Long term food storage

You don’t have to be a doomsday prepper or a homesteader with 100 acres to set up a food stockpile.  It’s reassuring to know you have food on hand in case of an emergency or financial setback. And it’s really convenient to have a solid supply of canned food, dry goods and other shelf-stable items. That means fewer trips to the store and less packaging and waste.

Storing food long term can save you money since it’s often a lot cheaper to buy food in bulk. If you preserve from your garden, it becomes even more economical. Having the resources to set up long term food storage also means you can stock up when things are in season or on sale.

This post discusses all the supplies you need for storing food long term.

Long term food storage supplies

You may be wondering what you actually need to set up long term food storage or to store bulk food. Here’s what you need to know about long term food storage supplies. I’ve included recommendations for the products my own long term food storage supplies because I know they work well.

Check out Planning your Food Stockpile to learn what food you should store and how to start building your supply.

What is long term food storage?

I’m using “long term”here to mean 1-5 years.  Many foods will last longer than that, however. My primary goal in setting up long term food storage is to have 12-18 months of shelf-stable canned and dry goods on hand. You may want more or less food or to store some of it for decades. The information in this post applies no matter your food storage timeline.

This is food we are actively consuming and replenishing, not an untouchable treasure hoard of food stockpile for survival purposes.  I’m focusing primarily on shelf-stable food for this post, not frozen or refrigerated items, although those obviously can be part of your food stockpile.

See my related post How Much Space Do You Need to Store Food? for information on how much you can fit in these container and how much floor or shelf space long term food storage containers will take up.

Storing food long term

Storing food long term doesn’t have to be overwhelming or intimidating.

Many foods can be stored long term, if they’re processed correctly.  Dairy should be frozen or dehydrated. Meat can be frozen, dried, cured or canned. Fruit and vegetables have to be processed by canning, freezing, drying or freeze drying, with the exception of some root vegetables. Even eggs can be stored long term – here’s how.

While freezing and refrigeration are great ways to store food, that food becomes useless pretty fast in a prolonged power outage. So go ahead and pack up the freezer but it’s a good idea to have plenty of shelf-stable options, too.

Ideally, your food stockpile will consist of some of a well-rounded assortment of protein, produce and grains/starches, but it’s really most important that your food stockpile be food you eat regularly. So if the idea of canned meat doesn’t appeal to you, it’s ok to focus more on other areas and rely on fresh or frozen meat most of the time. Not into dried fruit? Try canned fruit or jams, jellies or chutneys instead.

Disclosure: I’m an affiliate for Lehman’s HardwareAzure Standard, Amazon.com 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.

Long term food storage containers

Food safe containers that are appropriate for long term food storage are essential. This is probably the most important thing to consider before you buy food for your stockpile. There’s no point to investing in food if you don’t have the right long term food storage containers. In order to store food long term, it must be in sturdy, food grade containers, preferably opaque. The container needs to seal completely in order to keep out moisture, oxygen and pests.

When choosing containers for long term food storage, look for those marked as ‘food safe’ or ‘food grade’ and make sure they are intended for longer term use. Even if you have ample storage space, choose space efficient containers whenever you can. You never know when you might need to condense your food stockpile into a smaller space.

Repacking commercially packed food for storage

If you’re buying commercially prepared and portioned food – think shelf-stable items from the grocery store –  it will likely be packaged (sometimes to a frustrating degree!). But that packaging (except for commercially canned food or food specifically packed for storage) probably isn’t ideal for long term storage on it’s own.

Assume you will need to store packaged dry goods and other shelf-stable food inside some other, long term storage container. IE, if you buy a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese, plan to pack those boxes into a bucket or other larger container if you’re going to store them for more than a few months.

Packing bulk food for long term storage

Bulk food like grains, legumes, starches, salt and sugar, usually comes in a single, large bag or box. Big quantities of food need to be repacked for both successful storage and ease of use – it’s simply not practical to keep 25 pounds of pantry staples in the kitchen cabinets. And in most cases, the bag or box isn’t durable enough to store food in. Even if you go through a 25 bag of sugar quickly, it’s much easier to store and use if you transfer it to a large bucket or canister. And on the off chance you don’t use the food as quickly as you expect, it will keep much longer if it’s in a good container.

Breaking large quantities of food into smaller parcels means you can leave most of your supply sealed up, only opening what you’ll use quickly.

What’s the best material for long term food storage containers?

In most cases, you’ll be choosing between plastic food storage containers and glass food storage containers. By and large, plastic food storage containers are the better choice for long term food storage. Here’s a look at both options.

