Where should you store food long term?
Buckets, canisters and jars need someplace to live, once you’ve filled them. They can take up a fair amount of space in your home, so it’s important to find a spot where your food stockpile won’t overwhelm other aspects of your home. Food storage also requires specific environmental conditions. And finally, your food stockpile needs to be easily accessible and organized.
Here’s some suggestions for where to store your food stockpile.
First, check out the environmental conditions
Before you buy any food, you need to decide where you’ll keep it.
Any place you store food should be dry and not prone to flooding or build up on condensation.
The area shouldn’t be excessively dry or humid.
One exception to this is root cellaring – some foods need to be stored in a humid environment, while others should be in a drier space.
But for storing dry, canned, and other shelf-stable foods, try to find a place with moderate, consistent moisture levels. If need be, add a dehumidifier or humidifier.
The space needs to have enough climate control to maintain a temperature between 40 and 70 degrees. Some temperature fluctuations are fine but ideally, your space will maintain a fairly steady temp.
Food breaks down much more quickly when exposed to light, especially UV light. The packaging can also degrade more if stored in bright areas. If your storage area has windows, you’ll need to store food in opaque containers or cabinets to ensure a long shelf life.
Your storage area should have good airflow. If your storage is in an unventilated closet, basement or other area, you may need to add a fan to move air in and out of the room. Most other areas of your home likely have sufficient ventilation to store food but if you ever notice strong food smells or if the air feels stale, it might be time to improve the ventilation.
Food storage options
If you’re lucky enough to have a large pantry or kitchen closet, then you may be able to store most or all of your foods in there. See my post on Food Storage Space if you need to know how much room food containers will take up.
If your pantry is small or you don’t have one, then you’ll need to find other areas of your home to store bulk food. The basement is a common choice but you can also use a spare bedroom or a hall closet. Just be sure it meets the basic environmental requirements.
Obviously the amount of food you store will dictate where you can reasonably store it. Your food doesn’t need to be stored in a single place, either. Some people create several small storage areas throughout their homes.
If you opt to spread your food stockpile out, make sure you keep detailed records. You need to know how much food you have and where it is.
And also make sure getting to your food isn’t such a huge hassle that you avoid using it. It’s fine to use non-traditional storage areas but not if it means you avoid using your food or can’t get to it.
In general, it’s best to keep the food you’ll access often closer to your kitchen but your longer term supply can live elsewhere in your home if need be.
How to store your food stockpile
It’s not enough to just have a food storage space. You also need shelves, cabinets or other surfaces to hold your buckets, bins and canisters. Food should never be stored directly on the floor, so you’ll need enough space for everything.
Options might include built in shelves or cabinets, free-standing shelves or cabinets or other storage furniture. You can be creative here and repurpose items you already have. Just be sure your food storage furniture can handle the weight of full containers!
See How Much Space do you Need to Store Food? for data about the footprint of common food storage containers, as well as their capacities and weight. That will help you choose the right options or maximize what you already have.
Cabinets and Shelving Units for Long Term Food Storage
I purchased freestanding cabinets to put in my basement as food storage. Hanging cabinets isn’t an option in our basement due to the low ceiling, but there is room to tuck a few of these in.
While there are several options, I highly recommend this basic pantry cabinet from Closetmaid. I chose them after doing a fair amount of research on shelf size, weight capacity and overall sturdiness. They offered the best amount of space for the price.
They can hold a few dozen full canning jars, which I have used them for. They’re perfect for smaller canisters and containers, so I prefer to use them for those.
There are other bigger and sturdier free-standing cabinets that may work for your food storage needs. But a larger cabinet may not have a large enough weight capacity – so be sure to estimate the weight of your food and check both the load per shelf and the total load.
An obvious advantage of cabinets for food storage is that they keep food out of light. For that reason, you may want to prioritize those for storing clear containers.
Storing buckets of food
It’s pretty easy to stack five gallon buckets but it can be a nuisance to unstack them if you need access to the bottom buckets. Using large shelves can make it much easier to organize and get to your food buckets, while keeping them off the ground.
If you have space for it, these metal shelves are very sturdy. It’s simple to adjust the shelf spacing to accommodate buckets (which are typically 15-18″ tall). This style of shelving comes in a huge range of sizes, but I like the 48″ wide by 72″ tall set.
I think it offers the best amount of storage for the floor space it uses. It can be configured to hold 8 buckets on the two lower shelves. The upper shelves will need to be close together but they can hold small items, like flats of empty canning jars.
There is also a 36″ wide option,which you can see in several of the photos on this page.
If you have wall space, this shelving unit is top notch. It’s easy to put together and the shelves are adjustable. At 48″W, it covers a lot of ground but the shelves are two buckets deep. I have the same unit but it’s 60″ wide. Unfortunately that size is no longer sold, but the 48″ W set is still a fantastic choice for storing heavy buckets and bins.
All of the shelves I’ve linked to are well-built and really sturdy. I have the same units in my basement and have been using them for years.
Whatever you choose, be sure to check the weight capacity for the entire unit as well as each shelf. And keep mind that you may need to level shelving units or cabinets if your floor isn’t perfectly level.
Other storage furniture
Other options for storing cans, jars and smaller containers include cubby organizers, storage totes and closet organizers. Cubbies can be a great way to keep jars and cans neatly organized, as long as they can handle the total weight load.
Can you stack canning jars?
You can stack commercial cans in several layers but home canned food should not be stacked. If you must stack home canned food, stick to a single layer and never stack any jar larger than a pint. Again, check the total weight load.
Never store home canned food on it’s side.
Some canisters are also stackable, which can help you maximize storage space.
Shelf and pantry organizers
Risers, bins and racks are another way to keep your smaller food items organized, accessible and secure. If you have the budget for it, there are tons of specialized options to hold cans, bottles, boxes and even packets. It’s also possible to repurpose things you already have to help keep your food storage tidy.