Storing Food in buckets (All you need to know) (2023)

Not surprisingly, storing food in buckets is an excellent way to stockpile most foods, especially dry staples like rice, beans, and wheat. If you are looking to store foods for a shorter period, say 1 to 5 years, buckets work great, but they should be lined with Mylar bags if you want a longer shelf life.

You can store salt and sugar in buckets alone, but dry foods such as rice, wheat, beans, rolled oats, and other bulk emergency foods should be stored in food-grade buckets lined with sealed Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers because this increases shelf life by decades.

Let’s learn about the pros of storing food in buckets.

4 Pros of storing food in 5-gallon buckets

Buckets have some definite pros for storing food, but they also have some drawbacks. Let’s start with the pros.

#1 Storage

First, buckets make food storage easier because it’s easy to pour a bulk bag of rice or beans into a bucket and put a lid on. Also, buckets take up less space because they can be stacked.

#2 Waterproof

Second, buckets are waterproof, keeping food relatively dry, which is important because moisture spoils food.

#3 Light Exposure

Third, buckets protect food from light exposure and light spoils food via oxidation.

#4 Armor

Lastly, 5-gallon food-grade buckets are tough and protect food from physical damage and chewing insects and rodents.

The foods I have stockpiled in buckets include white rice, wheat berries, rolled oats, dry beans, salt, and sugar. I used buckets, Mylar bags, and oxygen treatment to package all but the salt and sugar because salt and sugar don’t oxidize. These foods will all keep for decades and I do not have to rotate them. As long as they are stored cool and dry I can virtually forget about them until disaster strikes.

Scott Ready Squirrel

Let’s move on and check out the cons of storing food in “just buckets.”

4 Cons of storing food in buckets

Buckets are great food storage containers, but there are some drawbacks. Let’s take a look.

#1 Oxygen Transfer

First, the plastic in buckets does not block oxygen transfer, so food will oxidize over time. This is why I suggest using Mylar bags with buckets.

Why should I use Mylar bags with buckets?

Plastic buckets are not an oxygen barrier so food will still spoil from oxidation. Mylar bags on the other hand are a true oxygen barrier and will protect food from oxidation by using enough oxygen absorption.

#2 Oxygen Levels

Second, buckets with oxygen absorbers may not kill bug eggs which are present in most grains because oxygen levels will not get low enough without Mylar.

Storage Tip: Sugar and Salt can be stored directly in food buckets without Mylar for an indefinite shelf life because they don’t spoil by oxidation.

White rice stored in buckets alone may keep for five years. Conversely, line a bucket with a five mil Mylar bag and seal it with oxygen absorbers inside, and the rice will keep for thirty years. Let’s look at the pros of using buckets to store food.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

#3 Weight (storing food in 5-gallon buckets)

Third, when filled with food, buckets can weigh up to 50 pounds, so storing food in 5-gallon buckets might not be an option for some. If weight is an issue, use smaller 2.5-gallon buckets for food storage.

Following are eleven tips regarding buckets as food storage containers.

Storing food in 5-gallon buckets (11 storage tips)

Following is a list of eleven things I’ve observed or experienced when prepping survival food in buckets. No doubt, I’ve made some mistakes along the way, so you don’t have to.

#1 Consider Size and Weight

First, a 5-gallon bucket filled with food can weigh 25 to 50 pounds. Make sure you can handle moving the buckets around once they are filled or pre-stage them where they will stay. Also, if you use gorilla racks or a shed, ensure they can handle the weight.

#2 Food-Grade Buckets Only

Second, You can use clean non-food-grade buckets if you line them with Mylar. Still, I suggest using food-grade buckets because you may want to use the buckets for other food-related uses like the fermentation of fruit or pickling from the survival garden.

It is helpful to have food-grade buckets for hauling water, pickling, and fermentation in a survival situation. If your buckets aren’t food-grade, they are of no use for direct food or water contact.

As a side note, food-grade buckets aren’t more expensive than non-food-grade ones.

To learn more, check out the Ready Squirrel article, What’s the difference between food and non-food grade buckets?

#3 Mylar Bags

Third, by lining plastic buckets with Mylar, you will increase the shelf-life of foods by decades because Mylar is a true oxygen and moisture barrier, and the bags will be safer from damage when protected by a bucket.

Only store foods oxygen-free if they contain 10% moisture or less, or you risk botulism or food poisoning.

For more information about Mylar, read the Ready Squirrel article, Mylar Bags For Food Storage: Beginner’s Guide.

