You are probably familiar with the beautiful site of fresh bottled peaches or home preserves proudly displayed in Mason jars. But did you know that glass jars are also an effective container to preserve dry goods for food storage? Glass provides both an oxygen and a moisture barrier for dry goods.
Can I use recycled glass jars in my food storage? Glass jars are a surprisingly good container for packaging dry goods such as; wheat, white rice, rolled oats, sugar, salt, and corn in your long term food storage. The great advantage of using glass is that it creates a true oxygen and moisture barrier. Also, glass does not leach toxins into the food. The one serious disadvantage is that glass can be easily broken.
I store a variety of dried goods in glass jars in both my short term and long term food supply. They are handy and reusable. I can often acquire them for free.
In this post, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using glass bottles or jars to store your dry goods. We will review various treatment methods to prevent insect infestation along with the ideal storage conditions to help extend the shelf life of your foods.
Glass Jars for Packaging Dry Foods in Long Term Storage
Glass jars are a fantastic reusable container for storing dry goods for both the short and long term. I love glass jars. They are available in a 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.
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. I also store my home dried fruits, vegetables, and herbs in glass jars.
There are fantastic advantages, and a few disadvantages, that are worth considering. Let’s review them.
Advantages to Storing Food in Glass Bottles
The advantages of storing food in glass bottles are numerous.
Glass Bottles Create a True Oxygen and Moisture Barrier
Glass is non-permeable, which means it will not allow air or water to seep through. Glass bottles can be reused without a noticeable reduction in quality.
Glass Bottles are Durable and Reusable
Glass bottles can be highly durable in spite of their fragile nature. They come in a variety of sizes and can be used over and over again. These are antique canning jars that we still use to store grains and beans.
Eventually we expect that glass bottles will become distressed and break. The higher the original quality of the bottle, the longer you can expect it to last.
Glass Bottles DO NOT Leach Toxins Into the Food
Unlike plastic, glass will not harbor bacteria or leach toxins into the food product. Glass is stable and will not be affected by heat during normal usage.
Sometimes you may have a glass bottle that retains the odor of the original contents such as pickles or hot peppers. A little bit of time and scrubbing will eliminate the smell, unlike plastics that can retain the odor for many years.
Glass Bottles are Abundant and Inexpensive
You can pick up a case of Mason jars at grocery stores and even at some hardware stores. Many dollar stores and craft stores also sell glass bottles.
One of my favorite ways to accumulate free jars is by repurposing pickle jars, pasta sauce jars, salsa bottles, and even avocado oil bottles. I also love to save baby food jars and the little chicken bouillon jars.
Glass Bottles Can Be Completely Cleaned and Sterilized
The hardest part of repurposing glass bottles is soaking the label off of the jar. I have learned to place the jar in hot soapy water when I start cleaning the kitchen. By the time I’m ready to start the dishwasher the label can be easily scraped off and placed in the dishwasher.
Unlike plastic, glass can be sterilized completely using high temperatures. I find it much easier to clean.
Glass Bottles Usually Come with Air-Tight and Water-Tight Screw Lids
Food storage containers must be air-tight. Glass bottles usually have screw-on lids that keep both air and moisture out of the container. There are a few exceptions, but most are designed to be both air-tight and water-tight.
Glass Bottles are Insect and Rodent Proof
Glass bottles and jars are both insect and rodent proof. The environmental barrier the glass creates ensures that there is no lingering odor to attract these varmints.
Disadvantages to Storing Food in Glass Bottles
While the advantages to glass are impressive, there are a few serious disadvantages that must play into your choice of storage containers.
Glass is Fragile and Breaks Easily
The obvious disadvantage is that glass is fragile. If you live in earthquake country like we do, you have to take steps to protect your bottles. It is possible that no matter how well you try to protect the bottles they may still break.
Glass Does NOT Protect Food from Light
Glass containers must be protected from light to reduce food deterioration. Colored glass can reduce or eliminate light penetration. Storing bottles in a cardboard box or a dark storage room will significantly reduce the exposure to light.
Examples of Glass Jars that Work for Food Storage
Not every glass jar is a good candidate for storing dry goods in your food storage. Use a little common sense. The jars must be able to be completely cleaned and sterilized. Glass bottles should never have held substances that are not edible.
Mason jars are manufactured specifically for the purpose of preserving food. They have a two-part lid system that includes a flat lid with a rubber seal on the bottom. A separate ring screws down over the top of the bottle to create an air-tight, moisture-tight seal.
The lids should only be used once for wet pack canning. However, I frequently reuse lids when I am bottling dry goods using either a vacuum sealer or an oxygen absorber. You can also purchase plastic lids to replace the metal lids for dry product storage.
Mason jars are ideal for canning both wet and dry ingredients.
Repurposed Jars with Good Lids
There are a wide variety of glass jars that you can repurpose to use for storing dry goods in both your short term and long term storage.
One of my favorite jars is glass peanut butter jars. They are sturdy, the perfect size, and abundant in our family because we love peanut butter.