Plastic food storage containers for long term

Plastic containers come in a wide  range of sizes, from tiny tubs to multi-gallon buckets. They’re typically very durable, though they can break or crack and it is possible for determined rodents to chew into them. Plastic does break down over time and can become brittle or warp, which may lead to air leaks. Proper storage and use, as well as choosing good quality containers will limit degradation of plastic – but it’s still a good idea to check over plastic containers once a year and make sure they’re in tip top shape.

Many plastic containers are also opaque, which is very important for longer term storage. Size for size, most plastic containers are lighter weight than glass options, which can be very important when considering the weight load of shelves or storage racks. Plastic containers are often cheaper than glass containers.

But, of course, the biggest advantage is simply that there are many more size options available in plastic. I’ve never heard of a five gallon glass bucket and I wouldn’t want one even if they existed.

Glass food storage containers for long term

Glass jars are a great option for storing smaller quantities of food. I love my pyrex storage bowls for kitchen use and short term storage. But jars and other glass containers  have some drawbacks for longer term food storage. First, they’re breakable. That’s not a deal breaker but it’s not ideal for long term storage.

Second, the size of glass containers is relatively limited, compared to plastic canisters or food buckets. If you try to store 25 pounds of black beans in quart jars, you’ll need around 15-18 jars. Those jars will take up most of a standard pantry or cabinet shelf.

By contrast, you can put 8 pounds in a 6″ x 6″square cannister or all 25 pounds in a five gallon bucket. Three square canisters or one bucket take up much less space than all those jars. And keep in mind an empty quart jar weighs about a pound. So you’d be adding 15 pounds to the weight of your beans – you’d need some beefy shelves for that!

In general, save glass jars for smaller quantities of food or for compact foods like dried fruit. Obviously if you’re canning food at home, you’ll be storing it in canning jars. But beyond canning, glass jars or canisters just aren’t as reliable and they’re not space saving.

Long term food storage buckets

Any plastic container, including buckets, needs to be BPA free and food grade.

For large quantities of dry goods or other shelf-stable food (10 pounds and up), you’ll need buckets.

Buckets come in a range of sizes from 1-10 gallons. Five gallon buckets are the most common and are usually the cheapest option. You can’t go wrong with five gallon buckets to store your bulk grains and dry food.

If, however, you have extra funds or you are very short on space, consider upgrading to square buckets. While pricier, they take up less shelf space.

A round five gallon bucket obviously holds more than a round four gallon bucket, if you’re storing your food without breaking it down into smaller bags. But if you are using mylar bags to store food in one gallon increments, a four gallon square bucket and a five gallon round bucket will each hold an average of 3-4 one gallon bags. I use these square four gallon buckets for storing mylar bags of food and I love them.

Using buckets to store food

A five gallon round bucket and four gallon square bucket. Both hold 3 one-gallon mylar bags of food.

Finding cheap food buckets

The cheapest place I have found five gallon buckets is Tractor Supply. If you have those in your area, head there. Some people get free or very cheap buckets from local restaurants or bakeries, so it may be worth checking in your area.

If you need to order buckets online, be prepared to pay quite a bit more per bucket.

Don’t forget the lids

Also know that you usually have to buy the lid separately. That’s not as weird as it sounds, though, since there are several lid options and buying them separately lets you pick the best option.

You can buy standard bucket lids, which can be annoying to take on and off, or gamma lids, which unscrew easily. Gamma lids are thicker and pricier but if you’re going to be in and out of the bucket often, or if you have arthritis or other hand issues, they’re worth it.

Long term food storage in buckets

Some of my five gallon buckets, with standard lids.

They hold a variety of grain and legumes.

We use up these grains quickly enough that I simply keep them in sealed buckets.

For longer storage, put the food into a mylar bag and then put the bag into the bucket.

Here’s the best places to buy long term food storage buckets online:

These are the best five gallon buckets for food storage.

Azure Standard – I love Azure Standard. As noted, I’m an affiliate but even if I weren’t, I’d put them at the top of this list because they’re a great company. If you order produce, legumes and bulk grains from them, go ahead and add your buckets (and lids!).  That way you can pick it all up at once. Azure has fantastic prices on food and household items, so it’s definitely something you should check out.

Amazon – If you need food storage buckets asap, this 6 pack is a pretty good deal and it includes lids.

Uline – yes, the box people. They actually sell a lot of random items, including five gallon food buckets with lids. Their price is decent but shipping from Uline can be pretty hefty, depending on where you live.

If you can possibly buy food storage buckets locally, you’ll almost certainly save money. Just make sure they’re food grade and BPA free. Check local bakeries and restaurants to see if they’ll give you empty buckets. Many place are happy to give them away!

