Your family food store is a valuable investment that should be protected. Bulk grains and legumes usually come in bags that are perfect for use within a year. When you purchase foods to keep in extended storage, great care should be taken to package foods in appropriate containers using proven methods to prevent insect infestation.
How do I properly package grains and legumes for optimal long term storage? It starts with the following steps:
- Start by selecting quality dry food products that are less than 10 percent moisture and low in oil content.
- Pick the right container to suit your personal needs and preferences.
- Select the best treatment method to prevent insect infestation in your chosen container.
This can seem a bit daunting, but I promise it is not. These are simple principles that can be easily followed to produce fantastic long term storage results. By the end of this post, you will be a professional.
What are the best food candidates for long term storage?
Selecting the right food product is the first step to a successful long term food supply. Foods that contain higher levels of moisture will have a shorter shelf life than dry foods. Good candidates for long term storage will have a moisture content of 10 percent or less and be low in oil content. Foods that are high in oils will go rancid in storage. That is why white rice will store for 30 years, but brown rice will only store less than a year.
You can select from a wide range of dry foods including; wheat, Kamut, spelt, corn, white rice, pinto beans, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, split peas, lentils, rolled oats, and pasta just to get started.
Dehydrated fruits and vegetables must be very low moisture and dry enough to snap. Dehydrated potatoes, carrots, celery, peppers, onions, and potato flakes are common long term dehydrated food storage items.
Properly processed freeze-dried fruits, vegetables, and meats are also good candidates for long term storage. To learn more about the differences between short-term and long-term food storage in our post, The Difference Between Short-Term and Long-Term Food Storage.
Visit our post, Long Term Food Storage: Creative Solutions to Build a Critical Asset for some great ideas to help you get started on your long term food supply.
What are the best containers to package grains, legumes, and other dry foods in for long term storage?
It is possible to use a wide variety of containers with varying results. We choose to use a variety of options in our personal storage. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. The best container for you will depend on your unique needs and preferences.
You can purchase food packaged for long term food storage and ready to go. Click here to see our recommendations for reputable suppliers. Let’s explore some popular options so you can package your own food storage.
Cans are perfect for long-term storage of dry (10 percent moisture or less), shelf-stable, and low-oil content foods. The foods inside do not react with the metal can due to a food-grade enamel coating that lines the inside of the can.
A number 10 can is 6 1/4″ tall and 7″ in diameter and holds 3 quarts of liquid. The dry weight capacity of the can will vary by specific contents. A #10 can of wheat weights 5.5 lbs, pinto beans 5.2 lbs., regular rolled oats 2.8 lbs., dry macaroni 3.0 lbs., dried apple slices 1.0 lbs., dry onions 2.1 lbs., and white flour 4.0 lbs.
The # 10 cans will provide a complete oxygen and moisture barrier to protect the contents of the can. We think they are the best choice for optimal long term dry food product preservation. Number 10 cans are light and easy to manage. The size is perfect for individuals or smaller families to ensure only a small amount of product is open at a time.
Cans may rust in humid environments. Cans are generally not resealable for storage but may be re-purposed for other uses.
Protect cans from moisture to prevent rust. Do not store in direct contact with concrete floors or walls. All dry foods packaged in #10 cans, except sugar, should be packed with an oxygen absorber to prevent insect infestation and preserve the quality of food.
Foil Pouches/Mylar Bags
Pouches are made from several layers of laminated food-grade plastic and aluminum. Food will not react with aluminum because it is separated by a food-grade plastic lining. Make sure the pouches you purchase are high quality and intended to store food products.
Click on the link to get current pricing from Wallaby. Wallaby makes high-quality Mylar bags in both 5-gallon and 1-gallon sizes. Oxygen absorbers are included with the bags.
To learn more about packaging food storage in Mylar bags visit our post How to Package Dry Foods in Mylar Bags for Long Term Food Storage.
Mylar bags effectively protect against both moisture and insects. Bags can be created in a variety of sizes small enough to seal a package of garden seeds for storage or large enough to line a 5-gallon bucket. Dry foods can be easily packaged and sealed at home with a clothes iron or a flat iron.
