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What is the best way to store your preps, especially if you are buying in bulk? This is a topic with many options and so it is easy to feel overwhelmed. You can buy items already packed for you (like grain already in buckets) or if you do it yourself you’ll be able to customize to your own needs much easier.
First, the containers:
Buckets — The favorite of many preppers, you can get 5 or 6 gallon buckets easily and if you do some looking around you can get smaller buckets as well if larger buckets would be too heavy for you when full. If you plan to put the food directly into the bucket (without first enclosing in mylar or other food safe material) then make sure to get a food grade bucket. These are quite sturdy and can be depended on for the long term. However, once you open the lid for the first time I wouldn’t depend on it being completely air tight.
You can buy gamma lids to place on them once opened which will make it easier to get into your buckets as needed and put the lid tightly in place after you’ve gotten out what you needed, but expect to pay quite a bit more for those lids.
When storing buckets, do NOT stack buckets directly on top of one another. The weight of the upper buckets can damage those below, exposing the contents to air and moisture. If you need to stack them you can get a wooden board to lay across a row before putting additional buckets on top and that will help with distribution of weight.
Mylar Bags — These bags used by preppers are actually aluminum foil laminated with mylar (the mylar itself being a type of clear plastic). These are available in a wide range of sizes and thicknesses and can be used for SO much. You can get large bags that fit into 5 or 6 gallon buckets and fill with wheat, rice, etc. before sealing the bag and then sealing the bucket so there are two layers of protection. Or you can get smaller bags and divide your bulk items into more manageable portion sizes, storing them altogether in one big bucket and only opening one bag at a time as the item is needed so the rest remains sealed.
If you buy mylar bags similar to these on Amazon then you’ll be able to seal them with a hair straightening iron (available for $10-15 at Walmart if you don’t already have one). When purchasing, always check the description to ensure it is food grade. However, understand that these bags aren’t necessarily the same as what you may get food in if you buy food from prepping companies where it is all portioned into pouches. Depending on the company, I’ve found some of those prepackaged pouches to be altogether too thin and flimsy, prone to holes and wasting everything inside the pouch. I usually only depend on mylar if I purchase and pack the bags myself and know their quality. When buying food for long term storage, I buy it pre packaged in buckets or cans OR I plan to repackage it myself as soon as I receive it. If you see a company advertise a shelf life of 15+ years for something stored just in a mylar pouch — be very skeptical.
Once you have something sealed in mylar, find something sturdy to store them in. It doesn’t need to be air tight, just needs to protect the bag from rips, punctures, and other abuse when they get moved around. Good options are buckets with a handle or plastic totes.
Metal cans — While this isn’t something typically used at home for packaging food, I do want to provide a bit more information so you know things to look for when you’re ready to make a purchase. Anything acidic (like tomato) is going to have a shorter shelf life in a metal can than it otherwise might because the acidity damages the metal. Some cans are now given a coating to line the can before packing to protect against the acidity, but that is a question it can be worthwhile to ask before you buy. If there is a coating on it, what is it made of? Does it contain BPA (or anything else you may wish to avoid)?
When I buy canned food from the grocery store I usually don’t worry as much about checking on this because the food is meant to be used within a year or two. But when purchasing for long term food storage I do check the company’s website to find out what (if anything) they coat their cans with and keep that in mind if I decide to buy.
Glass jars — As the mother of young children and someone who has moved around a lot, I really hate glass jars. They are great for home canning but I personally avoid them for anything else where there may be another alternative to them. One of the only exceptions to that is I use a glass canning jar for storing my unused oxygen absorbers. When the lid is on tight and the absorbers are packed in there tight, it keeps them safe and ready to go until I need them. I can open it up and take out just one or two if that’s all I need and then screw the lid back on.
If you do decide to use glass jars a lot, remember that rust can degrade the rings and lid and jeopardize the seal without you realizing it. If you use them for canning, the rings should be taken off during storage and just the lid itself left on. My other concern is there is a lot of advice floating around the internet for how to can this or that or use canning methods that are… highly questionable. I’d rather not depend on a questionable method for the well being of my family.
Next, removing oxygen:
Oxygen, moisture, and heat are the enemies of shelf life. This is true for some things more than others. You can buy oxygen absorber packets (on Amazon or through various prepping companies) to throw in containers before sealing. Some people use dry ice or compressed gas to remove oxygen, but I won’t be covering those here.
The moment you open a package of oxygen absorbers, you are putting yourself on the clock. They will absorb oxygen from the room while you work and if left out too long the remainder of your absorbers will be wasted. As touched on above, I like to store my absorbers in a glass canning jar. If you buy different size absorbers (meaning how much oxygen they can absorb) you can keep them in separate jars to keep them straight but the main thing is that canning jars are airtight enough just with the cap screwed on tightly to prevent additional air getting in and ruining your remaining absorbers.
I ONLY use absorbers on items that need it. Something like salt which has an indefinite shelf life has absolutely no need of an oxygen absorber, and using them on sugar results in a sugar brick. The brand I bought most recently includes the following guide for how much absorption is needed for different size containers: 100cc for a pint, 300cc for a quart, 500cc for a gallon, 2500cc for a 5 gallon. This does NOT mean you need to go out and buy a different sized absorber for each size container you may use. My current jar of absorbers are 300cc each, so I’d just toss two in a gallon or nine in a 5 gallon bucket. It won’t be exact, but it’ll be at least the amount needed and going over a little on absorption capability won’t hurt anything.
Finally, where to store them:
Away from moisture and heat is the obvious answer, and we all have different capabilities where that is concerned. Maybe you have a basement that occasionally gets damp or a garage that sometimes gets hot. We all just have to work with what we can. In those instances, just protect your preps as much as possible.
Beyond that there’s actually a lot of options for how you choose to store your preps. You can buy special racks for storing your cans, you can buy shelving for your buckets… you can also mix and match. What does that mean? Well, if you went out and bought bulk wheat, sugar, and salt and split that up into smaller mylar bags, and then you sealed up some other staples in mylar as well, you can make a few buckets that have one of each in them so if you have to leave your home in a hurry you can just grab a couple buckets and already have a variety of supplies packed in there. Maybe each bucket has a two gallon bags of wheat, a bag of sugar, a bag of salt, some coffee, some powdered milk, some cans of freeze dried fruits and veggies and can of meat. Maybe you have a bucket of various medical supplies and some hygiene products already ready to go. Or maybe you have a small plastic tote with a wool blanket, a couple kitchen towels, some camping gear for cooking over a fire and some matches or other items to start a fire. The possibilities are endless.