When it comes to storing food long term there are a few different storage options. The best method in my opinion, and that of many other food storage experts, is to store your food in buckets. Buckets have an advantage over other methods in that they can hold a lot more food. You’re not going to fit as much food in a can or a jar and it will require a lot more containers with those methods.
If you’re storing food long term, it’s highly recommended that you use Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers in conjunction with food storage buckets for added protection. That should protect your food from light, oxygen, moisture, and pests. Pests like mice can eat through a bag, but they’re not going to eat their way through a bucket.
All you need to know about food storage buckets, your options, where to get them, and how to use them properly.
Food grade storage buckets. Buckets made of food grade plastic is best, especially if you’re going to be putting your food directly in the buckets without bags. Food grade plastic doesn’t contain any dyes or recycled plastic that has been deemed harmful to humans.
Bucket size. Storage buckets for food come in different sizes. 5 gallon food storage buckets are the most popular for storing food long term. If you want larger buckets, you could go with 6 gallon food storage buckets, but keep in mind that the bigger they are the heavier they’ll be to carry around if you have to move them.
Handle. Most 5 and 6 gallon buckets do come with a handle to make them easier to carry, but I have seen some that don’t. Make sure the ones you get do so they’ll be easier to move around.
Bucket shape. Buckets come in two different shapes, square buckets and round buckets. Square food storage buckets may have the advantage of taking up less space when storing, but round food storage buckets are still more popular. One benefit to round buckets is that you can always upgrade the lids to gamma seal lids later on if you so choose.
Lids. There are two types of lids, standard lids and gamma. Both types will create an air-tight seal, but there are some differences between the two.
Standard lids – Most standard 5 or 6 gallon bucket lid are universal and will work with other buckets the same size. The standard lid will do the job just fine, but may require a little more work getting the lid on and off. A mallet can be used to make sure the lid is on good, and a bucket lid remover can can be used to get the lid off. While these tools are not necessary, they can make the job a lot easier and faster.
Gamma lids – A gamma lid comes with an outer ring and a lid which screws into it. First you snap the outer ring onto the top of the bucket and then you can screw the lid into that. Gamma lids have an “X” shape pattern on them that make them easy to grip and turn. They are a lot easier to open and close than the standard lids and you can do it easily with just your hands – no tools necessary.
Gamma lids cost more than standard lids, but since they provide quick access to your food it can be worth it, especially if you’re storing something that you’ll need frequent access to.
Gamma lids can also be purchased in different colors if you want to use color-coding in your storage system. You could for example use one color for grains, another color for beans, and so on.
Storing. Buckets should be stored a few inches off the ground. They can also be stacked on top of each other to save storage space as long as you don’t stack them too high.
Labeling. With a permanent marker, label the outside of each bucket with the contents, that way you won’t have to open buckets to figure out where something is. You can either write directly on the buckets themselves or attach blank labeling stickers and write on those. Labeling stickers of different colors can also be used for color-coding. Along with the contents, write the date down as well.
Rotating. If you’re storing any foods that you use regularly you might want to rotate them out. Eat the older food first. If you wrote the dates on the buckets it should be easy to tell which is the oldest.
Combining Foods. If you plan on mixing certain foods together to form a meal, it might be better to store those foods in the same bucket so you don’t have to open several buckets to get to everything you need. Just store each of those foods in a separate bag, about a pound of each food, and put them all in the same bucket.
Free used buckets. Bakeries and restaurants go through a lot of food which comes in buckets. Those buckets are made of food grade plastic. That can be a good way to get free buckets. Tell them you’re trying to find a few buckets and ask them if they got any that you can have. Just make sure you know exactly what was in the bucket previously. Only use it for storing food if it had food in it previously.
Cleaning used buckets. Make sure you clean the buckets good with bleach before you use them. You may need to clean them a few times to get rid of the smell of the previous food. You can also leave them outside to air out for a few days if you need to. If you still can’t get the smell out, put some baking soda in them, close them up, and let them sit for a few a few more days. The baking soda will absorb odors.
Where to buy food storage buckets? If you rather purchase new buckets, you can often find some at home improvement centers like Lowes or Home Depot. Or you could purchase them online.
The first step to storing food long term is getting the right containers. We talked about our options that are available to us and where we can get them. Don’t forget, however, that the storage buckets are only one part of it. You will also need Mylar bags, oxygen absorbers for food storage, and of course the food that you’re storing.