How to Store and Protect Food Long-Term

Emergency preparedness expert Tess Pennington shares how to properly store food items for the long haul using 5-gallon buckets, mylar bags, dessicant packets, and oxygen absorbers.

  • food-storage
    With proper storage, many food items can remain viable for several years.
    Photo by Queren King-Orozco
  • food-liners
    Polyester food liners and oxygen absorbers defend against oxygen and insects.
    Photo by Queren King-Orozco
  • pasta
    Oxygen absorbers also inhibit aerobic pathogens and molds.
    Photo by Queren King-Orozco
  • O2 chart
    Use this chart to determine the proper oxygen absorber size for the amount and type of food you're storing.
    Photo by Tess Pennington

  • food-storage
  • food-liners
  • pasta
  • O2 chart

With all the time and money you’ve put into having a food pantry, you’ll want to make every effort to protect it. Nothing is more disappointing than seeing your food investment ruined by natural elements or bugs. Knowing what your food’s worst enemies are, understanding how they can infiltrate and ruin your food, and then taking steps to prevent their havoc will help you preserve your food investment for the long term.

Everything from sunlight and moisture to bugs and bacteria can damage your food. If you’re planning to store long-term foodstuffs, such as rice, beans, dry milk, or sugar, you’ll want to consider repackaging those items. Companies package most of the dry goods we purchase for short-term use, meaning those goods likely won’t hold up during long-term storage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also allows certain defects in our food sources, with mold, insects, and insect eggs on the list of approved defects.

Any of the following food-storage products will help your stores last longer than if you hadn’t repackaged them, but I recommend the multi-barrier approach that my family uses, detailed at the end of this article.

Food-grade 5-gallon buckets are popular among those who store bulk quantities of food, probably because they’re an excellent choice for food storage. Typically, a food-grade container has the number “2” stamped inside the recycling symbol or with the acronym “HDPE” stamped below it. Before you place any food inside the bucket, clean it with soapy water, and then rinse and dry it thoroughly.

Additionally, make sure the lid you purchase for your container is airtight and spill-proof. Lids with gaskets and gamma lids are both good choices because they don’t require a lid opener. They’re typically a little more expensive compared with traditional bucket lids, but they’re easier to open and close, and are worth every penny.

Food liners made from polyester film, such as Mylar bags, are another option for storing your dry goods for the long haul. In my book The Prepper’s Cookbook, I noted that research has shown that oxygen seeps slowly through the walls of plastic containers over time. Consequently, natural elements and even insects can find a way inside the container. Adding a polyester film liner will ensure there are multiple barriers to protect the food. The thickest grade (5 millimeters or more) is a worthwhile investment for your food-storage endeavors. The added benefit of using polyester bags is that they can last up to 20 years, and, because they’re so durable, you can reuse them.

11/6/2018 3:23:34 PM

When using food grade diatomaceous earth - is it mixed into your dry goods or seperate?!?

8/2/2018 11:32:51 AM

Nice article! One correction to note- the thickest grade liner/bag is 7 MIL. Bag thickness in MIL is not = to millimeters. 1 MIL = 1 thousandths of an inch. 7 MIL = (0.178 millimeters). The comment below about 5 MIL = 1.27mm is not correct. 5 MIL = 0.127mm. A 7 MIL bag is thicker (40% thicker) than a 5 MIL and 100% thicker than a 3.5 MIL. Pleasant Grove Farm has info about shelf life of long term food storage and choosing the right size oxygen absorber for different size bags.

8/2/2018 8:33:09 AM

Nice article. Mylar bag thickness is measured in Mils = thousandths of an inch (not Millimeters). 7 Mil bags are 0.178 millimeters thick (7 thousandths of an inch). Which is 40% thicker than 5 Mil (0.127 millimeters thick- not 1.27 mm as in the comment below). Pleasant Grove Farm has some good info on shelf life of long term food storage and also on selecting the right size absorber for the size bag you are using.



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