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When you’re building up your emergency food pantry, storage is one of your main concerns. You want to keep your food as fresh as possible for as long as possible. But you don’t want to spend a lot of money or waste your space.
Buckets may be the answer. Buckets are sturdy, lightweight, stackable, and inexpensive (if not free). Yet, storing food safely in buckets does take a bit of know-how. This article offers 14 tips for how to use buckets in food storage.
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1. Use Only Food-Grade Buckets
Plastic buckets that are not designed to hold food may contain dues or chemicals that can leach into the bucket’s contents. A food-grade bucket is made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and should be marked on the bottom with a triangle with the number two inside it. Most food-grade buckets also are white.
2. Look For Free Food-Grade Buckets
Free is good. You can often find free food-grade buckets at bakeries, restaurants, supermarkets, or food processing plants. Make sure they were previously used to hold only food. A food-grade bucket that was used to hold paint, for example, is no longer safe. The plastic may have absorbed the paint chemicals.
3. Get Rid Of Smells
A bucket that once held pickles may be safe, but who wants to store their oats in a container that still smells like pickles? If you’ve cleaned a used food-grade bucket and it still smells like the food that was once stored in it, place some charcoal or baking soda inside the empty bucket. Close the lid and let the bucket sit for ow or three days. Then, rinse out the bucket well with fresh water.
4. Store Foods With a Moisture Content of 10% or Less
Foods like beans, oats, corn, pasta, rice, and flour are perfect for bucket storage. Storing food with a higher moisture content may lead to bacteria growth.
5. Line Buckets With Mylar Bags
Lining your buckets with Mylar bags provides another layer of protection from light, moisture, and pests. You also can use small bags to place several small packages of food inside a large bucket.
6. Use Oxygen Absorbers
Placing an oxygen absorber inside a bucket or its liner can extend the shelf life of rice, dried beans, and other grains. However, you shouldn’t use oxygen absorbers with sugar or powdered foods. This video lists some of the other no-nos for oxygen absorbers.
7. Store Buckets in a Cool, Dry Place
Ideal storage conditions 75° F or lower and low humidity. A dry basement or closet can be ideal locations. It’s best to avoid potentially damp places like a shed or a garage, however.
8. Keep Buckets Elevated
Plastic buckets and their contents do best when stored at least a few inches stored off the floor. There is a chance the plastic will absorb moisture or other elements from a concrete floor. Also, elevating the buckets helps them maintain a similar temperature as the room in which they are stored.
9. Choose Different Sized Buckets for Different Needs
Some people think only of five-gallon buckets when it comes to food storage. But buckets come in other shapes and sizes. You may want an assortment of smaller ones for foods that need to be consumed more quickly.
10. Don’t Over-Stack Buckets
It’s easy and convenient to stack your buckets on your pantry shelf, but avoid stacking them too high. Filled buckets can be very heavy. The stress of more than three stacked buckets could cause the lid of the lower containers to crack, allowing moisture or pests to get inside. Also, vibrations could cause your stack to tumble, potentially damaging the buckets and the contents inside.
11. Invest in Gamma Seal Lids
Maybe your free buckets have damaged or missing lids, or maybe the lid that came with your new bucket does not seem to be sealing correctly. Either way, you may way to purchase some tight-sealing lids separately.
Gamma Seal lids have a dual system – an outer ring that snaps on the top of an open bucket and a smaller lid that inserts into the ring that you twist closed. These lids allow you access to food stored in buckets while still maintaining an air-tight seal.
Here’s a video that shows how to attach and remove these lids safely.
12. Label Your Buckets
It’s easy to forget what’s in your buckets, and you don’t want to risk spoilage by opening them up to see what’s inside. You could write on the bucket with a sharpie, but what if you end up storing something else in there next time?
A better idea is to use removable adhesive labels to show the content of your buckets and the date you packed them.
13. Rotate Your Food Buckets
Store your buckets with the labels facing out, so you can rotate using the food on a first-in, first-out (FIFO) basis.
14. Store Food Your Family Will Eat
The previous tip and this last one are related. It makes sense to store foods that your family already eats and enjoys. No one wants to have the added stress of having to eat foods they dislike during a stressful time. Another benefit of rotating out what you store is that you’ll already be familiar with cooking with the foods you are storing, which will help during a crisis.
As we’ve mentioned, you may be able to find a free supply of used food-grade buckets by visiting local restaurants and shops. If you can’t find any free ones or prefer to purchase some new ones, you have quite a few options. Many hardware stores and big-box stores, like Walmart and Home Depot, sell food-grade buckets. You also can find a wide selection on Amazon and eBay.
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