The subject of which containers are best for long-term food storage is really controversial. The only thing that people seem to agree on is that food storage container matters! If you are choosing storage containers for your survival food, the last thing you want is to find your emergency food has gone bad because of improper storage containers!
Here’s the thing: We each use our survival food stores differently.
Some people will load up some buckets with food and then forget about them for the next 25 years, or until a disaster occurs.
Others slowly rotate through their food stores.
Yet others quickly rotate through their food stores, or are working with smaller quantities because of budget constrictions.
To help you choose which storage containers are best for your survival food stockpile, I’m going to go over all the main options and the pros/cons of each.
5 Enemies of Food Storage
Before we get into the options for food storage containers, I want to go over the “enemies” of food storage. These 5 elements will destroy food. No food storage container will completely protect against heat, but the best options will protect against the other 4 elements.
Option #1) The Original Packaging
For foods like crackers and boxed dinners, storing them in their original packaging is the easiest option. So long as you are mindful of the expiration dates and rotating them, then they shouldn’t go bad. However, these packages weren’t meant to survive disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.
Consider, for example, what would happen during a hurricane which tears through your home. Your shelves would go toppling down, crashing onto your foods. Your crackers, cookies, etc. would be smashed open and exposed to the rain.
Another issue with plastic packaging is that it can easily be gnawed through by rodents. No matter how clean you think your home is, it is still susceptible to rodents! Bear in mind that disasters like earthquakes typically bring about hygiene disasters and rodent infestations commonly occur during the aftermath. Do you really want to worry about fending your emergency food from critters after such a disaster?
- No special containers or equipment required
- Not safe from rodents, insects, and other animals
- Insect eggs inside may start to populate
- Packaging can easily be broken/destroyed
Verdict: Okay for people just starting out with disaster preparedness.
Option #2) Glass Jars
If you are buying foods like grains in bulk, one of the easiest ways to store them is in glass jars. You can even use the old jars from foods like pickles for storing these bulk foods. The first obvious problem with glass jars is that they will break during an emergency.
I’ve talked to some preppers who store their emergency foods in glass jars, but just make a point to reinforce their shelves. I’m not a very good handyman, and I don’t want to pay someone to make me a disaster-proof shelfing system. Instead, it is easier for me to avoid glass jars. A simple solution (though not completely disaster-proof) is this:
Run a 1” x 4” board across the front of your shelves. This will keep the glass jars from falling onto the floor during a disaster like an earthquake.
Also, remember to secure your cabinet doors so things don’t go flying out during an earthquake!
My family does use glass jars for our home canning. For example, we’ve got a decent garden going and make preserves, pickled vegetables, and pressure-canned veggies. These jars are mostly stored in our basement. They could still be destroyed by debris crashing down on them, but the basement is generally the safest room when it comes to natural disasters.
- Cheap and easy
- Rodent proof
- Can see contents within for easy rotation
- Glass can easily break
- Hard to get an air-tight seal
Verdict: An okay solution for people not living in earthquake zones and/or when shelves are reinforced AND when you will be rotating through your food stores fairly quickly. For longer-term storage, you’ll need to add oxygen absorbers to the jars before closing them.
Option #3) Plastic Containers
A cheap, easy way to store your bulk foods (grains, dry beans, etc.) is to put them in clean, emptied plastic bottles, such as from soda. Put a piece of plastic wrap over the top and then put the bottle cap on. Stored like this, your bulk foods should be (relatively) safe against insects, rodents, and flooding. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about the containers shattering during an earthquake.
This method isn’t perfect because the plastic can eventually leach into the foods (I doubt you’ll care about BPA during a disaster though!). The plastic also is slightly porous, so it won’t regulate humidity very well. Rodents can also chew through plastic bottles.
- Cheap and easy
- Can see contents for easy rotation
- Decent protection against insects and rodents
- Doesn’t fully protect against humidity and oxygen
- Plastic may leach into foods
Verdict: Good for your 30 day supply of emergency foods so long as you rotate through it every 6 months or so. Not acceptable for long-term survival food storage.
Option #4) Food-Grade Buckets
Gallon buckets are great for storing large amounts of food. If you get a gamma lid, then it will form an air-tight seal and the foods should be safe in there for about 5 years. Gallon buckets are also safe from rodents and insect infestations.
Note that it is really worth it to spend more for the gamma lids. Otherwise, you might have air leaking into your food stores and destroying them. Because gallon buckets hold so much food, it can be tricky to rotate through them.
- Good protection against light, humidity, and air
- Holds lots of food
- Protects against insects and rodents
- Not likely to break during a disaster
- Have to buy the buckets or go looking for free ones
- It can be difficult to rotate through the food
- Lids can easily break if you open/close them frequently
Verdict: Decent option for semi long-term food storage that you will rotate through within a year or two.
Option #5) Vacuum-Sealed Mylar Pouches
Note that a lot of companies sell what they call Mylar pouches, but not all Mylar pouches are of the same quality. When you get a good quality Mylar pouch though and vacuum seal it properly, then you’ll create an air-tight, oxygen-free environment where food can last for a very long time. Most types of survival food will be good in Mylar pouches for 3-5 years.
The problem with Mylar pouches is that their seals can easily break if handled roughly. They can also be easily chewed through by rodents.
- Air-tight seal
- Good for storing smaller quantities of food
- Can rotate through the food easily
- Can be easily damaged
- Doesn’t protect against rodents or large animals
- Need to purchase the pouches and sealing equipment
Verdict: Good for long-term food storage, but need to keep the pouches somewhere safe from damage.
Storage Container Option #6) Mylar Pouches inside a Bucket
This is what most preppers agree is the best option for long-term food storage. The vacuum-sealed Mylar bags protect against oxygen and humidity, and the bucket protects against physical damage while also providing an extra layer of oxygen/humidity control (so long as you aren’t opening the buckets).
The great thing about this method is that, after you’ve sealed your buckets, you can forget about them. The food will be good for upwards of 25 years! Obviously this isn’t a good thing if you actually plan on accessing the food before then. Once you open the bucket and pouch, you’ll have to reseal them all over again!
- Food stays fresh for upwards of 25 years
- Protection against insects, rodents, and animals
- Protections against rough handling and the elements
- Requires special equipment
- Has a higher learning curve to be done correctly
- Not good for food you want to rotate or access
Verdict: Good for storing survival foods for very long periods of time, assuming that you won’t be opening the buckets or pouches.
Important Note: Protection Against Insects
One of the biggest mistakes that my wife and I made when we were just getting started with food prepp was failing to protect against insects. We just poured our bulk foods into jars and plastic bottles and figured we’d be fine. When we looked at the containers a few months later, they were filled with moths and their larvae! I have no problem eating insects, but eating their droppings can spell a health risk.
Even if you store your emergency foods in air-tight, sealed containers, they can still become contaminated by insects. This is because the insect eggs are already there when you buy the food!
It is completely normal and safe for some insect eggs to be in your bulk foods. Usually, the eggs don’t have time to hatch before you eat the foods. However, when you are storing your food for a long time, those few insect eggs can turn into an infestation.
According to Ohio State University Extension, putting your bulk foods in the freezer for 4 days will kill any eggs. You can also microwave grains for 5 minutes to kill eggs. Make sure you take this step so you don’t end up eating insect larvae during an emergency (which is actually quite nutritious, but not the tastiest option!).