Pouches are not rodent-proof. The Mylar bags are more fragile than #10 cans or plastic buckets and should be handled carefully. Plan on a shorter shelf-life than items stored in a #10 can.
Consider storing pouches inside of a plastic bucket, tote, or metal garbage can to increase protection against rodents. Do not allow pouches to come in contact with concrete floors or walls. Placing filled Mylar bags inside of boxes for storage makes it easier to stack them.
PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) Plastic Bottles
Dry food products should only be stored in clean PETE bottles. Other plastic bottles may not provide an adequate moisture or oxygen barrier. PETE bottles will have “PETE” or “PET” under the recyclable symbol on the bottom of the bottle. Fruit juice and soda pop bottles are good options for longer-term storage. Never use containers that previously-stored non-food items.
The bottles must be thoroughly cleaned out before use. If the lid has an insert, remove it and clean it well. I like to sanitize my bottles a weak chlorine bleach solution to ensure that nothing is able to grow. I allow them to air dry for several days to make sure they are completely dry.
PETE bottles are a good choice for storing grains and legumes. PETE bottles may also be used for water storage. The bottles are small and easy to manage.
There is a slow transmission of oxygen through the plastic over time so they will not maintain quality for as long as #10 cans do. PETE bottles must be protected from light as the light will degrade the food inside. Rodents can chew through the thin plastic. Also, it takes a bit of patience and effort to funnel the grain into the neck of the bottle and shake it down to eliminate dead air space.
Use one oxygen absorber packet for each bottle up to one gallon for foods containing 10 percent moisture or less. I like to store my PETE bottles in free apple boxes from the grocery store. They are sturdy and just about the right size for most of the bottles.
We go into more detail about packaging food storage in PETE plastic bottles in our post, Packaging Dry Foods in Plastic Bottles for Long Term Food Storage.
Food-grade plastic buckets with gasket seals are good candidates for grain storage. Never use a plastic bucket that has stored non-food items, or is not made of food-grade plastic, for your food storage.
We also store individually packaged items such as bags of pasta, salt, baking powder, powdered sugar, and a variety of other items in their original packaging inside of plastic buckets. The bucket provides an extra layer of protection from critters, protects packaging from absorbing moisture in the storage room, and helps to maintain freshness. It does not prevent insects originally inside the packages from multiplying. However, it will contain the infestation and not allow it to spread to other stored foods.
Plastic buckets are an inexpensive option to store large amounts of dry food products (grains, beans, flour, dry milk, etc.) in long term storage. The buckets, and some of the lids, can be used many times. Plastic buckets are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
Plastic buckets are not a true oxygen barrier. There is a slow transmission of oxygen through the polyethylene walls of the container over time. Some leaching of the plastic into the food may occur but is not harmful. You may consider lining the bucket with a Mylar bag if this is a concern.
Re-purposed plastic buckets may come with some lingering odors. While not harmful, it is possible for the food to absorb the odor. Wheat that smells like pickles is just wrong. We got a great deal on used buckets that had originally held spearmint chewing gum. To this day, the gum scent remains. The used square cherry buckets we obtained had no lingering problems once they were thoroughly cleaned and dried. We have learned our lesson and are very careful about what we chose to store in re-purposed buckets.
Store buckets at least one-half inch off the floor on pallets or boards to promote good air circulation and keep them off of the concrete. Do not stack over three buckets high to prevent tipping and breaking of the lids or seals on lower buckets. Check buckets periodically for integrity. Store away from both direct and indirect light.
Glass jars are a fantastic reusable container for storing dry goods for both the short and long term. I use glass jars on a daily basis in my food storage. I purchase specialty salts and sugars, seeds, spices, and other dry goods in bulk and store them in glass jars.
All of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that we dry are stored in glass jars. Some of our glass jars are expensive canning jars and others are just re-purposed peanut butter, mayonnaise, or spaghetti sauce jars. The small sizes are very convenient.
Glass jars come in a variety of sizes and can be reused for many years. It is non-permeable, which means it will not allow air or water to seep through. It is easy to visualize the contents of the container. Unlike plastic, glass will not harbor bacteria in the glass or leach into the food product. They are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes that allow me the flexibility to select the right size jar for the amount of product I need to store.
Glass is fragile. Also, glass containers must be protected from light as it will deteriorate the food. Colored glass can reduce or eliminate light penetration, but clear glass is widely available and inexpensive.
Store glass jars in a protected environment away from light. Our glass bottles are stored in a dark storage room on shelves that are designed to reduce damage in the event of an earthquake. Re-purposed old socks are cut into sleeves that we use to cushion the jars and provide additional protection from light.
We store our empty glass jars filled with water to increase our water storage. They take up the same amount of space whether they are full or empty. The plastic lids you see in the photo above can be purchased to use on canning jars here.
To learn more about how to use repurposed glass jars and mason jars in your long term food storage visit, Packaging Dry Foods in Glass Jars for Long Term Food Storage.
What are the best treatment methods to ensure stored grains stay fresh and free from bugs?
Buy only high-quality food products for long term storage. Weevils, small flour beetles, dermestid beetles, larder beetles, moths, and other pests will infest, destroy, contaminate, and consume food. Insects come in various life stages and require special handling to destroy each stage. Storing food in a container with an oxygen-free environment will eliminate insects in all stages.
Preferred treatment method for dry food products packaged for long term storage in plastic buckets.
Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide (CO2) that is available in many grocery stores. It is heavier than air and displaces oxygen. Dry ice treatment is the recommended method for grains and legumes stored in plastic buckets. It will control most adult and larval stage insects, but will not destroy eggs or pupae. Multiple applications are unnecessary unless there is an infestation.
Purchase quality grain from a good source and this should not be an issue. If you decide to treat again, wait 2-3 weeks for insects to mature from the surviving eggs and pupae.
Directions: Use 1 ounce of dry ice per gallon or 2-3 ounces in a 5-gallon bucket. Wipe ice crystals from the dry ice and wrap it in a paper towel (to prevent it from burning the food it comes in contact with). Add 3-4 inches of grain to the bucket and place the wrapped dry ice on top of it. Finish filling the bucket with grain and set the lid on top slightly askew. Wait 30-60 minutes and seal the bucket
The dry ice will slowly sublimate and the CO2 will displace the lighter air (containing the oxygen) pushing it out of the top of the bucket. It may be a good idea to use a desiccant package along with the dry ice for moisture control. We live in a dry climate and have not found that necessary.
After the bucket has been filled with grain, snap the lid down half-way on the container to allow the air to escape as the dry ice sublimates (changes from solid to a gas). This usually takes 30 to 60 minutes, but may take up to a couple of hours depending on the amount of dry ice used and the room temperature.
Do not seal until after the dry ice has completely sublimated. Monitor the bucket after sealing for a few minutes to ensure the lid does not bulge. If it does, open and release the pressure. The lid being pulled down slightly is an indication that a partial vacuum has been created by the carbon dioxide being absorbed into the product. Check out our video on how to use dry ice in plastic buckets.
Oxygen absorbers physically remove the oxygen from the atmosphere in the container and will kill adult insects and prevent larval insects from surviving. Oxygen absorbers are small packets that contain iron powder. They are made of a material that allows oxygen and moisture to enter but does not let the iron powder leak out. The moisture in the food causes the iron to rust. As it oxidizes, the iron absorbs oxygen.
Oxygen absorbers are more effective at removing oxygen than vacuum packaging. Air is roughly 21 percent oxygen and 79 percent nitrogen. The oxygen absorber packets absorb only the oxygen. The remaining air is mostly nitrogen. Nitrogen does not allow for the growth of insects. Oxygen reduces the life of food, so in addition to preventing the growth of insects, oxygen absorbers increase the usable life of the food product.
Preferred treatment method for dry products packaged in containers that provide sufficient moisture and oxygen barrier such as; #10 cans with seamed lids, foil pouches, PETE bottles with airtight, screw-on lids, and glass canning jars with metal lids that have gaskets.
Directions: Place the new oxygen absorber into the container and seal promptly (within 20 minutes). One 300-500 cc oxygen absorber will treat a one-gallon container. Store unused oxygen absorbers in a sealed container with air removed for future use.
Use only with products that are low in moisture (10 percent or less) and low in oil content. Botulism poisoning may result from storing products high in moisture in a low oxygen environment.
Oxygen absorbers are not effective for use in plastic buckets. They depend on the absence of oxygen to kill insects. Plastic buckets are not a true oxygen barrier and allow a slow transmission of oxygen through the polyethylene walls of the container over time. Dry ice (CO2) should be used to prevent insect infestation in plastic buckets.
Warning: Botulism may result from storing moist products in reduced oxygen packaging. See our post entitled, Is There a Killer Lurking in Your Food Storage to learn more about this dangerous enemy. It is possible to create an environment that might kill the ones you love. Do not use oxygen absorber packets in moist products. Some items that may be dangerous to store with an oxygen packet include dried meats, brown sugar, nuts, granola, and fruits and vegetables (unless they are completely dry and snap when bent).
Remember that craze where people were sealing 72-hour kits in #10 cans with an oxygen packet. These items were among those placed in the low oxygen environment; granola bars, gum, candy bars, trail mix, beef jerky, and other ready-to-eat snacks. The intent was good, but the lack of knowledge may have created a deadly 72-hour kit.
Acceptable treatment method for any type of dry food product packaging.
Diatomaceous Earth is a natural substance from the fossilized remains of marine atoms that come in the form of a white powder. They are microscopic with sharp spines making them hazardous to exoskeletal insects (all the little bugs that like to eat and poop in grain).
Creatures with internal skeletons (like us) are unaffected by the diatom shells. The spines create microscopic wounds in the insects, resulting in death.
There are different forms of diatomaceous earth, some of which are dangerous to humans. Do not use the kind intended for pool filters. Safe forms may be purchased at your local feed store, garden center, hardware store or check online price here. Read the label before purchasing.
Directions: Thoroughly mix one cup of diatomaceous earth with 40 pounds of grain, grain products, or legumes. It is a dust so avoid breathing it while mixing. It has no taste and is not harmful to humans.
It is interesting to note that diatomaceous earth does not kill eggs or pupae until after they have become adult insects. That means you will have dead insects in your grain when you use this method, but better dead than alive!
Acceptable treatment method for smaller packages that easily fit into a freezer. Perhaps a 5 lb. bag of flour or cracked cereal.
Freezing will kill live pests, but may not kill insect eggs. Multiple freezing and warming cycles may be required to kill all insects and hatching eggs.
Directions: Place 1 to 15 lb. bags of grain in the freezer for 2 to 3 days, then allow to gradually warm for 24 hours.
Freezing at a constant temperature of -21 degrees Celsius or -6 degrees Fahrenheit or for 7 days will kill all stages of insects. Most home freezers will not be able to accomplish this.
Optional treatment method for controlling moisture when dry goods are packaged in an environment with high humidity.
Desiccant removes the moisture from the surrounding air. When placed in an airtight container, it will produce a low humidity environment. It prevents rust, corrosion, oxidation, mildew, fungus, mold, etc. It is frequently used in manufactured products as well as food storage.
Some forms of bulk desiccant may be “rechargeable” by exposing to heat for an extended period to release absorbed moisture. Place in a shallow baking pan at 250 degrees for 5 hours. Desiccant is not edible so be sure you do not spill it in your food. Silica Gel packaged in Tyvex meets FDA requirements to be used in dry food packaging.
How to use: Layer small packets throughout the storage container and seal immediately. Discard packets after opening the product for use. Desiccant should be placed on the bottom of the container or buried deep in the grain. It should not be placed next to an oxygen absorber. Desiccant negatively affects the performance of the oxygen absorber if in close proximity.
Summing It Up
That may have felt like quite a bit of information, but it is really a simple process. Packaging your own dry foods for long term storage requires just 3 simple steps:
- Select a high-quality dry food product that is less than 10 percent moisture. Quality does not improve with time, it deteriorates. Only settle for premium products.
- Choose the right container to meet your needs. Is a 5-gallon bucket too heavy for you to lift easily? Do you need to use PETE bottles in order to stay within your budget and still get food stored? Are you looking for a container that will best preserve your food for the longest period of time?
- Use the treatment method which will work best with the container you selected.
It is that simple. Start building up your long-term food storage today.
Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones