Bulk Food Storage

Many of us purchase and store our food supplies in bulk.  Even Myrna and I do this, although our families are smaller now.  We both purchase staples at Costco or Sam’s and the nearby Iowa Amish groceries like Stringtown near Iowa City and the Dutchman’s in Cantrill, saving over the price of smaller packages.  The other advantage is that these stores have a fast turnover on basic staples, so we don’t get flour with pests, for example. I also can often afford better quality for the price when I purchase this way.  I agree with Myrna that good quality ingredients are worth my time and effort to prepare.
This week I purchased all-purpose flour that I like for 32¢ per pound in a 25 pound bag, and 15# of parboiled (like Uncle Ben’s) rice for 39¢ a pound….much cheaper than in our local groceries.  I use 2-5# of flour each week for noodles, bread and other baking, so I keep more on hand than some folks, like Myrna. 
It's the Pantry Principle; I restock my pantry instead of buying around a set menu.  I try to keep 3-6 months on hand of basic staples to keep our trips minimal.  Of course, I also can regularly to take advantage of meat sales and the garden, as well a dehydrating.  I also freeze butter and lard (not commercial lard).  I do keep molasses, maple syrup and honey in a little larger quantity too.
Some things I don't keep on hand in large quantities are fats and oils that I don't use fast enough and other items I use infrequently like some spices.  I also don't overstock frozen vegetables, for example, the quality deteriorates and they go on sale often.  
There isn't much reason to stock anything your family doesn't like or that you'll get tired of before you use it.  Sometimes it pays to share larger purchases. You'll see I don't buy and store little packages of mixes...too much wasteful packaging, ingredients we don't want to eat, not versatile enough and too expensive.  I don't stock snack foods except popcorn.  I make granola if we want dry cereal.
Many of these items are in packaging that isn't suitable for longer storage.  Plastic bags, in particular, are susceptible to tearing or puncturing so we repackage in more suitable containers.  
I especially like 5 gallon food-safe buckets with “gamma seal lids” for larger quantities.  These lids simply twist to open, making the buckets easy to use for flour, sugar and the like.  A 5 gallon bucket holds about 30 pounds of flour or white sugar.  I fill one with bags of brown and powdered sugar.
I also use square Rubbermaid commercial storage containers I purchased at Sam’s at a good price in 4 and 6 quart sizes (and available on-line in even larger sizes), and the taller container is from King Arthur Flour, and holds about 10# of flour or 13# of rice.  The taller containers are fairly expensive and I plan to purchase 2 gallon buckets with gamma lids next time I need some this size instead.  All of these containers stack easily to save floor space.
I don’t store so much that I need oxygen absorbers in the containers, but they are available for grains or home dehydrated foods especially.
Canning Jars, like half gallon ones I purchase at our local farm store are also very convenient for storing those bulk packages of things like chocolate chips, powdered milk and coconut.  Wide mouth quarts are also good for storage.  I can buy one-piece metal lids with an integral gasket for glass jars at the Amish stores.  I like them better than the plastic Ball storage lids because they won’t leak if tipped, especially liquids.  Used canning lids also work for storage - mark them as used. 
Popcorn-type metal canisters work especially well, keeping out light and pests, and are good if rodents might be a problem. 
Institutional 2,3 and 5 gallon glass or plastic jars are a real find if you have a source available.  Myrna has some nice jars this size she purchased.
Remember to use "food-safe" buckets, plastic bags, and containers.  Trash bags, for instance, are treated with pesticides and not suitable for food storage.  Your choices may depend on your budget, availability, your storage area (metal may rust in damp basements, for instance) and food preferences.
We keep our supplies in our pantry and closets that aren’t too hot, and our laundry room…We don’t have a basement like we used to or a root cellar like my brother-in-law, Don, who also first showed me the buckets with Gamma lids.  We use sturdy chrome shelving - it's easy to move and adjust, but more expensive than sturdy homemade shelving like our Mom had in her "fruit room".  
Some things, like powdered milk, I keep refrigerated for better quality and taste.  I keep a clipboard with a list of staples hanging inside the pantry door and try…mostly with success…to keep up with our inventory.  I also mark the labels when I remove staples to kitchen containers.  
I mark containers with the date of purchase; I can see how fast we use the item and adjust my buying accordingly. Before a big “stock-up” trip, I check our inventory so I don’t buy too much of any one thing.
As prices seem to be rising for the foreseeable future, with some market experts thinking food prices won’t recover until the 2014 or 2015 harvest seasons, it appears that investing in “commodities”; even on a small scale, will pay off.

