Time to give you one of my super frugal food storage secrets. Getting food grade buckets cheap or free. Lots of times you can get bulk foods like oats or wheat or beans in a sack LOTS cheaper than buying it in a can or bucket. But keeping your food in a sack is not a good idea long term. It invites bugs and rodents that can ruin all that good food and then you just paid for mouse food. Not good. If you have access to an LDS cannery, you could rent the canner and can your bulk foods up at your house, but sometimes it’s easier or cheaper or works better for you to put it in a bucket.
Here’s where you want some food grade buckets. There are buckets out there that are not food grade. It’s not a good idea to put your food in them. They can be made from plastics that held paints, tar, etc. Yucky stuff. Food grade buckets have the recycle code “2” in the triangle. You can purchase these buckets new, or you can find a place that will sell them to you used for way less–usually $1-$2 per bucket and sometimes they just give them to you for free. Yep. True story.
Here’s the catch. The buckets will be random sizes and may or may not have lids, and will rarely be cleaned out, but remember, you don’t have to buy or take any you don’t want. So if uniformity is important to you, just go looking for a specific size and pass up the ones that don’t fit your needs.
Here’s where to get them. Any store that has a bakery section may have buckets for sale. All that delicious chocolate frosting and creamy gooey donut stuffing come to the bakery in buckets. When the buckets are empty, some places just stack the empty buckets in the back hall or wherever waiting for someone to come ask for them. Really, maybe they’re waiting to be thrown away, I don’t know, but all it takes to find out if there are any is to ask, “Hi, do you have any empty plastic buckets?” They’ll either say yes or no or ask you what size you’re looking for. Every store will have a little different policy about their buckets, and they may or may not have any when you are there, so just keep asking. Here’s a few different sizes a friend and I have rounded up lately–tall fat ones (standard 5 gal size), squatty fat ones (3.5 gal, hold 25 lbs of beans just right), and smallish ones ( 2 gal, I split 25 lbs of macaroni between the two and had a bit left over to make dinner):
For storing food, it’s best if the bucket lid has a black rubber gasket around the inside of it. That will give you a better seal than a lid with no gasket. You can also buy a new lid or a gamma seal lid if you want which will fit the larger sizes of bakery buckets. If a bucket comes with no lid or a lid that doesn’t seal well, all is not lost. Buckets are amazingly handy to have around even if they don’t have good lids. We use them to feed the chickens, water the dog, haul grain to the horse and other animals, and for a trash can in the shop. You can also store non-foods in buckets, like a bucket of soap or a bucket of shampoo. Who cares if your lid seals air tight on your bucket of batteries? See?
And if you’re planning on storing foods long term it’s a good idea to use 2-3 oxygen absorbers per bucket when you seal them up to keep the food fresh longer. Approximately 1500-2000 cc of oxygen absorption for a five gallon bucket. You could also put the food in Mylar bags before putting it in your bucket. Really, buckets are useful things and when you can get them for little or no cash out of pocket plus a little time to fetch and wash them, they’re a really good deal.
Keep preparing! Angela
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I wanted to add to your great post, that I found a place called
Sorbentsystems.com that sell mylar bags wholesale. They're the manufacturer. They sell the bags that fit into 5-6 gal. buckets(of course you can use them in any size bucket) starting at 1.48 each. I bought 150 (with my ward) for 1.08 each plus .22 each for shipping. A much better deal than Emergency Essentials. They also sell the oxygen packets. Great people to work with. Hope this helps someone
Chris W says
I've tried every grocery and bakery around here and they all tell me no. Not a one will sell or give away buckets. Finally I got a manager to tell me why…yanno that "caution" label printed on the side with the baby falling in the bucket? Thats why. This guy told me that it's store policy to destroy buckets to avoid a lawsuit if something were to happen with a bucket they gave away. This is insane, but what I found out. I get the occational pickle bucket from a place 20 minutes away but that's it. We order ours from emergency essentials. Great buckets but I'd prefer free, lol.