#4 Oxygen Absorbers

Fourth, foods exposed to oxygen in the air will oxidize or spoil quicker than those packaged in Mylar with sufficient oxygen absorption. When storing food in buckets and Mylar bags, use oxygen absorbers which are little packets of metal shaving that eat the oxygen in a sealed bag—placing enough cc of oxygen absorption in a sealed Mylar bag is how to create an ideal atmosphere for decades of food storage life.

See the chart below to find out how much oxygen absorption you need by food and container type.

Chart #1 How many oxygen absorbers do I need in a bucket of food?

Container TypeWheat/Flour/Grains/Rice
More Dense/Less Air
Less Dense/More Air
Food Storage Pails#Of Each Size Absorber# Of Each Size Absorber
6-gallon100cc: 20
500cc: 4
1000cc: 2
2000cc: 1
100cc: 25-30
500cc: 5-6
1000cc: 3
2000cc: 2
5-gallon100cc: 20
500cc: 4
1000cc: 2
2000cc: 1
100cc: 25-30
500cc: 5-6
1000cc: 3
2000cc: 2
Mylar Bags (Size(s) To Line Buckets)
20in. x 30in. (4.25, 5, and 6 gallons)
*Used to line food-grade bucket(s)
100cc: 20
500cc: 4
1000cc: 2
2000cc: 1
100cc: 25-30
500cc: 5-6
1000cc: 3
2000cc: 2
18in. x 28in. (4.25, 5, and 6 gallons)
*Used to line food-grade bucket(s)
100cc: 20
500cc: 4
1000cc: 2
2000cc: 1
100cc: 25-30
500cc: 5-6
1000cc: 3
2000cc: 2

To learn more, check out the Ready Squirrel article, Oxygen Absorbers: Why You Need Them For Emergency Food Storage

#5 How to store oxygen absorbers

Fifth, use a lidded ball jar or a sealed Mylar bag to store left oxygen absorbers after packaging food. If exposed to air, oxygen absorbers will continue to work until they are spent.

#6 Label packaging (storing food in buckets)

Sixth, use a black permanent marker and write the type of food on the outside of the container of food stored in the Mylar bag or the food-grade bucket because if you don’t do this, you’ll create more work for yourself by sealing and unsealing bags to find out what is inside.

#7 Heat Seal Mylar

Seventh, use a regular house iron to seal Mylar bags. I put my iron on the linen setting (the highest setting) and placed the top of the bag over an old 2×4 to seal, but you can use any stiff edge like a broom handle or the edge of a rigid box.

#8 Food Rotation (storing food in 5-gallon buckets)

Eighth, if you are sealing rice, beans, oats, wheat, and many other staple foods in Mylar and buckets, there is no need to rotate the food because these items will last 20 to 30 years.

If you store food in buckets alone, foods need to be rotated depending on the shelf-life of the specific food.

#9 Off the floor (storing food in plastic buckets)

Ninth, this is especially important if the floor is concrete. Concrete and plastic may have a chemical reaction that could ruin your buckets and food, so raise buckets off the floor if storing food in a basement where sump pumps can go out or on a first-floor area prone to groundwater flooding.

#10 Stacking plastic food buckets

Tenth, buckets conveniently stack for storage but avoid going much more than three high, or buckets will crack and may fall over.

#11 Get Some Help (storing food in buckets)

Eleventh, it’s easier to store food in Mylar and buckets with help. I usually do it alone, which can be painful if you hold bulk bags of rice and beans. I’ve wasted a lot of food, pouring it all over the floor.

#12 Gamma Lids

Twelfth, use gamma lids to easily access the food you use regularly. Once sealed on a bucket, Gamma lids have a centerpiece that easily screws on and off to access the contents. Gamma lids are also outstanding for ammo storage, range kit, and on a bug-out boat or vehicle.

#13 Food To Store In Buckets (storing food in plastic buckets)

Finally, you can store almost any food in a 5-gallon bucket, from potato chips to hostess cupcakes but for emergency survival and long-term food supplies, I suggest you start by storing the proven dry staple foods. Every culture on the planet depends on rice, beans, and wheat for survival. I suggest you do the same.

Next up, storing food in home depot buckets.

Storing food in home depot buckets

Avoid storing food in home depot buckets (orange homer buckets). Using them as a food container is an option if you first line them with Mylar bags. The orange buckets have to be lined with Mylar because these buckets aren’t food-grade, so they will transfer chemicals to food if they come in direct contact. That said, Home Depot sells buckets that are marked as food-grade.

