How to Store Food in a 5 Gallon Bucket

How to Store Food in 5-Gallon Buckets

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

One of the best ways to store food long term is in plastic buckets. This is because, when used properly, they can extend the shelf life of food items by decades. If you’re planning for a SHTF scenario in which everyday goods are hard to come by, taking the steps to secure your food supply is essential survival. Food is critical to life and will be one of the most valuable resources in a crisis. We previously wrote about storing food in mason jars, but in this article we will discuss how to store food in 5 gallon buckets.

Foods stored in buckets can have a shelf life of 2-5 years. However, using oxygen absorbers, mylar bags, and food grade buckets, it can extend the shelf life of many food items to as long as 30 years. Salt and Sugar have an indefinite shelf life in a 5 gallon bucket.

Preppers should be using plastic buckets because, unlike store-bought packaged goods, they are effective for long term storage. Generally speaking, grains like rice and beans usually come in small packages that are okay for storage and usage within a year. But to achieve sustainable longer term storage, an adjustment will have to be made to improve how the food is stored.

Why Store Food in Plastic Buckets?

With the means, money in your pocket, and grocery stores around you, I know it is hard to imagine a situation where you are not able to access food for an extended amount of time. But crises and emergencies do occur so we should be prepared for them.

No matter where you live in the world, there’s always the possibility of experiencing disasters. Whether it’s a hurricane, an earthquake, a tsunami, or an economic crisis, that may disrupt the supply chain of food. All of this means you could easily find yourself without access to food for days or even months. During Hurricane Maria, parts of Puerto Rico did not have access to food for months. In such situations, having food stored can be the difference between life and death.

Being prepared for an emergency with a ready supply of healthy food can ensure the safety of your yourself and family. When it comes to the best places to store food, plastic buckets are one of the best tools a prepper can use as it allows for bulk storage. Plastic buckets possess all the important qualities a good storage candidate: durability, inertness, size flexibility, affordability, and so on.

A gallon is about 10 cans, so a 5 gallon bucket is about 50 cans of food per bucket. This would make a 5 gallon bucket one of the most inexpensive ways to build your family’s food pantry as they can provide thousands of calories and be stored for decades.

How to Store Food Long Term in Buckets?

5 gallon buckets can be used for food storage, storing emergency medical gear, and so much more. But for proper food storage, and to extend the shelf life of the food in the plastic bucket, there is a correct process to store the food. Fortunately, you only have to learn it once, and you can use and reuse the same food grade buckets following the process.

In theory, food storage in 5 gallon buckets seems simples, because we assume we can just pour the dry foods into the plastic bucket and be done. And this may be true in the case of sugar and salt items. But if you would like to extend the shelf life of grains and beans from 2-5 years to 20+ years, you’ll need to store the food in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and seal the lids properly. This is a slightly more elaborate process, but it is necessary for extending the shelf life of the food.

Let’s go through all the steps to achieve the best long-term results. You will need:

  1. Food Grade Plastic Bucket

  2. Mylar Bags

  3. Oxygen Absorbers

  4. Bucket Opener

  5. Rubber Mallet

Step 1: Select from Food Grade Buckets

Only use food grade buckets for your food storage. You don’t want to use buckets previously used for non-food substances like dyes, solvents, and chemicals. Using non food grade buckets can spoil the food or cause health problems later on.

Step 2: Consider Several Sizing Options

The size of the buckets can make your life easier or more difficult. Larger size buckets can be heavy to lift and shift, especially when you stack buckets on top of each other. So, if you expect to use the food soon, you may want to store food a smaller bucket for frequent and easy usage. Also, if you frequently use larger buckets, your exposing more food to air, which would increase the chances of it spoiling it.

Still, keep in mind if long term storage is your goal, 5 gallon bucket are better for longer-term storage.

Step 3: Use Mylar Bags as Liner

Mylar bags are a polyester material that are effective in protecting food against moistness, heat, air, and sun light. These qualities make it great for long term food storage as they can provide an extra layer of protection from spoilage. Mylar bags should be used to line the plastic bucket protecting all the food items in the bucket. They come in different sizes so you have enough flexibility to choose the options that works best with the storage containers you have.

Smaller mylar bags can also be used to store packs of food before putting it in the food buckets. This can make it easier to only consume the food you expect to eat soon.

Related Article: How to Store Food in Mylar Bags: A Guide for Beginners

Oxygen Absorbers for storing food in mylar bags and plastic buckets

Step 4: Using Oxygen Absorbers

Exposure to oxygen can ruin your food in two ways. The first is oxidation which is when food is overexposed to air, causing it to spoil. The second is by giving insects a way to survive in your container. This is where oxygen absorbers come in. Before sealing the buckets, place oxygen absorbers in mylar bags and include them inside the storage containers. The amount needed depends on the size of the container and the size of the air pockets. Below is a table on the cubic centimeters (cc)s needed for a container. 

CCs NeededSize of Container
100 cc32 oz Mason Jar
300 cc1 Gallon Container
1500 cc5 gallon Bucket

Note: a typical oxygen absorber can absorb 200-300 cc of oxygen. So a mylar bag in a 5 gallon plastic bucket will need at least 5 oxygen absorbers.

