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 may 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.
A quick update about the scope of this post
In this post, I am focusing on the amount of space common storage containers take up, as well as how much they weigh when full. I’m also focusing on the capacity of common food storage containers. You can figure out your own food storage needs by using these raw numbers and multiplying them by the amount of food you wish to store.
Please note that I’m saying long term food storage because I’m talking about storing food for longer than a few weeks. Whether ‘long term’ means one year or 25 years just depends on your preferences. Regardless, the space food required for storing food quantities is the same, just multiply the footprint of one five gallon bucket (for example) by the total number you need to store.
I’m examining space requirements for shelf-stable foods, not frozen or refrigerated foods. Storing food in the fridge and freezer is a very important component of of setting up long term food storage. But it’s outside the scope of this post, which is concerned with how much space you need to accommodate a lot of food outside of those appliances.
These modular shelves can hold a huge amount of food! They occupy a total floor space of about 54″W x 72″H x 18″ D. Because they’re rated for heavy weight, they make a very space efficient, organized storage area for all my home-canned food, including empty jars and canners. There’s also room for bulky squash and pumpkins.
Storing Bulk Food
Here’s some information to help you plan long term, bulk food storage space. I’m providing the square inches and weight for common food storage containers as well as typical capacity of containers like five gallon buckets and canisters.
I’m also describing bulk food storage in terms of how much will fit on atypical pantry or cabinet shelf.
Remember that you may not want to store the maximum amount of food possible in a given space. Packing each shelf or cabinet can make it harder to keep your food organized and rotate through it in an orderly fashion.
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 numbers 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.
To learn what supplies you’ll need to store your bulk food long term, check out Essential Supplies for Long Term Food Storage
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 and half-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.
These shelves are 24″W x 18″D x 18″H. The undivided shelf can accommodate about 21 quart jars in a single layer. The divided shelves hold 64 pints and around 120 half-pints. Please note that these stacking shelves are rated for this weight load but I still take care to distribute the jars evenly when necessary.
Commercial Canned Goods Storage
Smaller sizes (30 ounces and under) industrial canned goods occupy a footprint similar to home-canned pints and quarts. They’re typically a bit lighter in weight, however, and may be shorter. Larger cans, like #10 cans, typically take up a 7-8 square inch footprint and are heavier than smaller cans.
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.
How much room does it take to store dry goods?
Dry goods can be pantry staples, raw ingredients or prepacked foods. They can be a very compact way to store a lot of food, and of course dry goods are very shelf-stable without much additional work.
Unless you specifically purchase these items in long-term food storage containers however, 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 short term (smaller quantities):
A 5 pound sack of flour or sugar will just fit into a gallon freezer bag. The filled bag takes up about 5 square inches of shelf space. This is a suitable method of storing flours, sugars and salts for a few months. It has the benefit of being cheap and easy and you can reuse the bags. 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 6-7 square inches of shelf space. Square canisters are more space efficient than round jars, so you may be able to squeeze in some extras if you use those.
Here’s my suggestions for best Small Food Storage Containers
Storing larger quantities or storing for long term
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 sugar (for example), be prepared to store it in 5 pound increments (canisters or bags) or put it into a 4 or 5 gallon bucket.
If you store it in canisters, 20 pounds of sugar would take up about half of a pantry shelf! A bucket is far more space efficient for storing flour, sugar, salt, cornmeal or other similar items. A square 4 gallon bucket will hold 20 pounds of sugar in a 12 square inch space. Buckets are taller, of course, so they’ll take up more vertical space.
You can find the storage capacity of five gallon buckets further down this post.
Storing other dry foods short term
What about storing processed staples like dried noodles, crackers, cookies, pasta and boxed dinners and other mixes and processed foods?
Most ‘processed foods’ you buy at the grocery store are already in very space-saving, shelf-stable packaging. It’s not suitable for storing longer than a few months but it is designed to fit efficiently on shelves. If you like to keep a few months worth of things like boxed dinners, cake mixes and crackers on hand, you can fit about 10-15 standard boxes on a pantry or cabinet shelf. Be sure to stack them with the oldest boxes out front and use those first.
