Low Cost Food Storage Ideas for New Preppers. Here’s How To Do It Yourself and Save!.

This is a guest post by Ben W and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.

squirrel-20980_640In today’s economic climate, finances are a major concern for everyone, but doubly so for the prepper or survivalist. Not only are we trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy in our everyday lives, we are also attempting to put together a “kit” for another lifestyle altogether, a kit that will keep us alive when everything falls apart.

Generally, the first items purchased by a prepper are foodstuffs, and these preps can be made slowly and relatively inexpensively, over a long period of time, or one can bite the bullet and spend a fortune to “prep” quickly, and in today’s socio-economic climate, quickly is the byword.

This usually involves purchasing ready made and assembled food packs from some company offering a 5 gallon survival pail sufficient to feed you for anywhere from 3 weeks to six months, or by buying surplus MRE’s. Both of these are good options, but you are paying for convenience and there is a better and much less expensive option.

Having been a long time prepper, 25+ years, I was into long term food storage at a time when options were few: Foods packaged for campers, vey expensive, and MRE’s, always surplus and also fairly expensive.

I took it upon myself to put together my own food pails, stocked with items I and my family would eat, and to this day, many of the stored items appear to be store fresh! Before I go on, I want to assure you that there will be many negative comments on the methods I have been using and which I am proposing. There will be flak about the nutrients being gone & spoilage, among other things. I cannot speak to the nutritive value of the items stored, but I can say they look and taste good, show no signs of spoilage. And this after 20 years in some cases!

I started my food storage program with three and five gallon food grade buckets which I obtained from a bakery at a local market. These came with lids with a heavy rubber gasket. The buckets were taken home and washed thoroughly with soap and hot water. They were then dried, and the interior surfaces of the bucket, the lid and the sealing gasket were all wiped down with bleach. I then placed an unscented trash bag into the bucket, and I used one of two methods to purge the air/oxygen from the pail: Method #1, I dropped a piece of dry ice into the bag and then placed the items I was storing into the bucket.

Most were left in their store packages, some items were repacked, such as bulk beans, rice and flour. These were placed into separate plastic bags and given their own small piece of dry ice. I added items until the pail was full, and then I lightly twisted the outer plastic bag closed. In a few minutes, the bag would swell, indicating that the CO2 being produced by the dry ice was filling the bag. The air/oxygen had been displaced. At this point, I twisted the bag shut tightly, wired it closed and placed the lid on the bucket and locked it down. I did not use any oxygen absorbers or desiccants. Method #2, was to set the pail up as indicated, and instead of dry ice, I used nitrogen from a commercial tank to purge the air/oxygen from the bags.

In addition to bulk items, the pails might also contain pasta, commercials mac/cheese, or any number of items packed in cardboard and plastic. A hose ran from the tank to the bottom of the bag, and when the bag swelled the hose was removed and the bag sealed. Once sealed, these pails were labeled and dated and kept, at various times, in my workshop, garage, storage shed, and ultimately, in a cargo container that was “roofed over” for shade. All these environments were fairly stable temp and moisture wise.

To test the efficiency of this system, I opened some of these buckets that had been sealed many years ago. In none of the contents did I find spoilage or weevils, not in the flour, corn meal or other grains. I did have weevils in ALL of the grain products that were stored in sealed buckets that had not been purged. Canned items appeared to be ok, no swelling or rusting, but due to the ages of these items, I am leery of using them and will replace them. I should have been rotating them, but the items were in sealed pails that I was reluctant to open, so it’s my loss.

As they say about the pudding: My grand kids were visiting and wanted mac/cheese and we were out, stores closed. I opened a storage pail and removed two boxes of commercial mac/cheese, it cooked up great and there were no ill effects, none, other than “Any left?” My wife and I have regularly used various cereals from storage, such as wheat & oat meal and they are good also. The sugars and honey I store will last forever, and I don’t think they lose their nutritional value.

It appears that my storage system works well, but to address the nutrition issue, I also store multi vitamins, and while I don’t really see a need for them, it can’t hurt. A quick note on dry beans: I have heard that after a few years of storage they become non palatable, even after cooking. They stay hard and impossible to chew. The remedy for this is to place the cooked beans in a pressure cooker for a few minutes after cooking to soften them up, and they will be as good as fresh.

As for water, more valuable and necessary than food, I have filters and tablets, but I use a home grown system for storage. As my wife uses bleach, she gives me the empty plastic bottles. They are filled with water without being washed out, and are stored as is. I have drunk water as old as 20 years….no odor or algae, and while flat, shaking to aerate took care of the problem. This water was from a home well, and was not treated in any way before being stored, and I suppose city water, treated, could be stored the same way. The bleach bottles are stored alongside the food pails, and I have had no issues with the plastic bottles degrading or becoming brittle.

On a final note, I use food grade pails for storing my matches and lighters, lantern mantles, and other items which might be moisture sensitive. A desiccant is added, but the pails are not purged. And for soaps, shampoos, scented candles or other items which “smell,” a food grade bucket is ideal for avoiding contamination via “osmosis.” I store these pails in the same area as my foods, and have found no contamination present.

This article deals with preps that I have made over the years, and most were done “on the cheap,” but they have served me and mine well. And while I realize there are commercial alternatives available for long term storage of food and other items, I find “rolling my own” and saving forty to sixty dollars to be much more fun.

Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…

Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on September 9 2013

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of TheSurvivalistBlog.net. He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. I have been using the dry ice also. I have been using 2 liter bottles and 1.75 liter alcohol bottles to store rice and wheat. I drop in a few pieces of dry ice and then fill it up. I let it sit with the cap barely on until most of the dry ice is gone. I then seal the cap and stand around and wait for any of them to bulge. Somehow it vacuum seals the bottles. I’m not really sure. I packed the rice and wheat tightly into the bottles and when I capped them the bottles were cold from the dry ice. Now the bottles are all sucked in and very tight. This does not bother me because I know if one is not sealed properly now but I can not figure out what causes the vacuum.

    I get my dry ice from a pig farmer that I know. Every couple of weeks he gets a Styrofoam container full of dry ice balls that fit nicely into bottles. They also make some nice fire crackers;)

  2. I started with the pre-packaged stuff, Dehydrated and Freeze Dried, and still do, but have branched out into other “off the shelf” items that will store well, and are a lot less expensive. Due to our relatively low humididty, I get away with some storage methods that others can’t, but it’s still #10 cans and food-grade buckets. (I like the 4 gal square ones now, although the 4.5 gal rounds from Emergency Essentials, became the staple as my “free” bakery 3.5 gal got used up.

    We now dehydrate chicken, greens, and fruit and can in jars, vacuum sealed. I am looking at the #2.5/#3 can dry pack canner (about $300) that will let me do some in that size for myself (the #10 is about $1000 – can’t justify the expense and none to be rented/borrowed here).

    We shop sales A LOT. we have 4 sets of shelves in out pantry that say full of canned goods. Now that we have 90% of the basics, we only shop sales, saving 30-50% off the regular prices. After a while you learn where to shop to save money. Most people just got to the store, get what they need for the short term, then complain about how food prices are going up. I think our food budget has not really gone up, overall, for 4 years.

    Another item I pick up in bulk locally is honey. Although the price has gone up, I don’t think $32 for a gallon (12 lbs) of raw honey is a bad price. And it lasts literally forever.

    There are a lot of good ideas represented in this article, many more from the Pack in general as comments. Especially “store what you eat, eat what you store”!

    Don’t get in a hurry, but get started now! Things are not going to get any better!

  3. One way which we found to store dry goods such as grits, oatmeal, flour, rice and dried beans is the “Dry Canning” method.

    What we do is store the item to be dry canned in the freezer over night. The next day we allow it to come back to room temp. We then fill qt. canning jars with the item with very little head space and place them in a 275 degree oven for one hour without the lids in place.

    After the hour is up, we take each jar out one at a time and put a lid and band on them, screwing the bands down tight.

    Allowing them to cool, you’ll hear the “ping” as the seal is set.

    We have cases of stuff like this stored in a cool dark place and so far have not seen any spoilage or bugs.

    • Ghost,
      I usually don’t say much as I tend to read and learn from what I believe is one of if not the best sites out there for practical living and prepping. And Ghost I want to say I’ve learned something new again. I have never heard of the “Dry Canning” method until now and I assure you this is something I can’t wait to try.I always tell my kids and other people to try and learn something new each day!
      This is one of the reasons that I love this site, you can learn so much from so many people.
      Thanks Ghost for your post and thank you MD for providing this site for folks to do so. Gone silent again. LOL

      • Leonard M. Urban says:

        I read about Dry Canning for the first time a few months ago in “Backwoodsman Magazine”–and highly recommend it to all at this post. There’s a lot of good info in each issue about surviving tough times, and “making do” with the resources one has and a little creative thinking…

    • Ghost,

      Wouldn’t you be able to do the same thing with a Food Saver and the jar attachment? I’m not criticizing your method at all. In fact, like Rzh, I learned something new, and it pays to know how to do something more than one way. It just seems the food saver would be quicker and easier.

      • Plus you wouldn’t have the associated heat. I personally use the Food Saver to seal my dry goods jars.

    • Ghost:
      Question, have you pulled any of these supplies out to consume in your current meals? I am just curious as it sounds like a great way to put up pasta, and other food items.

    • Ghost:
      Forgot to ask, have you tried this method for canning cake?
      I personally have not had time to try it, but it sounds wonderful. For those who like cake this would be a wonder treat to have around for unexpected company.

      • FarmerKin says:


        I have heard/read about dry canning cake. I believe it was in Wendy DeWitt’s Food Storage Seminar (go to youtube and do a search). If I remember correctly, she states that it is a non approved method and only good for something like 30 days. The video is almost an hour and a half, but quite interesting.

    • Ghost,
      We used to have some regulars here from the UK and it seems that they do a lot of what they called oven canning. Scientifically it makes sense, and I’m not sure why it isn’t used more here in the U.S.

      • Ummm that’s an easy one to answer. The FDA probably wont approve it. However I have lost all trust in the FDA over the years.

      • ok…to answer your question..there is a greater risk of the jars blowing up, when the oven door opens…this happened to my grandmother…but i do think this is an awesome way to put up dry goods…just as with anything, there is risk involved

  4. Plastic food buckets are oxygen permeable. That’s why the commercial vendors of emergency food buckets and bulk storage food package their food inside Mylar bags (either vacuum sealed or sealed with oxygen absorbers) and then put the Mylar bags inside the food buckets. Lining a plastic food bucket with a plastic bag will not create an oxygen barrier — you need to use Mylar that has oxygen absorbers added. A FoodSaver cannot seal Mylar bags.

    The least expensive way to make sure the eggs of grain-eating insects don’t hatch in your stored grains and grain products, if the food is not stored in oxygen-free containers (Mylar, glass or metal containers that are vacuum-sealed or has oxygen absorbers), is to first freeze the food for at least 72 hours before letting it come back to room temperature and packaging it for storage.

    If you bulk buy your whole grain in paper, cloth or plastic bags, the grain is most likely alive but dormant. If you then cold treat this grain (freeze at least 72 hours) and store it in tightly sealed but oxygen-permeable plastic food buckets, the grain can stay alive but dormant for years when stored in a cool dark location, will not hatch out insect larvae, will be protected from moisture and mildew and you will have the option of sprouting the grain as well as grinding it into flour or cooking it whole. You will, however, need to protect the plastic food buckets from vermin like rats and mice that can chew through plastic.

    • Thanks for the tip. I plan on leaving my rice, beans etc in the truck at below zero for a few days before storing.

  5. wonderprepper says:

    same article on armageton website

  6. You know for the question of the nutritive value of long term stored foods I could care less. By the time I am eating some of my long term foods I will be in true survival mode and just looking for calories to not starve to death and not really worried if I am getting my daily value of vitamin A,B and what ever. If my ribs are sticking out a 50% loss of vitamin values won’t matter on little turd to me!!

  7. I wouldn’t necessarily throw out the dated canned goods. When my mother passed away in 2011 she had 20-25 yr old canned corn and green beans. We opened each can as we used it and they tasted and looked like they had been canned yesterday. Out of 3-4 cases not one can was bad. YMMV. These cans was from the mid 80’s. The cans had just sat in the cases at the back of the closet for all that time. Dry, of course.

    • Leonard M. Urban says:

      I stashed a lot of canned foods back in the late 1990’s in anticipation of Y2K and it’s feared effects on the power grid and resultant lack of food or grocery stores. While recently unemployed for about 5 months, I found it necessary to “test” some of the 15 year old cans of “Dinty Moore Beef Stew”. The flavor was a little bland, and so I added a can of beef gravy to the can of stew and found it to be even better than a new can of the same stew. No ill effects. Think I’ll just keep these in my stash.

  8. I think more in terms of 30-60-90 day survival. My goals include no creating food smells, using fuel to cook, and minimizing use of water for cooking and/or cleaning related to cooking.

    The population density is just too great to assume that 1. your food smells will not attract unwanted attention; 2. that there would be adequate fuel with which to cook, and 3. that there would be an abundance of water.

    These considerations led me to conclude that it is best to survive for a reasonable period of canned food that needed no preparation. After a period of time, the reliance would shift to coast guard rations that do not require cooking, to mre’s which may have their own heat source and finally to bulk stored foods that required cooking.

    I certainly agree that if you value your work time at zero, want to learn how to preserve and store your own food and share the experiences with family members, then there is a basis for doing your own food storage in cast off containers. Conversely, the savings probably are illusory when your time is given a monetary value.

    • This is true, but when you are underemployed, and there IS no extra money for freeze dried or MRE’s, you do as I do. However, I do spend an inordinate amount of time producing and preserving food, lately to the detriment of my PT and studying for the ham exam. There are things that have seasons and it’s harvest time now so I’m busy.

      Subsistence gardening/farming is a hard life. Even when you get your peaches for free, you still have to preserve them. I figure my labor alone, never mind the peaches or the jars, makes these peaches worth between $5 and $10 a pint. But, it’s good practice for when I have to, and I know what I’m eating.

      But what will you do when you run out of MRE’s?

      Selco says in his blog about being stuck in the siege of Sarajevo, that the smells of war, people burning whatever they could find to stay warm, and offal from the sewer system and trash pickup not working were so bad that cooking smells were pretty much lost in the mix.

    • Raw rice and dried beans are very cheap — usually cheaper than canned goods and under proper storage conditions and properly packaged can store 20 to 25 yrs.

      Using a solar oven if you live a reasonable distance from the Artic Circle costs nothing in fuel, produces no smoke plume and very little in the way of cooking odor.

  9. So far I have just dumped bags of beans or rice into 5 gallon buckets and slapped a lid on. The only time I got weevils was when I got some wheat seed from the local feed n seed and these weevils were already in the wheat and spread to a partial bag of rice I had sitting out because I’d run out of room in the buckets. They also got in some oatmeal that was in an open can, but it wasn’t much. I ended up killing the weevils with diatomaceous earth, and that was the end of that.

    The lids I have been using tend to rip after you pry them off a few times too many. I would like to do mylar as well. The lids are for easy access and not really for long term. Gamma lids are expensive. I bought one and I suppose I could pack an assortment of things into mylar and then stick them in the one with the gamma lid.

    I really like the dry ice and trash bag trick, I might start doing that with the buckets I already have. I think the liquor store near me might sell dry ice.

    I also jam, can and pickle things. I got a pressure canner and I need to learn how to use it. One thing I did finally do was clean the grease off the gasket, and I learned how to store it with the lid upside down to keep the gasket from getting dents in it. And I put a towel over it to keep the dust out. I have used it as just a big pot to water bath can in, but once I get the garden harvest done, I’ll be looking at canning chicken, and maybe also some chicken chili.

    I am totally inundated with produce right now. Someone lets me pick their peaches for free every year and so I canned 14 pints of peach relishes (chutney and salsa) this week. And I went back to the trees and got again as much; now I’m making pies and cobblers and the like because I’m out of pint jars. I have several zucchini and a lot of tomatoes to do something with, too. Good thing I have most of the weekend off.

    Last year I started dehydrating things, this year I have already dehydrated beef jerky, ham jerky, peas, carrot tops, turnips, zucchini, summer squash, herbs, apples, and I think maybe I’ll do that to some of the peaches and see how they take it. They take up less room that way.

  10. Peanut_gallery says:

    I read some time ago that you should never use trash bags for food storage even unscented as these are made with petrolum products and not meant to come into contact with food. Over time there may be some contamination of the food as these plastics slowly age. I think the mylar bags are a safer choice for long term storage.

    • How about if the product is also still in the original package? For example Rice, Beans or Flour in paper or smaller plastic bags.

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