How much space does it take to store food long term?

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 for long term food storage.

Bulk food storage dimensions

Most people buy at least some food in bulk when setting up long term food storage. It’s just more efficient to buy large quantities of food, especially dry goods and grains. Here’s a few measurements to help you plan bulk food storage space. 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 food or canned food, then these number may be useful in making plans. Many people build custom canning shelves in order to maximize their storage space. Although this isn’t a plan for canning shelves or storage, the numbers below can help you create storage or improve your use of existing space.

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

Disclosure: I’m an affiliate for Lehman’s HardwareAzure Standard and other companies. Clicking on links in my articles and purchasing products may result in the seller offering me compensation. I only share products I use and enjoy. Affiliate relationships help me cover the cost of producing content for Hey Big Splendor.

How much room do canning jars take up?

For many people, their long term food storage includes lots of jars of home-canned food. Canning is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to create a long term food stockpile, especially if you’re also a food gardener.

Besides being practical, home canned jars are also a consistent size, making it easier to plan your food storage.

Storing canning jars

A wide mouth quart jar takes up about 4 square inches of space while a wide mouth pint occupies about 3 square inches. Regular mouth jars are slightly smaller but unless you don’t have any wide mouth jars, it’s better to plan for the bigger size. Allow 8 inches vertically for quart jars and 6 inches vertically for pints.

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.

Storing home canned food with reusable canning lids

If you use reusable canning lids, your canning jars will be slightly wider at the top. It’s not that significant but if you’re planning your canning storage down to the centimeter, then that extra bit of width really does add up.

How much does a full canning jar weigh?

Canning jars are efficient but they can get heavy once they’re full.

An empty pint jar weighs 9 ounces. An empty quart jar weighs about a pound. A full pint jar will weigh around 1.5 pounds and a full quart jar weighs 2-3 pounds. Obviously the contents of the jar will affect the weight but it’s best to plan for the heavier end of the scale when setting up your home canned food storage. That weight will add up quickly, so be sure any cabinet or shelf you use for canned food can handle the total weight.

Commercial Canned Goods Storage

Industrial canned goods occupy a footprint similar to home-canned goods. They’re typically a bit lighter in weight, however. And industrial canned goods can usually be stacked three or four cans high without issue, IF your shelves can handle the weight. If your space is very limited or if your shelves aren’t suitable for heavy weights, buying commercially canned food might be a better choice.

Whether your canned food is home processed, industrial or a combination of both, be sure to the total weight doesn’t undermine your storage cabinet or shelves. And don’t store canned food directly on the ground.

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?

Dry goods can be a very compact way to store a lot of food, and of course dry goods are very shelf-stable. Unless you specifically purchase these items in long-term food  storage containers, like sealed buckets, they will need to be repacked  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. This is a suitable method of storing flours, sugars and salts for a few months and has the benefit of being cheap and easy. Store the bags in a sealed bucket or the freezer as they will not be pest proof.

If you use canisters or other smaller sealed containers, you’ll need a capacity of 175 ounces at a minimum for a five pound bag. 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 3 or 5 gallon bucket. If you store it in canisters, 20 pounds of flour would take up about half of a pantry shelf. The bucket is far more space efficient for storing flour, sugar, salt, cornmeal or other similar items.

Storing food in five gallon buckets

I’ve gotten a lot of follow up questions about using five gallon buckets for food storage, so I’m adding a section to answer them. Most of these questions center around how much food fits in a five gallon bucket. I’ve compiled some data on how much food a five gallon bucket will hold and I’ve also answered some of the most common questions about food storage in buckets.

Remember that most dry goods are sold by the pound, typically in 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 pound increments. Because of that, I’ve chosen to describe quantities in units of five.

What kind of food can you store in five gallon buckets?

In theory, you can store any shelf-stable food in a sealed five gallon bucket, provided the bucket is food safe. In practice, it depends on what the food is and what your intentions are for using it. Plastic buckets are pretty sturdy but they’re not impervious to a determined rodent and they can become brittle or crack if stored in hot or sunny locations for too long.

I prefer to use five gallon buckets for dry goods like grains, white rice, cereals, and legumes. They’re also what I use to store things like sunflower seeds (for wild birds and my chickens) and animal feed. For short term storage (less than 6 months), it’s fine to just pour the dry food into the bucket and close the bucket. To store food longer, put the food into sealed mylar bags, and include an appropriately sized oxygen absorber when needed.

Don’t store food you intend to access frequently in a five gallon bucket, unless you’re going to consume it very quickly. Each time you open the bucket, you expose the contents to oxygen and moisture, as well as pests. Either break the food down into sealed bags or refill a smaller jar from the bucket periodically.

With the exception of pickling lime for storing eggs, I don’t use five gallon buckets for any liquids or other foods that might leak in the event of a crack.Five gallons of liquid is also very heavy, which can make accessing the contents or moving the bucket difficult.

How many pounds of beans fit in a five gallon bucket?

It depends on the size of the bean, of course. But a five gallon bucket will easily hold 25 pounds of most dried beans or legumes. When dried, beans will last for years but they will become too tough to really enjoy eating after a couple of years. A five gallon bucket will also hold 25 pounds of lentils, white rice or dried chickpeas.

How many pounds of flour fit in a five gallon bucket?