Long boxes of pasta like spaghetti and fettuccine have a similar footprint if you stand them on end.
Egg noodles and other items packaged in bags instead of boxes are a bit bulkier but can generally be stacked.
Storing packaged foods long term
But if you want to keep these foods on hand longer, you should plan to repackage them or store them in sealed containers. Their store packaging just isn’t suitable for keeping out pests, rodents, oxygen and moisture over the long haul.
You don’t necessarily have to take these foods out of their original box or bag. But you should put the boxes or bags into a sealed container, like a large bucket.
It’s pretty easy to transfer things like dried noodles, crackers, cookies and pasta to canisters, storage containers, jars or mylar bags. Store those in quantities you’ll consume quickly once opened to minimize exposure to air and moisture. Old glass jars are great for storing crackers or cookies for short term consumption!
Mixes can be a bit more challenging to store longer unless you transfer them to sealed jars or mylar bags. Honestly, it’s usually easier to store the dry ingredients for things like cakes, brownies or cornbread in larger quantities and mix them up from scratch. You can also make up your own mixes and store those in sealed jars or bags for single use.
Refer to the information above for storage dimensions of common jar and canister sizes.
Storing grains and legumes short term
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.
Space for storing grains and legumes long term
Storing 25 pounds of beans in canisters or jars would require just over half a pantry shelf! That’s not a very efficient way to store beans or other grains or legumes.
To store grains and legumes in large quantities (20 pounds or more), use large buckets.
A 5 gallon bucket can easily hold 25 pounds of unbagged rye, wheat, millet, lentils, rice or beans. It will only hold about 15 pounds of oats.
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. Nevertheless, buckets are simply a much more space efficient way to store 15 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.
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.
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 completely 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) or for food you’ll use up very quickly, it’s fine to just pour the dry food into the bucket. To store food longer, put the food into sealed mylar bags, and include an appropriately sized oxygen absorber when needed.
The best mylar bags for food storage
The best mylar bags for food storage
Wallaby is the best place to buy mylar bags. I’m an affiliate because I was so happy with their bags and oxygen absorbers, which are included with the order.
Use my code BigSplendor5 to save $5 off your order. I’ll receive a small commission for your order. I’d tell you to order from anyway because they have the best mylar bags for food storage. You can also just click this link to order with the discount.
A couple more things about storing food in buckets
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 waterglassing 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.
Here’s how much food you can fit in a five gallon bucket.
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. You can fit more ‘loose’ grain or food in a bucket than mylar bags but the bagged food will last much longer and stay fresher.
Five Gallon Bucket Food Capacity
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, peas or dried chickpeas.
That assumes you are simply pouring the food directly into the bucket, which you certainly can do. If you break the food into mylar bags, you’ll be able to fit less food per bucket. A one gallon mylar bag holds about five pounds of beans or legumes and a five gallon bucket can accommodate three or four of those gallon bags, depending on the size of the legume or grain.
How many pounds of wheat fit in a five gallon bucket?
A five gallon bucket holds a 25 pound sack of wheat berries (hard or soft, red or white).
A five gallon bucket will also hold 25 pounds of rye, buckwheat, millet and most other grains or cereals.
This assumes you are dumping the entire 25 pounds directly into the bucket or into a five gallon mylar bag.
If you store these grains in smaller mylar bags, less will fit in the bucket. A one gallon mylar bag will hold about 5 pounds of wheat or other small grains, so a five gallon bucket will hold 15 pounds in that case.
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.
A one gallon mylar bag will hold about 2.5 pounds of oats. Three gallon bags of oats will fit in a five gallon bucket.
How many pounds of flour fit in a five gallon bucket?
A five gallon bucket holds 25-30 pounds of flour, if you just dump all the flour into the bucket.
But just because you can put 30 pounds of flour 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.
A five gallon bucket will hold a similar amount of other finely processed things like sugar, baking soda, cornmeal, salt or starches.