I wouldn’t use the homer bucket because you are limiting usefulness. You can’t use the homer buckets for direct food contact, so their usefulness would be relegated to yard work or a similar function if you don’t have replacement Mylar bags. What if you use the food and decide you want to make pickles or ferment Meade?

Scott, Ready Squirrel

To Learn More, Read these Ready Squirrel articles,

Thanks for visiting Ready Squirrel. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.

Keep on prepping!

Best Regards, Scott

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Storing Food in buckets (All you need to know)? ›

Can You Store Food in Regular Buckets? Just because you can, doesn't mean that you should—many 5 gallon buckets are made out of food grade plastics, but not all of them. If the bucket that you want to store food in doesn't have the proper code on it, then you should not store food in it.

Is it safe to store food in 5 gallon buckets? ›

Can You Store Food in Regular Buckets? Just because you can, doesn't mean that you should—many 5 gallon buckets are made out of food grade plastics, but not all of them. If the bucket that you want to store food in doesn't have the proper code on it, then you should not store food in it.

How long does food last in a 5 gallon bucket? ›

Foods stored in buckets can have a shelf life of 2-5 years. However, using oxygen absorbers, mylar bags, and food grade buckets, it can extend the shelf life of many food items to as long as 30 years. Salt and Sugar have an indefinite shelf life in a 5 gallon bucket.

What is the best way to store buckets? ›

It's nice to keep some empty 5 gallon buckets around, but the only way to efficiently store them is to stack them. The problem is, they can get stuck so tight it feels like they're glued together. Put a short chunk of 2×4 between the buckets when you stack them. It'll be a cinch to pull them apart.

How many oxygen absorbers do you put in a 5 gallon bucket? ›

How many oxygen absorbers should I use? For 1-gallon bags, you should use 1-2 300cc oxygen absorbers. For 5-gallon bags you should use 5-7 300cc oxygen absorbers or 1 2000cc oxygen absorber.

Can you store food in buckets without mylar bags? ›

If you didn't use mylar bags, your bucket would collapse instead of the bag if you stack more than 1 bucket high in your storage area. The buckets just aren't strong enough to hold this vacuum without being seriously deformed. However, mylar bags can even though they are thin.

How do you store food long term in a 5 gallon bucket? ›

Store buckets a few inches off the ground in a cool, dry location. Elevating them helps the whole container maintain the same temperature as the air in the room. In general, don't stack buckets more than three high. Five gallons of food can be very heavy.

How do I know if my 5 gallon bucket is food grade? ›

Check out the bucket's universal recycling symbol; this relates to what type of plastic the bucket is made of. You should see the classic recycling symbol with a number inside of it. Generally, food grade plastics will be labeled with either 1, 2, 4, or 5.

How do you store rice long term in a bucket? ›

The best temperature to store grains, including rice, is 40°F or below; however, rice stored at a constant 70° F with oxygen absorbers will store well for up to 10 years. In cooler storage areas rice sealed in oxygen-free containers can be stored for up to 30 years.

What happens if you store food in a non food grade bucket? ›

Food grade buckets are re-usable and toxic-free, with that in mind you won't have any problems storing a variety of items. Non-food grade buckets may release some toxins when they come in contact with items with harsher chemicals.

Are 5 gallon buckets airtight? ›

On their own, standard 5 gallon bucket lids are not airtight. To be genuinely airtight, they have to use a rubber-sealed or gasketed lid. A common type of rubber-sealed lids are called gamma seal lids.

Is it safe to store food in plastic buckets? ›

Can Plastic Buckets Safely Hold Food? The simple answer – Yes! However, your plastic bucket must be FDA compliant to store food. This means the material and container meet the FDA's guidelines for safe contact with food.

How do you store food in a 5 gallon bucket long term? ›

Store buckets a few inches off the ground in a cool, dry location. Elevating them helps the whole container maintain the same temperature as the air in the room. In general, don't stack buckets more than three high. Five gallons of food can be very heavy.

Why you shouldn't store food in plastic containers? ›

Studies have found that certain chemicals in plastic can leach out of the plastic and into the food and beverages we eat. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems such as metabolic disorders (including obesity) and reduced fertility.

Are all plastic buckets food safe? ›

The short answer is no. Not all plastic buckets are food grade. Symbols on the plastic container advise what it is made from.


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