Using 5-gallon buckets as storage containers is a resourceful way of keeping your food and supplies safe from contamination.
They’re affordable, durable, easy-to-find, and they do a good job at protecting your supplies while keeping pests and moisture at bay.
Still, there are a few things you should do before you store anything in 5-gallon buckets, especially if you’re planning on storing food items.
Taking just a few extra steps to prepare your buckets for food storage can help protect and keep your food fresh for much longer.
What Can You Store In 5-Gallon Buckets?
A lot of preppers and homesteaders use 5-gallon buckets for a variety of items, not just food.
They’re great for storing individual “survival kits” for you and your family in the occurrence of a natural disaster, weather event, or a bug-out SHTF situation.
However, by far the most popular food items to store in buckets are usually – yep, you guessed it – beans and white rice.
These calorie-dense and protein-packed survival foods are not only most survivalist’s “bread and butter” but they happen to keep extremely well in 5-gallon buckets. In fact, white rice and beans stored in this way can last for up to 30+ years.
Here are a few other foods that keep well in 5-gallon buckets: cornmeal, flour, sugar, water, salt, seeds, baking soda, dried pasta, wheat berries, oats, powdered/dried potato flakes, beans, other supplies like trash bags, candles, matches, blankets, etc.
Where To Get 5-Gallon Buckets For Food Storage
You can find food-grade 5-gallon buckets at home improvement chains, hardware stores, and online shops.
Better yet, you can sometimes get them for free from places that usually toss them out anyway.
Some places like restaurants, delis, and grocery stores are happy to let you take those bulky “trash” buckets off their hands.
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Depending on your health preferences, it may be wise to only purchase buckets that are labeled as “food-grade”, when possible. After all, your food could be sitting in those buckets for decades.
Non-food grade buckets can break down over time and release chemicals from plastics. Some fear that since these chemicals can leach into food and supplies, they may make some people sick.
Although folks in the middle of a full-blown SHTF situation may not care so much at the time, storing food in plastic drums not meant for food storage may, at the very least, affect the taste and quality of your food.
Despite this, some preppers report using non-food grade buckets with success, especially if lined with a trash bag or other tarp-like material along with mylar bags for food storage.
As a general rule, as long as the food is not in direct contact with non-food grade plastic, it may still be okay to use.
How To Prepare Your DIY 5-Gallon Buckets
Preparing and sanitizing your 5-gallon buckets gives you the added security of knowing there isn’t anything inside the container that might contaminate your food. Follow these easy steps to get your buckets ready for storage in no time.
Before you pack your items into your storage containers, you’ll want to inspect them for cracks and fractures. Additionally, you will want to inspect the lid to make sure you have a good seal on your buckets. Once your pails pass inspection, it’s time to disinfect and sanitize them.
There are a few cleaning methods to choose from, but one of the best ways to sanitize the inside of your food-grade 5-gallon buckets is using a bleach and water sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water.
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To clean the outside of your buckets: dip a clean cloth in the solution, wipe down the outside surface and the lid. Then, allow them both to air-dry before cleaning the inside.
To clean the inside of the bucket: Fill the bucket with the solution, close the lid securely, and carefully shake or swirl the bucket a few times to thoroughly coat the inside. Allow the mixture to sit for 15-30 minutes and then dump it. Rinse with clean, warm water and allow your containers to air dry before using.
Preparing Your 5-Gallon Bucket For Storage
Once your containers are inspected and sanitized, it’s time to seal your food or supplies inside.
I like to line my sanitized 5-gallon containers with a liner or trash bag.
Then, I grab my mylar-bag-sealed food items and begin layering them into the bucket. After that, I place between 2 – 4 desiccant packs or oxygen absorbers inside of the bucket before sealing it and storing it for future use.
A lot of folks say you don’t need mylar bags for storing certain foods (like beans and rice) inside of 5-gallon containers. However, I tend to err on the side of caution and use them as a second line of defense if I have them on hand.
If you want to safeguard your food or supplies more, add oxygen absorbers or desiccants to your mylar bags to ensure peak quality. Oxygen absorbers are cheap and can save your food from oxidization.
Related: How To Repackage Foods in Mylar Bags With Oxygen Absorbers For Long Term Survival
Desiccants, on the other hand, will help save your food from moisture. Depending on your stored food items, you may want to use one or both options.
When your supplies are packed and ready to go, it’s time to seal your buckets. Some 5-gallon buckets have a twist-top lid mechanism to get a good seal, while others have a rubber gasket on the lid that seals on its own when you close it.
With 5-gallon buckets, the quality of your seal depends on the quality of the lid. So, it’s important to make sure you have a tight seal before storing or use mylar bags for extra security.
How To Store Your 5-Gallon Buckets
When it comes to storing food in your DIY 5-gallon buckets, it’s important to choose a location that has minimal exposure to heat, sunlight, moisture, pests, and oxygen. However, even if you aren’t the proud owner of a root cellar or basement, there are a few other steps you can take to keep your buckets in good shape for the long term.
- Tag and date buckets with a permanent marker instead of a paper label if you live somewhere with high humidity. You don’t want important information like contents and packaging dates to wash off!
- You can add a cotton muslin bag filled with dried herbs such as bay leaves, neem leaves, and peppermint leaves, to help repel pests.
- Watch out for weight. Nothing is worse than packing a 5-gallon bucket with supplies and sealing it off, only to discover you can’t move the thing! This is why ammo isn’t typically stored in 5-gallon buckets.
- Aim to keep your buckets off the ground when possible in case of flooding or minor water damage.
- Keep out of direct sunlight.
5-gallon buckets are an inexpensive, space-saving, and dependable method for storing survival items like food or supplies. For best results, try to use freshly-sanitized food-safe buckets when possible.
To keep moisture and oxidation from ruining your supplies, be sure to use an appropriate amount of desiccants and oxygen absorbers for your buckets.
When stored and sealed, store your buckets in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
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