A five gallon bucket holds 30 pounds of flour, the equivalent of 6 five pound bags, if you just dump all the flour into the bucket.

A five gallon bucket will hold a similar amount of other finely processed things like sugar, baking soda, cornmeal, salt or starches.

But just because you can put 30 pounds of flour or sugar into a five gallon bucket doesn’t mean you should just pour it in. First, that’s very messy. Second, moisture and pests will be very attracted to the contents and it will be challenging to keep them at bay. It’s best to seal these in smaller quantities in mylar bags, then store the bags in the bucket. Use oxygen absorbers when appropriate but do not use absorbers with sugar.

Storing flour long term

Flour, especially wheat flour, turns rancid in just a few months unless it’s stored in a sealed bag with oxygen absorbers. It’s also very appealing to insects and rodents. If you plan to consume the entire bucket of flour in a few weeks, then go right ahead and dump it in the bucket.

But if you’re buying a lot of flour for long term use, take it out of the paper bags, seal 2-3 pound increments in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and store those bags in your five gallon bucket.

Since flour doesn’t keep well, a better option is storing wheat berries. Grind them as you need flour instead of trying to store tons of processed flour.

How many pounds of wheat fit in a five gallon bucket?

Speaking of wheat….a five gallon bucket holds a 25 pound sack of wheat berries. A five gallon bucket will also hold 25 pounds of rye, buckwheat, millet and most other grains or cereals.

How many pounds of oats fit in a five gallon bucket?

They’re large size and light weight mean each bucket can only hold 10-15 pounds of whole oats. If you buy a 25 pound bag, plan to use two buckets. Steel cut oats are more compact, so depending on how finely they’re milled, you may be able to fit an entire 25 pound sack into a bucket.

Printed canning planner

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Storing grains and legumes long term

To store grains and legumes in large quantities (20 pounds or more), 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 five gallon food storage bucket will occupy 12″ of shelf or floor space and about 16-18″ vertically. Buckets are tall, so they won’t fit into most standard cabinets.

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. Buckets are simply 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. If you’re storing dry goods, grains or legumes that you plan to use often, keep a smaller quantity in a jar or canister so you aren’t opening the buckets constantly. Every time the bucket is opened, the contents are exposed to oxygen and moisture which will shorten their lifespan and potentially cause spoilage. Plus buckets can be a little annoying to open, even with gamma lids.

six white buckets filled with grains

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Storing dried fruit and vegetables long term

Dried fruit and vegetables are very compact. If you’re short on space, consider either dehydrating fresh fruit and vegetables or buying them already dried. Dried vegetables must be crisp to the point of brittle before storing. Fruit should be dry to the touch but still pliable. During storage, it’s imperative dried foods stay…dry. Moisture will cause spoilage very quickly.

Because of this, it’s best to store dried produce in smaller containers, like canning jars, small cannisters or sealed bags.  See the above sections on the sizes for canning jars and cannisters. You can pack a lot of dried produce in pint or quart canning jars. And because the water has been removed, the produce will be lightweight. Consider the difference between this quart jar full of apple chunks canned in juice and a pint jar of dried apple slices.

long term food storage space

Both jars have about the same volume of apples but the dried apples are far more compact. While you might want both kinds of apple in your food stockpile (I know I do!), focus more on dried apples if space is at a premium

Here’s one year’s 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 six 5 gallon buckets

50 pounds of red wheat – stored in two 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. 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.

Storing bulk grains – bulky but worth it!

Bulk grains take up the most space in my basement food storage. There are eight 5 gallon buckets total. They’re stacked two high but still occupy a good chunk of floor space. The buckets cover an area 3′ wide by 4′ long.

But while my buckets take up 12 square feet of floor space, consider that the buckets contain almost 200 pounds of lentils and grains! That’s a pretty good use of those square feet.

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

Planning Long Term Food Storage

When all is said and done, it’s possible to fit a lot of food in a small space if you plan well. That means choosing foods and food formats that make sense for your available space. If you have a basement, then you may be able to store your food in five gallon buckets or build sturdy shelves to hold canned goods. That means you can store bulky things like grains and legumes easily. But if you only have a built-in pantry closet or just a few kitchen cabinets, buckets might be too heavy or take up too much floor space, meaning grains aren’t the best use of your space. In that case, jars of dried and canned foods, along with smaller cannisters of legumes, grains and other dry goods is probably the best use of your space.

Other food storage locations

And, of course, you can always store food in underutilized parts of your home, like in a spare bedroom closet or under the bed. But if you do this, make sure you have a really good tracking system in place and keep an up-to-date inventory. Food that’s out of sight is often out of mind and there’s no point in having a food stockpile if you can’t remember what you have.

And really give some thought to whether you want to dig under your bed for beans before you get too far along.

The other critical part of planning long term food storage is to pick foods you’ll actually eat or use. There’s very little point to stashing away buckets of lentils if you don’t like eating them. Don’t bother storing up cans and cans of tomatoes if your household only uses canned tomatoes a couple times a year. The idea behind having a food stockpile is to create a ‘grocery store’ in your home full of  shelf-stable foods you normally and regularly eat. Even if you’re planning your food stockpile with the apocalypse in mind, choose and store foods you’ll actually enjoy eating. The end of the world is no time to be stuck eating food you hate.

How much space bulk food takes up

Hopefully, this will give you some idea of how much space your food stockpile 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.