In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has. Proverbs 21:20


  1. I MUST get those gamma lids. I struggle with the hard to open lids I have now.

  2. An excellent posting, Sue.

    Actually, I am interested in preparedness for hard times of all kinds. I have oxygen absorbers already, but still need to locate suitable storage containers.

    As our way of life suffers further attacks by politicians and corporate entities, I believe it's foolhardy not to give serious, practical consideration to "putting food by" against privation. From what I've read in recent months, it sounds like times will get considerably harder before they get better--if they ever do. My hope is to make my beloved's and my food supply the least of our conerns.

  3. where do you find the 5 gallon food safe buckets? or even the 2 gallon ones? ive looked on amazon and they want as much for shipping as the do for the buckets. just curious. thanks

  4. Lishca,
    Our local Ace Hardware has the buckets and snap-on lids that are food safe - in their kitchen wares area. You might check at local farm stores too. The gamma lids I did have to order...I got mine from Pleasant Hill Grain. Yes, the shipping on the lids was high, but I think the convenience of these lids is worth it. I have them on the buckets I know I will be rotating through during the year.

  5. ok thanks! i never thought about ace! and yeah, i can splurge on the lids to save my fingers :)

    1. Lowes stores here in Indiana carry the food grade 5 gallon buckets and the lids. I also ordered some of the Gamma lids for some of my buckets. if you don't see them just ask. Happy hunting.

  6. I love my gamma lids! Makes it so much easier to get in and out of a bucket.

  7. We live in Southern Indiana so I don't know if this will crossover well. But we were able to get food safe buckets from Rural King. And found the Gamma lids at Home Depot because commercial painters use them for paint. Good luck!

  8. Thank you for the information. With a growing family, we too buy in bulk but without a great stoage system in place I do worry about waste if something got into my pantry. I think Ill check out the the hardware store for food grade buckets. Thanks again!

  9. Firehouse Subs sells their pickle buckets for around 2 dollars. They smell like pickles, but they should be food safe since they are used for pickles. They are a couple gallons big, I can not remember how big. The money they make selling them goes to help support firefighters. I am not sure what states have Firehouse subs, but they have quite a few here in Tennessee.

  10. Amazon carries the lids, and if you ask around you mat find that you can get the buckets for free from ice cream parlors and delis. I use them not only for storage, but with a couple holes drilled in the bottom they make fabulous planters for tomatoes and other crops. Amazon also offers the oxygen absorbers, and heavy duty bags for storing dehydrated foods. I love my dehydrators, because along with the fruits of my own garden I can use them to preserve the goodies from my local farm stand, in a light weight and easy to store form.

  11. I haven't heard of oxygen absorbers--only moisture absorbers. Will the O absorbers prevent foods like brown rice from going rancid? I have to keep mine frozen to prevent it, and if the electricity goes out, I'll lose my rice. So I keep only small amounts. Same is true of whole wheat flour. Would like to keep larger amounts of both.

    1. I'm sorry...I'm not an expert on oxygen absorbers.

    2. Robert...
      Thanks for sharing the good information.

  12. For the 5 gallon buckets, try your local grocery store that has a bakery department. One of ours will save them and just give them away. They had frosting in them and are food safe. Also try the deli section for the 2 gallon pickle buckets. A few days in the sun and the pickle smell goes right away!!

  13. Where is the best place to by oxygen absorbers?


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