Storing food in buckets

If a bucket is food grade, you can just store dry food directly in the bucket. For foods you plan to use up in less than a year, this is likely a fine plan. But if you want to store food longer than a year or ensure maximum protection and freshness, use mylar bags. Good quality mylar bags will protect dry, non-oily foods for years or even decades as long as the bags are stored inside a sealed bucket.

The best mylar bags for food storage

There’s literally no contest here. Wallaby is the best place to buy mylar bags. I’m an affiliate for them and it’s because I was so impressed by their products. They sell 1 gallon bags, with and without a gusset, and five gallon bags. The gusset bags are easier to fill but more expensive. They are resealable via a standard ‘zip top’ seal but you should seal the bag with a flat iron or other heat sealer.

Wallaby also includes high quality oxygen absorbers with their bags. You need an oxygen absorber to successfully store many (but not all!) dry foods long term. The OA simply pulls oxygen molecules out of the air. When an OA is placed in a sealed mylar bag, it rapidly absorbs all the oxygen in the bag, which means pests can’t survive and the food won’t go stale.

If you use my code BigSplendor5, you’ll save $5 off your order and I’ll get a small commission for referring you. But even if I weren’t an affiliate, I’d tell you to order from Wallby because they simply have the best mylar bags for food storage. If you prefer, just click this link to place your order and get the discount.

Can you reuse mylar bags?

Oh yes. As long as the bag is sturdy enough to withstand filling, sealing, opening, washing and doing it all over again. Because you need to heat seal the bag each time, you’ll end up cutting a small amount of the bag away every time you open it. But you’ll still get many uses from even smaller bags. Wallaby’s mylar bag are thick and durable, so you can ACTUALLY seal and re-seal them. So while they’re not the cheapest option, you’ll recoup some of the cost simply through durability.

store wheat in a five gallon bucket

These are the best smaller containers for short to medium term food storage:

I use airtight canisters for all-purpose flour, bread flour, brown rice. Those are dry goods I use often but I only want a few weeks worth out at a time. Why? Because flour and brown rice start to turn rancid after a few months. The canisters help maximize their shelf-life while making it easy to get to them.

I use plastic food storage containers for storing smaller quantities of flour, sugar, beans, legumes, rice and other dry goods. They’re airtight, easy to open and stack really neatly. Here are the three sizes I use, along with photos, capacity information and links.

Best food storage container for up to 8 pounds

Four airtight large food containers, 220 ounces

Use large airtight food canisters like these to store larger amounts of flour, rice, beans, grains, sugar, starch, etc:

These containers seal well, open easily and stack neatly. After years of use, they’re still in perfect shape and still airtight.

Each food container measures 7″W (at widest point) by 11″ T and holds 220 ounces or 7-8 pounds.

I use these large containers for dried beans, rice, cornmeal and various flours.

The best storage containers for 5 to 7 pounds

One of these will hold a four or five pound bag of flour or sugar easily. They hold about 7 pounds of beans or rice.

Each canister measures 7″W and 8.5″ T. The canister can hold 176 ounces or a little over 4 quarts (1 gallon).

I use these containers for storing beans, lentils and rice. Since they’re a little smaller, I use them for the foods I don’t use quite as fast.

Food Safe plastic containers for dry food, beans, flour and more.

The best food storage containers for three pounds or less

food safe plastic canisters for dry food beans, sugar, rice

These small canisters are perfect for storing 2-3 pounds of dry food, like rice or beans.

They’re 6″W by 6″T and hold just over 2 quarts.

I use these to store some of the varieties of beans we don’t eat as often, making it unnecessary to stockpile larger quantities.

The best food storage containers for pasta and noodles

I added these containers to my food storage because I was tired of trying to fit large or long noodles in other containers.

These are amazing. They hold 4-5 pounds of spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine and 2-3 pounds of chunkier pasta or noodles. Each container can hold about 2 boxes of standard sized lasagna noodles.

There’s no shortage of spaghetti containers but these are the only ones I’ve found that are horizontal and stacking. Getting the right amount of noodles out of them is much easier than vertical containers, too.

I haven’t used them for other foods but I’m sure they’d be fine for 3-4 pounds of most drygoods. I think the taller canisters are better for that purpose, personally.

Other small food storage containers

While I mentioned some of the pitfalls of glass containers for long term food storage, there are some times (besides home canning) when glass jars are a great choice.

Use canning jars or product jars from things like salsa or olives to store things like dried fruit, vegetables or herbs. They’re also great for whole spices or spice blends and herb salts. There are plenty of plastic containers and canisters out there but it’s much more economical to reuse jars.

Most glass jars can be vacuum sealed if you have a sealer with a jar attachment.

In the photo below, you can see how I’m using repurposed product jars to hold my herb salts.

Using old jars to store food

Long Term Food Storage Supplies

While the actual food storage containers are critical, there’s a few other things you need for long term food storage.

Food storage labels

Be sure every single bag, bucket and bin is labeled with the contents, quantity and date. It’s very hard to tell exactly what’s in a mylar bag without opening it. And you need to know how old the food is before you eat it. Labels will help ensure you eat your oldest food first and that nothing is too far past its shelf life.

Vacuum sealer for food storage

Vacuum sealers can be inexpensive, manual pumps or expensive, complex machines.  They pull the oxygen out of jars and bags in order to prolong the life of the food. In some cases, vacuum sealing also helps make the food package more compact.

You can use a vacuum sealer to extend the shelf life of dry food, including pasta, beans, rice and flour. It’s possible to vacuum seal dried fruit, vegetables or meat but it’s critical that any dehydrated item have a moisture level of less than 10%. That’s because botulism can thrive in moist food stored in an oxygen free environment. The safest course of action is to repackage commercially dehydrated or freeze dried fruit, vegetable and meat or to store those items without vacuum sealing the jar (or using an oxygen absorber).

Vacuum sealing is also a great way to extend the life of frozen food. The seal prevents freezer burn and keeps the food tasting fresher for longer.

Some sealers come with an attachment for vacuum sealing jars, which is a great way to store small quantities of dry food, like bread crumbs or crackers.

You can also use a sealer to prolong the life of home canned food once opened. For example, if you’ve made pickles and water bath canned them, they’ll be shelf-stable for as long as the jar seal is intact. Once opened, the pickles need to be refrigerated. To help them last longer in the fridge, use the vacuum sealer to close the jar in between servings.

Using a vacuum sealer to close a jar of canned food does not make the jar shelf-stable again. And a vacuum sealer is not a replacement for water bath or pressure canning food.

Mylar bags for food storage

Any dry food can be stored in a mylar bag. These bags are impermeable when sealed and will keep the food dry and safe from external insects.

Mylar bags come in a variety of sizes and thicknesses, from single serving sized to five gallon bags. I like to use one gallon bags so I can continue to use them after the first seal has been cut.

Be sure the bag you use is thick enough  to protect the food inside, especially if the food is sharp or pointy.

Mylar bags with a bottom gusset are easier to fill because they will stand up, but they are more expensive.

As  wonderful as mylar bags are, they’re not a stand alone food storage item. The bags should be stored in a bucket or other container to avoid punctures or rodents gnawing through the mylar.

The addition of an oxygen absorber means any insect eggs already in the food cannot survive. Lack of oxygen also slows the oxidation process. Oxygen absorbers are not suitable for all foods, though. Don’t use them with salt or sugar and be sure cornmeal is very dry before introducing the oxygen absorber.

As noted above, food must have less than 10% moisture in order to be stored safely in an oxygen free environment. It’s fine to store home dehydrated fruit and vegetables in a mylar bag but skip the oxygen absorber since it’s very difficult to ensure home dried food is under the 10% threshold.

The best mylar bags for food storage

I’ve already said it but it bears repeating: Wallaby is the best place to buy mylar bags.

Wallaby includes quality oxygen absorbers with their bags. Again, they’re not the cheapest option, but you can’t beat the quality of their bags and the inclusion of the oxygen absorbers really adds value to the product.

If you use my code BigSplendor5, you’ll save $5 off your order and I’ll get a small commission for referring you.  If you prefer, just click this link to place your order and get the discount.

Storing Flour Long Term

As noted earlier, it’s tricky to store flour long term. Pests really like flour AND it can turn rancid relatively fast.  It must be kept dry and sealed. Since commercially processed flour can arrive with insect eggs already in it, it needs to be processed in a low-temp oven or the freezer before being stored if you are not using oxygen absorbers..

You can also store flour and flour-based mixes in the freezer, if you have room for it. The freezer can be a great way to prolong the life of extras!

To store flour longer than a few months, put it into a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber, then store in a bucket. This method will keep flour useable and palatable for 3-5, at least. My preferred method is to put five pounds of flour in a one gallon mylar bag, then add a 300cc oxygen absorber. A five gallon bucket will hold four of these bags, for a total of 20 pounds of flour.

It’s not recommended to store whole wheat flour long term as it will become rancid even in the absence of oxygen.

Long term food supply

Creating a long term food supply likely won’t happen overnight but it’s worth committing to the effort. If you’re thinking about starting a food stockpile, building a deep pantry or storing food for long term use, remember that you can start small. While it’s nice to buy cabinets or put up shelves, you can  start storing food just by putting up a few cans of garden surplus. Start with what seems manageable now and add to it as you go.

Do you store extra food? If you’ve got any tips, let me know in the comments.

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Here’s what you need to know about setting up a food stockpile, storing food for the long term and how to pick food storage supplies.