Most food that you buy in the grocery store is only packaged to last a few months up to a year. The only exception to this is canned goods, which can last for years if the seal isn’t broken. Check how short the life expectancy is by looking at the expiration date on the package. Food manufacturers and processors don’t bother with the added expense of packaging it for long-term storage because most people don’t keep food around for very long. However, that doesn’t apply to survivalists, who may store their food stockpile for years.
This means that preppers need to repackage most foods they buy. With proper storage, those foods will last for much longer—as many as 20 years. That proper packaging will keep out insects, rodents, microorganisms, oxygen and moisture, keeping the food tasting fresh while retaining its nutritional value.
- Gather Supplies. In addition to the food you are going to store, you’re going to need to have the right sorts of containers and other supplies. This includes:
o Five-gallon food grade buckets
o Six-gallon aluminized Mylar bags
o Oxygen absorbers
You can probably buy the buckets locally at a home improvement center, but you will most likely have to order the Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers online.
- Gather Equipment. You will need a vacuum cleaner with a hose and either a hair straightener or a clothes iron to seal the Mylar bags. It is also helpful to have a rubber mallet to close the buckets with, although this isn’t absolutely necessary.
- Pack Food. You’ll want to fit the most possible food in your buckets in order to save the most money on your storage. Put the Mylar bags in the buckets, and fill them to about an inch from the top with dry food. Most people only put one type of food in each bucket, although it is possible to mix foods that you’ll prepare together. Stay organized by using multiple bags within the bucket.
- Create a Seal. In order for the food to keep for a long time, the bucket needs to be totally sealed so that oxygen can’t get to it. The Mylar bags are excellent for this because they melt together when heat is applied, forming an air-tight seal. With a hot clothes iron or hair straightener, melt the top two inches of the bags together, leaving a two-inch gap at the end unsealed.
- Remove Oxygen. This is the most critical step in the process. Add an oxygen absorber to the bag. For flour, sugar, dry milk and other baking essentials, you’ll need a 750 cc oxygen absorber for each bucket. For beans, pasta and whole grains, you’ll need a 1,000 cc oxygen absorber for each bucket. These work quickly to absorb oxygen so you’ll want to move fast at this point. Once you put the oxygen absorber in the bucket, suck out as much air as possible with the hose of a vacuum.
- Seal the Bag. Now that the oxygen has been taken care of, it’s time to seal the bag. This is done the same way that the seal was started: with a hot clothing or hair iron. Be sure to hold the bag closed while sealing it so more air can’t sneak in. Work quickly so that the oxygen absorber doesn’t get used up on the air in the room rather than in the bucket.
- Close the Bucket. The sealed bag will keep the food fresh, but won’t protect it from rodents. Fold the flap down and put it inside the bucket, and then secure the lid on top. You can pound the lid down around the edges with a rubber mallet or just use your hands to force it down tight.
- Mark the Contents. Don’t forget to mark the bucket with what’s inside. If you have more than one type of foodstuffs stored together, put the quantity of each. Don’t count on your memory as it can fail, particularly when storing items for several years.
- Store Food. All your food stocks should be kept in a cool, dry place. While moisture can’t get inside the bucket and bag combination, you still don’t want mold and mildew growing on the outside of the bucket. Heat can cause the food to lose its nutritional value more quickly, and a cool location helps keep it fresh.
The Bottom Line
Most foodstuffs stored in this manner should stay fresh and usable for 20 years or more. While the bag by itself isn’t able to keep rodents out, the bucket can. However, even though five-gallon buckets are waterproof, they aren’t as airtight as the Mylar bags. By using the two together, you ensure optimal protection for your food.
The real key to this system is the oxygen absorbers. Not only do they protect the food from oxidation, but no insects can survive without oxygen inside your food. So, even if there are insect eggs in the food, the insects won’t survive inside the bucket. Nor can bacteria survive without oxygen. With this method, your food will be as fresh and usable when you open it as it was when you packed it away.