This is a very wide and varied topic as you can store your emergency food supplies in a lot of different ways. As you have already seen, there are a half dozen ways to process your food in the first place.
Using your own containers usually applies to most dried goods. Canned foods (either metal cans or glass jars) do not need any additional containers, and the needs for frozen foods has already been addressed in the earlier chapter on freezing. Needing to supply your own containers becomes an issue with most dry goods and other loose foods. And it can be a crucial part of your storage and should be taken as seriously as the food itself.
The Containers Themselves
Large scale storage often revolves around buckets. Five gallon buckets are excellent for keeping any dry bulk foods because they are sturdy, impervious to most pests, will hold a lot, can be carried by a handle and can be purchased in food-grade plastic. That last point is crucial. Buying empty paint buckets is not a good alternative even if they seem to be made the same. Only purchase buckets that are truly classified as food-grade. Rumours in food-storage circles sometimes claim that you just need to look for a certain number in the recycling symbol. This is not true. Even if those paint buckets are made with the same plastic as a food-safe one, they haven’t been treated the same during manufacturing. Stick to official food-grade to be safe. They should have a snap on lid with a rubber gasket along the rim for the best air-tight seal.
This alone will make an excellent container for storing rice, dried beans, flour, sugar, loose nuts and any other type of dried food. Because the plastic is food-grade, you can just fill them up and pop on the lid.
If you do not have food-grade buckets but would still like to use them for storing food, you can line the insides with a food-grade material instead. Mylar bags are popular for this, and it adds an extra layer of protection for your stores. This material is a foil-like plastic that can be sealed with a heating element if necessary. They also prevent light from penetrating, so would be excellent if you are using clear containers instead of buckets.
Mylar bags can also be used without any buckets for smaller quantities or anything light enough. It just won’t be quite as durable.
Oxygen Absorber Packs
This is where things can be a little more complicated. But some of these additional elements can really make your food stores last longer and retain their freshness longer. When you are keeping food for a year or more, every little bit helps.
The main problem with any stored food is exposure to oxygen. This allows for pests, mold or germs to survive and will degrade your food over time. So you can find one of several ways to get rid of all the oxygen in your bucket to help preserve your food better. While helpful, none of these are 100% necessary for good food storage.
The easiest way is to package your buckets with oxygen absorbers. These are not common items and are usually only found through preparedness retail outlets or some larger outdoor supply stores. They are small porous packets that will react with the air once they are open. By sealing them into your container, they will remove all the free oxygen, and create an environment in the bucket that will resist most pathogens. You can use them in a bucket alone as long as there is a good rubber seal to keep additional air out, or combine them with a mylar bag for additional protection.
In case you are concerned, these packs are filled with iron powder and will not create any chemical residue on your food. They are very safe.
Another alternative to getting the oxygen out of your buckets is with dry ice. Proper oxygen absorbers are easier to work with but if you have a nearby source for dry ice, this will be a cheaper method. If you are not familiar with it, dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide and it is far colder than standard water ice. You will need to take care when handling it and never touch it with your bare hands.
For a standard 5 gallon bucket, you need to measure out about 2 oz of ice. That will measure around 1/3 of a cup depending on the size of ice pieces. Put the pieces in the bottom of your bucket, and lay piece of paper towel over them. Quickly pour your food over the dry ice to fill the bucket and seal on the lid while leaving an inch or two gap in the seal. This is very important.
The ice will start to “melt”, which releases carbon dioxide gas. It fills up the bucket from the bottom, forcing out the lighter oxygen. If you sealed the bucket, it would soon burst or split from the pressure. Leave your buckets for at least an hour for the ice to all completely melt. Feel the bottom of the bucket. As soon as it stops feeling ice cold, you can finish sealing the lid. You will want to catch that moment as quickly as possible so that oxygen doesn’t flow back into the bucket after all the ice is melted It can take up to 2 or 3 hours. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll get the hang of it. If the lids start to bulge, immediately open them slightly to relieve any pressure buildup.