 cc||2oz and 4oz beef jerky packages|
|30 cc||2oz and 4oz beef jerky packages|
|50 cc||Quart size containers or smaller and|
6″x 6″ Mylar Bag(s)
|100 cc||#10 can or equivalent size container|
|200 cc||“8 x 12” Mylar/ 1/2 gallon|
|300 cc||#10 can or equivalent size. You can also use a number of these in a larger container, depending on residual air volume|
|500 cc||16″x18″ Mylar bag|
|750 cc||Suggest using 2 per 5-gallon bucket|
|1000 cc||2 of these in a 5-gallon bucket, depending on residual air volume|
|1500 cc||Use one of this size for a 5 or 6-gallon bucket depending on food type-see chart above|
|2000 cc||one per 5 or 6-gallon bucket|
|3000 cc||one per 5 or 6-gallon bucket|
|4000 cc||Special Use|
Bug Treatment Methods For Dry Food Storage Containers
I’ll start by saying, and I’m going to get some flack for this. These methods are outdated when you consider the oxygen barrier qualities of sealed Mylar used with the correct cubic centimeters of Oxygen absorption.
When it comes to labor, time, negative effects on food, and effectiveness, none of these methods are as effective as Mylar Bags, Oxygen Absorbers, and Food-grade pales used together to kill bugs in dry food storage.
Freezing is an outdated method used to kill bugs and eggs before repackaging food. It’s time-consuming, ineffective, and actually adds moisture to whatever you freeze. When Oxygen-absorbers were invented, freezing became obsolete.
Freezing Is Ineffective Killing Bugs: Even the professionals at the agricultural centers don’t agree on how long to freeze grains to kill bugs and eggs. I’ve seen suggested freezing times from 2 days to 2 weeks.
Interesting Fact: Weevils are in just about every dry good when you get them. Weevil eggs overwinter on stalks of wheat in places like North Dakota and hatch in early summer. To kill them, you have to freeze them just right.
Diatomaceous earth is a soft sedimentary rock that has been crushed into a fine powder. The powder can be added to your food storage container (dry storage only) to kill bugs by absorbing oil and fat from a bug’s body. It basically dries a bug into a husk.
I first heard of diatomaceous earth as an organic bug exterminator for gardening. Here is how you use it in food storage to kill bugs.
How To Use Diatomaceous Earth To Kill Bugs: 8 Steps
- Use 2 teaspoons per one pound of dry food like wheat berries, or white rice
- Place DE in a kitchen sieve
- Dust the bottom of your container with DE
- Place 4″ of food on top of DE
- Dust and continue dusting every four inches of food until the container is full
- Shake the container to spread the DE all over the food
- Place a layer of DE on top and don’t mix it in, let it sit
- To use food place it in a strainer and rinse food or just eat it. DE won’t hurt you and adds extra trace minerals to your diet.
Information Compliments of Diatomaceousearth.com
There is nothing wrong with DE, but I can’t see a situation where I would use it. Repackaged food needs to be oxygen-free, so I’m using oxygen absorbers. Absorbers kill bugs with an O2-free environment, so the application of DE would be an extra step and somewhat obsolete.Scott Ready Squirrel
Warning: Avoid breathing diatomaceous earth as it is an irritant.
Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide that can be used in small amounts to create an oxygen-free storage environment in a container.
How Dry Ice Works In O2-Free Storage
When dry ice sublimates (kind of like melting) in a food storage container, it displaces oxygen. Once the oxygen is displaced, all that is left in the food storage container is carbon dioxide, an inert gas that doesn’t affect food.
How To Use Dry Ice To Remove Oxygen
- Line a food-grade plastic bucket with a Mylar bag
- Place 2oz of dry ice in the bottom of the bag (Dry ice must be free of moisture, or you’ll add moisture to your container)
- Pour in dry foods
- Wait for 5 to 6 hours until the oxygen in the container is pushed out by carbon dioxide.
- Hot-seal the Mylar bag
- Place the plastic lid on the bucket
- The storage container is oxygen-free
All Bug life stages, adult, pupae, and eggs, are killed using small amounts of dry ice. Concentrations of Carbon dioxide as low as 10% will kill bugs. The higher the concentration, the quicker bugs are killed.
Mylar bags and Oxygen absorbers
When you are storing dry foods for the max shelf-life let’s say it’s white rice, you have to repackage the rice so it doesn’t oxidize. A by-product of removing oxygen is killing bugs, eggs, and pupae in the grain.
Any of these other methods of killing bugs is an extra step. Some of them dry ice, for instance, is somewhat dangerous and imparts moisture. Freezing grain is unrealistic and imparts moisture. Use Mylar bags and skip the other bug treatments altogether.
When choosing Mylar bags for storage, make sure they are at least 5 mils in thickness. Thinner bags may be somewhat transparent and allow oxidizing light to get at your food.
21 Tips For Storing Food In Long-Term Storage Containers
#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 contacts. 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 Tag Your buckets with the type of food stored and date, or you will forget what’s inside.
#13 Only put 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 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
#16 Use Gamma Lids on buckets you access regularly
#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. Use smaller Mylar bags, so you expose less food to oxygen when you open a bag.
#18 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.
#19 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.
#20 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.
#21 Do Not Use Oxygen Absorbers When Storing Sugar or Salt, it’s unnecessary, and it will turn sugar into stone.