Related Article: Oxygen Absorbers vs. Silica Gel Packets

Rubber Mallet for storing food in plastic buckets

Step 5: Sealing Plastic Buckets of food

Once all the food is prepped for storage, you should be ready to start sealing the food buckets. We suggest heat sealing the mylar bags with an iron or hair straightener, this will provide an extra layer of protection to your food.

Once you are ready to seal the container with a lid, you should have rubber mallet handy, which will make sealing easier and faster. We recommend using gamma lids to seal food. They are more expensive, but the ease and usefulness of gamma lids makes it a much more convenient option.

Step 6: Label Each Container

Using a printed label, a marker, or a sharpie, it’s a good practice to label the outside of each container with the content inside and the date it was sealed. You don’t want to have to open each plastic bucket and mylar bag to know what’s inside the plastic bucket.

Step 7: Storage Location

Store the plastic buckets a few feet off the floor in a cool and dry location away from direct sunlight. Keeping them off the floors helps the whole container maintain the same temperature as the room. Additionally, this would help ensure the food stays secure in a flood.

As far as handling goes, it’s plastic, so be careful. Avoid stacking buckets more than 3 high. And reduce the stress on them by placing heavier buckets at the bottom.

Step 8: Opening Plastic Buckets

Whether 6 months or 2 years have gone by, you will need to pop open the sealed lid eventually. To the best way to do this is by using a bucket opener. They are a simple, yet handy tool for opening up lids.

food bucket openers for storing food in plastic buckets

How Long can Foods can be Stored in Plastic Buckets?

The first step to successful long term food storage is choosing the right products to store. Not all food products can be stored in a bucket, and foods that contain higher levels of moisture will have a shorter shelf life than dry foods.

A good storage candidates will have less than 10 percent moisture content and are also low in oil content. Food that is high in oil content will become rancid in storage sooner.

Ideally, you should aim to store foods that can be purchased and stored in large quantities. Some examples of dry goods and their shelf life when stored in plastic buckets are:

Food ItemShelf Life (Basic Storage Technique)Max Shelf Life (Proper Storage Technique
White Rice2-530+
Wheat2-5 30+
White Flour2-510
Grain Corn2-530
Rolled Oats2-320+
Dried Fruits2-510-15
SaltIndefiniteNot recommended
SugarIndefiniteNot recommended
Brown SugarIndefiniteNot recommended
Powdered Milk2-35
Dried Vegetables2-510-15

For storing vegetables, they must be dehydrated to have a low moisture percentage. Dehydrated potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions are good candidates for long term storage.

Properly processed and freeze dried fruits and meats are also good candidates for longer-term storage. Dried fruits are delicious and can be a nice treat. However, instead of keeping them in a bucket, you put them in a smaller container like a mason jar.

Other Food Storing Methods

5 gallon buckets are great storage methods, but they may not be the best container for every situation. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to store food to protect it from oxygen, sunlight, and heat to prevent spoilage. Some ideas for you are:

  • Glass Mason Jars

  • Store Bought Food Cans

  • Mylar bags

There are other ways to store food, such as a foodsaver containers, but they are not as effective in storing food long term. Mason jars and store bought cans on the other hand, can keep food fresh for over a year.

Food in bucket

Additional Tips for Long Term Food Storage

  1. Do NOT store sugar or salt with oxygen absorbers, its unnecessary and it can actually harden the sugar and the salt.

  2. Invest in gamma seal lids to store food long term, they are an effective way to reduce exposure to air, heat and sunlight, and can easy snap on and off a bucket. When storing dry goods in a bucket with a gamma seal lid, its suggested you use oxygen absorbers.

  3. Always use a food grade bucket for storage. If you use a non food grade bucket, you could be ingesting dangerous chemicals that can cause numerous issues later on.

  4. Food grade buckets can be purchased at a low price at stores like, Home Depot, Petco, Ace Hardware, Walmart, and Lowe’s.

  5. Food grade buckets can be used for carrying or collecting water.

  6. After using oxygen absorbers, store any unused absorbers in a mason jar or a place where they will have limited air exposure. Otherwise, they become ineffective if left outside and exposed to air.

  7. Consider storing emergency medical equipment in a 5 gallon bucket.

  8. A 5-gallon bucket rack will make it easier to organize and  store food buckets in your storage location.
  9. Consider storing dry food items in a small mylar bags, this way you can use the small bags when you need it, and limit the exposure of direct air to the bulk of the food.

food grade buckets for storing food for long terms storage


In plain terms, storing food in 5 gallon buckets will help your family survive a disaster situation when food is hard to come by. We have learned that properly storing food in a plastic bucket can extend the shelf life of some foods from 2 to 30 years! For this reason, it is important to know this useful skill and be able to apply it in order to protect yourself and loved ones. Best prepare for an emergency today!

Generally speaking, food storage and nutrition are important topics for preppers. If you would like to learn more about the shelf life of foods and oils, check out our other articles.

Related Article: 11 Supplies You Need for DIY Long-Term Storage

Related Article: 6 Best Grains for Long-Term Storage

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