Glass Jars to Avoid for Food Storage
There are a few problematic characteristics of some glass jars that do not work well for storing dry goods. It is best to avoid the following bottles or jars.
- Bottles or jars that have held non-edible substances.
- Bottles or jars that do not have a lid with an air-tight seal.
- Bottles with a narrow neck that prevents cleaning thoroughly.
- Bottles or jars that have been chipped or cracked.
Acceptable Dry Food Candidates for Glass Bottle or Jar Food Storage
Packaging dry goods for long term storage can be downright dangerous if you don’t do it right. It is not hard, but there can be serious consequences like botulism or salmonella if you select the wrong foods.
Dry Foods Low in Oil and Moisture
Dry foods should be less than 10 percent moisture content and low in fats and oils to be considered a good candidate for long term food storage. Fats and oils will quickly turn rancid in storage.
Great options for long term storage include dry beans, pasta, potato flakes, rolled oats, steel-cut oats, sugar, white rice, and wheat.
Milled products such as white flour, corn meal, and bean flour have a shorter shelf life than whole grains. You can store them in glass bottles, but only in your short term food supply that you rotate through on a regular basis.
The shelf life of short term foods is 3 to 5 years, as compared to 25 to 30 years for long term food storage. The following are posts that you may want to review for good information on exactly which foods to package in your food storage.
- Packaging Dry Foods in Plastic Bottles for Long Term Food Storage
- How to Package Dry Foods in Mylar Bags for Long Term Storage
- Top 10 Foods to Hoard for “The End of the World as We Know It”
- Long Term Food Storage: Creative Solutions to Build a Critical Asset
Protecting Dry Foods Stored in Glass Bottles from Insects
The dry foods that you purchase often contain insects and eggs. It’s just a fact of life. By treating the food up-front, you can prevent a nasty infestation that may ruin your stored food.
We will share three great ways to protect your dry goods from insects. You do not need to use all of these methods. Just pick one.
The ideal way to preserve dry goods in jars is by using an oxygen absorber. Oxygen absorbers don’t allow insects to live. They also remove the oxygen that degrades food, thus creating the ideal environment to extend the shelf life.
Only use oxygen absorbers with low moisture, low oil foods. Moist products have the potential for botulism growth in a low oxygen environment. Don’t use them with granola, nuts, brown rice, brown sugar, or similar foods.
Oxygen absorbers work through a chemical reaction. Once the oxygen has been consumed the reaction stops. Use a 300 cc oxygen absorber for one gallon and smaller bottles. You can purchase oxygen absorbers here.
Vacuum Sealing Dry Foods in Mason Jars for Long-Term Storage
Vacuum sealing removes the air from the bottle, and insects can’t live without air. The removal of air also results in extending the life of the food.
The process of vacuum sealing dry goods in Mason jars is incredibly easy. It requires a special bottle attachment for the sealer. This option is only available for regular and wide-mouth canning jars.
Equipment needed to vacuum seal dry goods in Mason jars.
- A good quality vacuum sealer. The Foodsaver V4400 Vacuum Sealer Machine Starter Kit is a great unit. Click here to see the current pricing on Amazon.
- A jar sealer designed to work with a vacuum sealer. Click here to see a bundle that has both a wide mouth jar sealer and a narrow mouth jar sealer. This is the one that I have and I really like it.
- Mason jars, lids, and rings.
Glass has the potential to break as the contents inside freeze and expand. You can treat for insects by using the freeze-thaw method before storing dry goods inside of the jar.
- Freeze the unopened, moisture-proof bag of dry food inside of the freezer. If the packaging is paper, such as a bag of flour, it is at risk for absorbing moisture during the process. Place the paper sack inside of a sealed plastic bag before freezing. If the plastic is thin, consider double bagging it in air-tight plastic bags.
- Bags that are 15 pounds or less should be frozen for 3 days. The bag is then removed from the freezer and allowed to warm to room temperature for at least 24 hours. This allows the eggs to hatch.
- Freeze for an additional 3 days to kill the newly hatched insects. Allow contents to return to room temperature.
- You may need to repeat the process.
It is important that you wait until the food is at room temperature before packaging to prevent moisture issues in your dried goods.
How to Prevent Glass Jars from Breaking in the Freezer
I’m not a fan of using the freeze-thaw method after packaging the food storage in the glass jars due to the risk of breakage. However, if you are up for the challenge, try using some of these ideas to reduce your risk of glass breakage due to expansion.
- Package dry goods loosely and leave 2 inches of headspace.
- Do not allow jars to touch each other. Separate the jars by placing inside of old socks, using cardboard dividers, or just strategically locating them away for each other.
- Don’t over tighten the lids.
- Glass is more susceptible to breakage when frozen. Handle gently.
Dry Canning Method to Preserve Dry Foods in Glass Bottles
Heat is damaging to dry foods and may result in undesirable flavor changes. Dry canning or oven canning is not recommended by food safety specialists.
