Long Term Food Storage Using Plastic Buckets

By Jenny Casper

Our family uses a variety of methods for our long-term food storage. A good portion of our long-term food storage is packed in plastic buckets. There is TONS of information on the internet about storing foods in plastic buckets, even instructional videos. I am not an expert, but I was asked about how our family uses plastic buckets to store food.

What to store in buckets

Plastic buckets are great for storing: hard wheat, beans, oats, corn, pasta, rice, sugar and flour. It is recommended that you store food with a moisture content of 10% or less in a bucket. Some people store dog food, camping supplies or 72-hour kits in a plastic bucket.

What kind of buckets to use

You should always store your food in a FOOD GRADE bucket. Most plastic containers, usually on the bottom, will have a number inside a small triangle. The #2 means it is made from HDPE plastic. This number doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s food grade. Sometimes a bucket has a dye added to the plastic that is not food grade. And sometimes the bucket manufacturer uses recycled HDPE. Also, when something is put in a bucket that is a nonfood type product such as paint or chemicals; this makes them no longer food grade. A good rule of thumb is if your buckets have the triangle with the 2 in it and the buckets are white or natural, they should be food grade. Obviously if you are using a used bucket, know what was stored in the bucket before you got it.

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What size of buckets

Buckets come in several sizes and shapes. I have collected an assortment of buckets over the years. I use square shaped 4 gallon buckets and round 5 gallon buckets. My personal favorite is round 6-gallon buckets; they are big and heavy but they hold more and I can use less buckets. A 6-gallon bucket will hold about 45lbs. of rice.

Where to find buckets

You can buy your buckets new or get them used. Craigslist is a great way to find them used. You can also get buckets from bakeries, ice cream manufacturers and parlors, large restaurants or kitchens, or food processing plants. Only use buckets that you know have already been used to store food and haven’t been used for anything else. New buckets can be purchased online at places like Walton Feed or Emergency Essentials. Resourceful people can find their buckets free, craigslist buckets usually sell for $1-$2 and a new bucket will run you about $7.

What about Lids?

It’s important that your lids make an air tight seal, especially important if you are not planning on using mylar bags. The best kind of lids have a gasket along the inside to ensure an air-tight fit.

lid lifter

There are cool ‘gamma lids’ that make accessing your food very easy. You’ll also want to invest in a rubber mallet to close lids and a metal lid-lifter to open the buckets These two tools are cheap to buy and will make your life a lot easier.

How to fill your buckets 

There are several different ways to pack your food in plastic buckets. The most obvious is to simply pour your food in a clean, dry bucket and put on the lid. This is an acceptable method and will safely keep your food fresh for many years. If you want to go one step further, you can toss in a couple of oxygen absorbers right before you put the lid on. This ensures that a minimal amount of oxygen is present which is what causes the majority of food spoilage and off-flavors. Oxygen absorbers are readily available and cost only a few cents. Oxygen absorbers come in all different sizes, we like the 500cc kind. A Google seach on oxygen absorbers will give you more information than you ever wanted to know!

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The latest and greatest way to pack your bucket is to use a mylar lined bag in combination with oxygen absorbers. If you were to buy a 6-gallon bucket of wheat from Walton Feed or Emergency Essentials, it would likely come in a SuperPail. That means the product is sealed inside a mylar lined bag. The mylar liner adds an additional level of protection. Mylar bags can be purchased for about $2 a bag.

Our family has yet to try the mylar liner method. We are planning to use it in the future, especially for foods that we don’t rotate thru very quickly (like wheat and beans).

Once you’ve packed your food in buckets, make sure you label what’s in your buckets. I write on the lid and the side of the bucket what’s in it and the date I packed it. This makes it easy to grab the oldest bucket when you need to open a new one.

Where to store buckets

I would love to have a large cool basement to keep my food storage. Unfortunately, we don’t have a basement so we use our garage. It’s not a perfect system but we make it work.

How to use/rotate buckets

I keep small plastic containers in my kitchen cupboard. I also keep my oldest bucket of food in my pantry. When my small containers are empty I open the oldest bucket and fill up my small container. I keep this system going until the bucket is empty. When the bucket is empty – I fill it up and re-label it and rotate it to the back. Then I open the next oldest bucket and draw from that until its empty.

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Buckets compared to #10 cans

There are pros and cons to both #10 cans and plastic buckets. For example, as I mentioned at the beginning, #10 cans are ideal for powdered milk and other powdered or moisture rich foods. #10 cans are also lighter and easier to handle.

A lot of it is personal preference. I grew up in a family where we used buckets (they used to be metal) and I’ve developed a similar bucket system that works for me. It’s important to store what your family will eat. For example, our family prefers a type of rice that is not sold at the Home Storage Center.

I buy 25lb bags of rice, flour, white sugar and brown sugar at Costco. Prices vary, but currently you can buy jasmine rice for $.52/lb, white flour for $.30/lb, brown sugar for $.58/lb and white sugar for $.50/lb. I buy pasta and oatmeal at WinCo. I store all these foods in plastic buckets.

It’s pretty difficult to say whether buckets or #10 cans are cheaper. I can buy the above food in bulk cheaper at WinCo and Costco than in bulk at the Home Storage Center. But you also have to factor in what you spend for buckets, lids, oxygen absorbers, mylar liners, Costco membership, etc.

For example, a 6-gallon bucket of rice is equivalent to about 8 #10 cans. My cost for a 6-gallon bucket of rice is probably around $30 (that’s with a new bucket, a used bucket would cut the cost to $25) Right now 8 #10 cans of rice at the Home Storage Center sells for $33.

I believe an argument can made for either a #10 can storage plan or a plastic bucket storage plan. Both are great methods and I personally have had great success with a combination of the two storage methods. The most important thing is to have some long-term food storage! Good luck!

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