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, so it will be under constant attack unless it’s stored properly.
It’s best to seal flour in smaller quantities in mylar bags, then store the bags in the bucket. Use an appropriately sized oxygen absorber in each bag of flour.
A one gallon mylar bag holds five pounds of flour. Three of those bags will fit into a five gallon bucket. While you can fit less flour into the bucket, it’s a much better way to store flour long term.
The general consensus is that unbleached all-purpose flour will keep for 3-5 years if stored in a mylar bag (with oxygen absorbers) within a bucket.
If you want to store flour even longer, a better option is storing wheat berries. Grind them as you need flour instead of trying to store tons of processed flour. Wheat berries have a 30 year shelf life when stored in a sealed bucket.
How many pounds of rice fit in a five gallon bucket?
You can fit 25 pounds of rice in a five gallon bucket, if you pour the entire quantity into the bucket or into a five gallon mylar bag.
A one gallon mylar bag will hold five pounds of rice. The five gallon bucket can accommodate three or four gallon sized mylar bags.
Only store white rice long term. Brown rice will become rancid after only a few months so it’s not a good candidate for longer term storage or stockpiling.
How many pounds of sugar will fit in a five gallon bucket?
A five gallon bucket can easily hold 25 pounds of sugar if you just dump the sugar into the bucket or into a five gallon mylar bag. If you’re storing sugar for the long term, then feel free to store the entire 25 pounds in a single container.
If you plan to access the sugar, it’s better to store it in smaller mylar bags within the bucket. A one gallon mylar bag holds five pounds of sugar. Four of those bags will fit into a five gallon bucket.
Do not use oxygen absorbers when storing sugar. They’re unnecessary and they’ll turn your sugar into a giant lump.
Other Food Storage Buckets
Round five gallon buckets are the most common and cheapest option for storing food. But they’re not the only option.
Square buckets take up less floor space because they fit closely together. While a square bucket and a round bucket will both hold the same amount by volume, square buckets can usually accommodate more one gallon mylar bags. So if you plan to store food in mylar bags within your buckets and you’re short on space, you might want to use square buckets.
Square buckets of all sizes are more expensive than round buckets. But there again, if space is at a premium, or you just like things to fit together very neatly, you may want to use square buckets.
Five gallon buckets are common but you can also buy 1, 2, 3 and 4 gallon buckets very easily.
I bought this set of square, four gallon buckets for longer term storage because they would fit neatly on shelves I already had. They were about $7 more per bucket than the cheapest 5 gallon buckets I could find, but they allowed me to use space that was going unused.
I highly recommend them for food you don’t plan to access often. Why? Because the lids need to be tamped down firmly and they are not easy to take back off. That’s a good thing when it comes to sealing up food but it’s not ideal for food you want to get to frequently.
In my storage, these buckets hold rice, sugar and flour we won’t be using until we’re ready to top off our short term stock. Although the buckets are smaller, they hold three of the one gallon mylar bags (15 pounds of food), the same as a five gallon bucket.
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.
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 example of my food stockpile and how much space my long-term food storage actually requires:
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 mylar bags)
10 pounds sugar (stored in gallon mylar bags)
25 pounds total 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
WHOLE & DRIED FRUITS AND VEG
36 pounds of apples, stored in fruit boxes (24″ W x 36″ H x 12″ D)
20 winter squash, stored in one large bin (30″W x 18″H x 18″ D)
3 pints of dried apples
3 pints of dried tomatoes
Dried Herbs and Spices:
Stored in canning jars, repurposed food jars and gallon bags:
occupy 1 shelf 24″X 12″
All of that food is stored in my basement. That quantity of canned food, dried herbs and spices, flour, sugar and beans filled 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 were stored in fruit boxes on top of those cabinets, so I used “dead” space for them.
Storing bulk grains – bulky but worth it!
Bulk grains take up the most space in my basement food storage.
But while six 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.
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.
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.
Resources to help you can food safely, efficiently and economically
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