Do you have a prison or jail around where you are at? know someone who works there or that you could talk to? They have to feed all those inmates…………………….. they sell the buckets to the Correctional Officers for .50cents. You might try that. That is where I am getting mine.
Chris, not sure where you are at but that manager is probably full of shit…I’m a manager at a fast food place in MN and have never heard any such thing…try fast food places for their pickle buckets, I snag the ones from my store typically but we have never told anyone no when they have asked for buckets or boxes at all. Food grade 5 gallon buckets typically that just end up in the trash otherwise.
Be careful, pickle buckets will flavor your foods :o) My parents had a used pickle bucket for years, and it STILL smells like pickles.
Off Grid Survival says
Great Tip! A lot of restaurants also use these types of buckets and will often give them away for free before they throw them out.
Great tip–thank you! Where do you get your oxygen packs? Emergency Essentials?
I have heard that you need to put dry ice in the bottom of the bucket for wheat. If I only store it for a year and rotate through it, would I need to do that or can I just put the bags of wheat in the freezer for a while (how long?) to kill anything before I put it in the bucket? Any help woudl be great. Thanks.
It’s a good idea to use a couple of golf-ball-size pieces of dry ice in the bottom of the bucket. Put a piece of paper over it. Add dry product. LAY the lid over the top for about three hours and then cap it. Otherwise lid may blow off as nitrogen expands. Drives out the oxygen & actually helps the food stay viable longer, also bugs can’t live in it. Freezing for 3 days also a good idea before storing with dry ice. Just make sure product is completely dry. Store what you eat, eat what you store, rotate, rotate, rotate! We use and replace our food storage constantly so we’ll always be emotionally ready to use it.
I get my buckets from a sub shop, Firehouse Subs. $2 for bucket and lid which is then paid to the Firehouse Foundation that aids fire departments. While the buckets do smell like pickles, leaving them outside for several days and thoroughly cleaning them eliminates the smell. The food (rice and dried beans) is sealed in a foodsaver bag; I've never had anything taste like pickles and this includes the sugar which is just stored in a gallon baggie.
I have also seen the buckets for sale at Walmart but I am not sure if they are food grade or not.
Lastly, one might want to check a feed and seed store. One near me has large barrels with screw top lids which we use for rainwater catching. These big barrels can also be used to store large quantities of anything!
Hope that helps.
CJF, I meant to comment on your questions. All my rice, beans, sugar and flour are put into the freezer for 24 hours or longer before they are stored in buckets. I've been doing this for 5 years now with no problems (bugs, mold, etc).
When I get good buys on dry beans at the grocery store, should I freeze them in their bag and then store them in a food safe bucket? Also, how long will they keep? Will I also need the oxygen packets in the bucket? Thanks for any advice.
Beans purchased from the grocery store should not need to be frozen before storing. If you do want to freeze them, make sure they are totally dry before storing them. If sealed in a bucket or can, dry beans keep for 15-30 years. The oxygen absorbers will help to keep the beans fresher longer, so if you’re wanting 30 years out of your stored beans, use the oxygen absorbers in your bucket. You’ll want a total of approximately a 1500 cc oxygen absorber in each 5 gallon bucket. (that total can be made with smaller sized oxy absorbers–15 100cc absorbers, 5 300cc absorbers, etc.)
thanks for the great idea about using the buckets! I called my local grocery bakery and they said they would save as many as I'd like – for FREE! What a perfect idea!!! you're awesome!
how many of us are researching, and expediting long term, large scale food storage due to a spinetingling feeling something big is coming? Not tyin to be crazy, i'm just sayin.
Like a splinter in your mind. You know something is coming but you just can't put your finger on it. I know the feeling. Better to be prepared.
You know, something is coming and its called dinner:-)
I just recently started getting some food items together because I couldn’t shake the feeling that my family is going to need it. It’s amazing to discover so many others are feeling the same way.