If you must use heat, insects may be controlled by heating the grain on a baking sheet inside of an oven. The food must be returned to room temperature before packaging for storage. I do not use dry canning for any of my food storage. Heat can cause quality issues with dry goods.
The following quote is from Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D. She is a Nutrition Professor and an Extension Food Safety Specialist. Please consider her advice.
“Dry canning” techniques I see circulating call for putting dried food like grains, beans, and nuts, into canning jars. In some methods, canning lids are then placed on the jars and the jars heated in an oven. Usually about 200°F is recommended. In other directions, the food in jars is heated without the lids, which are then placed on the jars when they come out of the oven.
These procedures do not describe true canning preservation of food but instead would be considered a method of packaging dried foods for storage — one that, again, we cannot recommend because of several issues with it.
It is unknown if this process can sterilize the food, although it might cause vacuum sealing of jars. This would not be a time and temperature combination known to kill many bacterial spores or mold spores.
This method does not remove all of the oxygen from the jar before sealing and may trap moisture from the food if condensation occurs. While the presence of spores would not be an issue in very dry foods, any moisture pockets say from condensation or incompletely dried foods could be a problem. Moisture in the jar with some retained oxygen could support the growth of airborne molds or even bacteria not killed by the low heating in some seemingly dry foods. Some foods may seem dry to the consumer but still have enough moisture in them to come out upon heating and closing up in a container. This could be especially true of home dried foods.
The dry oven process used at home has never been shown to sterilize these various dry foods or produce the claimed extended shelf life with quality. In fact, there is no known researched shelf life for foods packaged just this way at home. …
This heating could even make the quality of some foods worse. This could be either by moisture condensation upon cooling, or if the food is lipid-containing nuts and grains, increased enzymatic reaction causing rancidity.
Cleaning and Filling Glass Bottles with Dry Goods
Take time to get your bottles ready before packaging. It only takes a few minutes but can make all the difference in a long shelf life.
- Remove the label by soaking and scraping, if necessary.
- Lids are most problematic when it comes to bacterial growth. Pay special attention to making sure the lid is squeaky clean and sanitized.
- Clean and sanitize to ensure that the jar and lid are completely clean. I find that the dishwasher usually does a great job, except with some of the narrow neck glass bottles.
- OR sterilize the jars and lids in the oven. I personally heat my jars in a 250° F oven for 15-20 minutes.
- If using an oxygen absorber, place it in the bottom of the jar before filling.
- Fill the jar completely. You may need to use a funnel.
- Clean rim with a damp cloth to ensure a good seal.
- Secure the lid by hand tightening.
- Label the lid with contents and date
One of the things I love about glass bottles is that I can easily visualize the contents. It is still a good idea to label the bottle with the contents and the date it was packaged.
Protecting Glass Bottles or Jars in Long Term Storage
Great job packaging all that wonderful food in the jars. Now we need to take reasonable steps to store those beautiful jars correctly.
Protect Glass Jars from Earthquakes
Obviously, glass is fragile and must be protected. Take reasonable precautions to ensure that your bottles are safe in the event of an earthquake. This is a photo of my bottle shelves. Notice the wooden barrier in the front to discourage the bottles from falling off the shelf.
We also use old socks to help cushion the bottles. Get creative and see what you can come up with to make your bottles just a little safer when the earth shakes.
Protect Glass Jars from Light
Light is an enemy to food storage. Store glass jars in a protected environment away from light.
A dark pantry is a helpful way to keep them away from light. You can also place the bottles in a closed cardboard box. You can even cover them with a towel or blanket. Anything to keep them out of the light.
Organize Glass Jars to Facilitate Rotation
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 emptied glass jars filled with water to increase our water storage. They take up the same amount of space whether they are full or empty. You can purchase plastic lids for Mason jars that can be quite handy.
The Possibilities are Endless with Glass Bottles and Jars
With all the glass bottle and jar options available, you can get really creative with your food storage.
A fun way to build convenience into your food storage is to place all of the dry ingredients that you need to make your favorite recipe in one jar. You simply pull out the bottle, add water and a few ingredients, and you are ready to cook.
If that appeals to you, check out these books that can help you get started.
- Meals in a Jar: Quick and Easy, Just-Add-Water, Homemade Recipes Paperback by Julie Languille
- The Instant Pot® Meals in a Jar Cookbook: 50 Pre-Portioned, Perfectly Seasoned Pressure Cooker Recipes by Pamela Ellgen
- The Meals in a Jar Handbook: Gourmet Food Storage Made Easy by Stephanie Petersen
Inexpensive Way to Build Your Food Storage Using Repurposed Jars
We are always trying to save a little bit of money and reduce waste. Repurposing glass jars is one of our favorite ways to do both.
Take time to refill your used pickle, pasta sauce, and peanut butter jars with dry goods. Each time you go to the market buy an extra package or two of white rice, beans or rolled oats and package them appropriately for storage in your free glass jars.
You will be amazed at how quickly you can build your family food stores with a little bit of consistent effort.
Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones