Storing Bulk Foods PT 1
Storing bulk whole foods such as wheat, rice, beans, oats, etc., is the easiest and most cost effective method of starting your food insurance policy. Once you’ve considered the logistical aspects of your food storage plan, it’s time to take action!
If you’re not sure what kind of food storage is best for your situation, refer to our helpful article about the most common types of long term food storage.
There’s a few basic items you’ll need to before you get started. These items will ensure maximum protection for whatever type of whole foods you choose to store. They’ll protect your food insurance investment from pests, moisture, and other destructive elements that will ruin your emergency food supply over time.
Food Grade Bucket
A food grade bucket will act as your first line of defense in keeping your food safe and secure while it’s being stored. A 5 or 6 gallon capacity food grade bucket is the best size to keep your food in. To give you an idea of how much food you can store in a food grade bucket, a 5 gallon food grade bucket will hold approximately 25-50 lbs of food depending on what type of food is being stored.
Food grade buckets are different from the flimsy, cheap buckets often seen in home improvement or hardware stores. The two attributes these food grade buckets should have is a suitable thickness (to secure your food) and constructed from food-grade materials (to ensure no harmful chemicals leach into your food).
These two attributes are extremely important when buying your buckets to store food in. Far too many folks who are new to storing food make the mistake of skimping on the extra protection and safety that food grade buckets provide, and instead use buckets made of materials not suitable for food store purposes.
Food grade buckets are constructed of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Generally, the manufacturer or distributor of buckets constructed of HDPE plastic will advertise the fact that they’re food grade, but if they don’t, there should be a resin identification code which will indicate the use of HDPE plastic (generally found on the bottom of the bucket).
Although the food itself should be stored in food grade Mylar bags, the bucket these Mylar bags are stored in also need to be constructed of food grade plastics. Buckets constructed of HDPE plastic provide not only superior protection from the environment they’re stored in, but also ensure that if the Mylar bag is ever breached, no harmful chemicals will ruin your stored food. Food grade buckets are easily obtained online and are the most cost effective container you can protect your food insurance policy in.
The thickness of these buckets is another important factor to consider. The standard measurement used to gauge the thickness of a food grade bucket is mil. A “mil” equates to 1/1000th of an inch, so 1 mil = .001 inch. Food grade buckets are typically 70mil or 90mil thick. Obviously, the thicker the bucket, the better protection it will provide. The difference in price for these two sizes of thickness are generally negligible so buy the 90mil thick buckets unless you can’t afford a few extra dollars.
It’s important to ensure only white buckets are used to store food in as the dyes used to color some types of buckets may not be the safest choice for long term food storage.
Some food grade buckets come with lids, others don’t. To keep things simple, let’s assume the food grade bucket doesn’t come with a lid.
There’s a few basic options when it comes to a lid for a food grade bucket. Essentially, there’s a traditional lid that includes a rubber seal and is good for a single use. A better option includes the Gamma Seal lid that offers an airtight and leak proof seal. The advantage of the Gamma Seal is that it’s able to be re-sealed. Unlike traditional lids, the Gamma Seal easily unscrews, allowing food to be taken from the bucket before being resealed. Gamma Seal lids are also available in a variety of colors to help organize your food insurance policy which is especially helpful for larger food storage plans.
In addition to Gamma Seal Lids, there’s another kind of lid that snaps on to the bucket with a seal that can be opened or closed to act as a sort of spout. These lids are helpful if the primary purpose of the food storage is distribution to a large number of people (commonly used by humanitarian and UN organizations). These openhead lids can also accommodate pump attachment to help dispense the food inside. It’s important to note that since food stored in with this type of lid generally isn’t for long term food storage, the Mylar bag is omitted to allow the pump to reach inside the bucket directly to the food.
As the name suggests, oxygen absorbers are small packets that contain a type of iron powder. When exposed to oxygen, a chemical reaction occurs that removes the oxygen from the environment, leaving only nitrogen. Reducing oxygen in the environment the food is stored in is essential to preserving it for long term storage. In addition to increasing the shelf life of the food, an oxygen-poor environment also inhibits the growth of any pests or harmful microorganisms that would otherwise damage the food.
Oxygen absorbers should be placed in the Mylar bag which holds the food itself. After the Mylar bag is sealed and placed inside a food grade bucket, an additional oxygen absorber should be placed inside the food grade bucket before it’s sealed.
Oxygen absorbers come in a variety of sizes generally ranging from 100cc – 2000cc. With 5-6 gallon capacity buckets, the 2000cc size will be the most effective. 1 cc is the equivalent of 1 ml. Generally 1-2 of these 2000cc sized oxygen absorbers will be plenty to ensure only nitrogen remains in the environment with only trace amounts of oxygen. The type of food being stored also impacts how many oxygen absorbers will be needed. Denser foods such as rice or flour will require few oxygen absorbers because there will be a smaller amount of air. Less dense foods such as beans or pasta will require more oxygen absorbers because there will be a greater amount of air to absorb. The bottom line with oxygen absorbers, is that it’s better to have too many, than not enough.
Oxygen absorbers become active when exposed to oxygen so it’s important to only use them when all the other components are assembled and ready to go. If any oxygen absorbers remain after processing your food storage, put them in a glass mason jar and seal the lid to ensure they don’t expire.
Mylar is a specific trademark and essential component of any successful long term food storage program. Although there are several commercial applications for Mylar, the term in the context of food storage refers to a metalized Mylar bag that is used to line the inside of a food grade bucket. Mylar bags act as an oxygen barrier to protect the stored food. The food is simply placed in the Mylar bag which is then sealed (after oxygen absorbers are added on top of the food). Once the Mylar bag is sealed, it’s placed inside the food grade bucket, more oxygen absorbers are added, and finally the food grade bucket is sealed. Mylar bags come in multiple sizes generally ranging from 1-5 gallons.
It’s worth noting that Mylar isn’t very resistant to punctures which is why it’s important to place inside the food grade bucket. Essentially, the Mylar bag acts as an oxygen barrier for the food, while the food grade bucket acts as a protective barrier for the Mylar bag (keeping out the elements and/or rodents and insects which can easily chew through Mylar). Mylar bags generally are sold anywhere from 3.5 mil – 5mil thickness. With the widespread availability and negligible price difference in thickness, make sure you get the 5 mil thick bags as they will provide extra protection vs. the 3.5 mil thick versions.
Mylar bags need to be sealed to provide an airtight environment after the food and oxygen absorbers have been added. Most Mylar bags are simply sealed by heat, either using a specialized tool or a common household iron. There are also Mylar bags that utilize a zip lock sealing mechanism which add the extra convenience of easily being able to open and reseal. These zip lock Mylar bags can also be heat sealed for an extra layer of protection.
This is a lot of information and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by it all. The following is a summary of the food storage items and factors that are critical to safely and successfully store food long term.
When storing bulk whole foods, you’ll need these 5 components:
- Food grade bucket
- Gamma seal lid
- Mylar bag
- Oxygen absorbers
Critical factors to consider are:
- The thickness of the food grade bucket and Mylar bag. The thickness of these two items is measured in mil (1 mil = .001 inch). The thicker the mil, the stronger the bucket/bag. The strongest buckets are generally 90mil thick while the strongest Mylar bags are 5mil thick.
- The size of the oxygen absorbers. In a 5-6 gallon capacity bucket, a 2000cc oxygen absorber should be sufficient (one in the Mylar bag, one in the food grade bucket).
- The environment your food is stored in will have a dramatic impact on how long your food will safely store. HALT is a great acronym to remember the 4 most important environmental factors to prolong the shelf-life of your food. HALT stands for Heat, Air, Light, and Temperature. The less you can expose your food to each one of these elements, the longer your food will keep.