How much space does it take to store food?

This may seem obvious but storing large amounts of food requires a fair amount of space. You be be thinking “well, yeah. duh.” and that’s fair, but hear me out.

I think most people have some idea that buying a larger amount of food means the food will take up a larger amount of space. But it’s still hard to visualize exactly what that means until you start adding cases of canning jars or 5 gallon buckets of oats. I’ve put together some data on how much space you need to store food.

Here’s a few measurements to help you plan bulk food storage. I’m providing the actual square inches for each item and then describing it in terms of a typical pantry or cabinet shelf.

Please note I’m basing this on typical manufactured cabinets and shelving units and I am deliberately making my estimates rough. Your own cabinets or storage may be configured differently and may accommodate more or fewer items, so it’s best to measure your actual storage space before buying or canning food.

If you have or are planning to build storage for your bulk foods, then these number may be useful in making plans.

These measurements assume at least 12 inches between shelves. Spacing your shelves further apart will let you stack more but it’s going to increase the weight.

To learn what supplies you’ll need to store your bulk food long term, check out Essential Supplies for Long Term Food Storage


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How much room do canning jars take up?

A quart jar takes up about 4 square inches of space while a pint occupies about 3 square inches.

The average cabinet shelf is 12-18″ deep and typically 24″-36″ wide. That means a dozen quarts take over half of a typical pantry cabinet shelf. A dozen jars may sound like a lot of food, but consider a quart of green beans is probably only enough for one week, depending on your family size. To store enough green beans for “the winter” (let’s call it 20 weeks), you’d need almost 2 dozen quarts. That would take up 1-2 shelves. Pints can be stacked, so you could fit in about twice the number of pint jars in the same space, but of course they hold about half the food.

Half-pints or jelly jars take up about 3 square inches and can be stacked. You can typically fit a couple dozen on a standard pantry shelf.

25 quart jars of canned beans

As you plan your long term food storage, check out Is Canning Green Beans Worth It? for an honest assessment of putting up 25 pounds of beans.

How much room does it take to store dry goods?

Unless you specifically purchase these items in long-term storage containers, like sealed buckets, they will need to be stored in a sturdier container. That will prevent spoilage and insect or rodent issues.

Most dry goods are sold in 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 pound increments, so those are the numbers I’m using for this.

Storing flour, sugar, salt long term:

A 5 pound sack of flour or sugar will just fit into a gallon freezer bag. The filled bag takes up about 5 inches of shelf space

If you use canisters or other containers, you’ll need a capacity of 175 ounces at a minimum. Expect that container to take up around 6 square inches.

Finding non-bucket containers to hold more than 8 pounds is challenging. Because of that, if you hope to put by 20 or 30 pounds of flour (for example), be prepared to store it in 5 pound increments or put it into a 5 gallon bucket. If you store it in canisters, 20 pounds of flour would take up about half of a pantry shelf.

A note on storing flour long term:

Flour doesn’t really store well long-term. If your heart is set on storing flour for more than a few months, put it in a mylar bag inside a sealed bucket with oxygen absorbers. A better option is to store whole wheat berries and grind them as needed. Melissa K. Norris of Pioneering Today has this fantastic guide if that’s something you want to learn more about. I definitely plan to buy a flour mill and mill my own, eventually.

Storing grains and legumes

To store grains and legumes in larger quantities, you’ll need large buckets. Square buckets take up less space in total because they fit together neatly but they are more expensive. The average food storage bucket will occupy 12″ of shelf or floor space and about 16-18″ vertically. Buckets 5 gallons and up are quite tall, so they won’t fit into most standard cabinets.

Grains and legumes can be quite a bit bulkier than flour and sugar.

A quart jar will hold 1.5 pounds of most beans and 2 pounds of most lentils or rice.

A 175 ounce canister will hold about 5 pounds of most beans and about 6 pounds of lentils or rice. Storing 25 pounds of beans in canisters would require just over half a pantry shelf.

A 5 gallon bucket can easily hold 25 pounds of rye, wheat, millet, lentils, rice or beans. It will only hold about 15 pounds of oats. If you have space for buckets, it’s a much more space efficient way to store 20 pounds or more. It’s fine to stack buckets but keep in mind that you’ll need to be able to lift at 25 pounds or so any time you need access to the lower buckets.

six white buckets filled with grains

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Here’s my inventory and how much space my long-term food storage actually requires:

Home Canned Food:

25 quarts of green beans

12 quarts, 13 pints of tomatoes

7 quarts, 7 pints of chicken broth and chicken soup

4 quarts apple pie filling

4 pints peach salsa

25 pints pickles

6 pints apple butter

13 half-pints jam

TOTAL – 48 quarts, 55 pints, 21 half-pints

Dry goods, Grains, Legumes:

20 pounds flour (various types, stored in gallon bags)

10 pounds sugar (stored in gallon bags)

25 pounds of beans (various types, stored in 175 ounce square canisters or quart jars)

25 pounds each of lentils, split peas, rye, soft white wheat, oats – stored in 6 5 gallon buckets

50 pounds of red wheat – stored in 2 5 gallon buckets

Fruit and and Vegetable:

36 pounds of apples, stored in fruit boxes (occupy about a 24″ W x 36″ H x 12″ D space)

20 winter squash, stored in one large bin 30″W x 18″H x 18″ D

Dried Herbs and Spices:

Stored in canning jars and gallon bags (occupy 1 shelf 24″X 12″)

Pantry cabinet filled with jars of canned food

All of that food is stored in my basement. The canned food, dried herbs and spices, flour, sugar and beans fill up two Closetmaid Pantry Cabinets. Those cabinets are freestanding and measure 24″ W x 60″ H x 12″ D. I’ve been really happy with them so far. They’re sturdy and reasonably priced. If you need to purchase something for your bulk food storage, I highly recommend those. I wallpapered the interior back, as you can see in the photo above, to give them a little style.

The apples are stored in fruit boxes on top of those cabinets, so I’m using “dead” space for them.

My squash are in a single bin which is under a worktable. It lacks the aesthetic charm of bushel baskets, but I already had the bin.

Bulk grains take up the most space. There are 8 5 gallon buckets. They’re stacked two high but still occupy a good chunk of floor space. The buckets cover an area 3′ wide by 4′ long. While we do eat some of the grains, especially the lentils and peas, most of that stash is actually for our chickens. Quick note, I buy all of my bulk grains and legumes from Azure Standard because they’re a fantastic company and their prices for whole grains are excellent. If you want to know more about that, check out my Review of Azure Standard. And if you decide to place an order of your own, you can use my link and I’ll receive a credit.

Space to store food

When all is said and done, that’s a lot of food in not a lot of space. Allowing room to open doors and easily move around to access things, my bulk food storage takes up roughly 10′ x 10′. There are a couple of pieces of furniture in the area, so the space is not completely dedicated to food storage. If I were really determined, I could probably condense the overall square footage down a bit but I’m working around other items.

Whether allocating 100 square feet to extra food storage seems manageable or impossible will of course depend on your home situation and priorities.

One more thing to consider when planning your long term food storage is weight. Those jars and buckets are heavy, relative to the typical weight load for cabinets and shelves. There are a few spots in my pantry cabinets, for example, where I could technically fit more jars in. But doing so would add too much extra weight. Depending on what you are storing, you may need more shelves or surface area simply to accommodate the weight.

Hopefully, this will give you some idea of how much space your food will take up. It’s better to plan to can, store or buy food to fit space you have than to find yourself with a pile of squash or sack of grain and nowhere to put it. Do you store food? Any tips or tricks for keeping it all organized and accessible? Let me know if the comments.