Packaging Dry Foods in Plastic Bottles for Long Term Food Storage

Approx Reading Time: 19 minutes

Recycled plastic bottles might just be the answer to helping you build your food storage inexpensively. Food storage doesn’t have to be expensive. You can store wheat, beans, and rice in your own home in the plastic soda and juice bottles that you normally throw away.

Can I store grains and beans in plastic bottles in my food storage? PETE plastic bottles provide an acceptable oxygen and moisture barrier for dry goods such as wheat, dry beans, white rice, pasta, sugar, and rolled oats. Plastic does not provide the ideal oxygen barrier as does Mylar and #10 cans, but they certainly are an acceptable, budget-conscious way to store dry goods in your long term storage.

In this post, we will review the advantages and disadvantages to using PETE plastic bottles to store dry goods in long term storage. We will talk about which foods can be stored in these bottles, and which should not.

Finally, we will show you, step-by-step, how to package your dry goods in PETE plastic bottles to extend their shelf life in your survival food supply.

Advantages to Storing Dry Foods in Used PETE Plastic Bottles

There are some definite advantages to storing dry foods in recycled PETE plastic bottles.

PETE Bottles are an Abundant, Free Resource

PETE plastic bottles are abundant and are being thrown away every day. These bottles can be repurposed and used for storing food, or water, with just a little bit of work.

PETE Bottles are Available in a Variety of Sizes

It is easy to get PETE bottles in a wide variety of sizes. The gallon size juice containers are perfect for storing large amounts of beans and rice. I personally like the 2-liter soda bottle size for storing wheat. It is just about the perfect amount to grind into flour for a large batch of bread.

Powerade or Gatorade bottles are ideal for smaller portions. I like the size that holds one quart. I usually make 4 cups of dry beans when I make a big pot of chili and that is the exact amount in the quart drink bottle. You can even use smaller PETE bottles when they meet your needs.

PETE Bottles are Reusable

Once you have emptied your bottles, they can be cleaned and reused over and over again for packaging food storage. As long as you have started with a sturdy plastic bottle, it should be good for several rotations through your food storage.

Disadvantages to Storing Dry Foods in Used PETE Plastic Bottles

Packaging food storage in PETE bottles does have a few disadvantages worth mentioning. Realistically, food storage packaged in PETE bottles should be rotated with your short term food supply.

PETE Plastic Bottles Do Not Provide a True Oxygen Barrier

PETE bottles will provide a sufficient oxygen barrier for a couple of years. You should not have any issues with insect growth because they will have been eradicated in the first couple of weeks.

The concern is that the slow infiltration of oxygen will gradually degrade the dry products stored in the bottle. Packaging in containers with a true oxygen barrier (Mylar bags, #10 cans) prevents this from occuring. PETE bottles may not be optimal but they still work quite well.

PETE Plastic Bottles are NOT Rodent Proof

PETE bottles are not rodent proof and need an additional layer of protection from hungry mice or rats.

Consider the potential access that rodents have to your storage room and take reasonable precautions. This may mean storing the bottles inside of a sealed metal garbage can or inside of a plastic bucket or tote.

PETE Plastic Bottles Do Not Protect from Light

Light is one of the enemies to food storage. Most PETE bottles do not adequately protect the contents from light exposure. Store bottles in a dark room or place them in a container that will provide an acceptable light barrier.

You can learn more about how to protect and extend the shelf life of your stored foods in our post, 8 Food Storage Enemies and How to Slay Them.

Selecting the Right Plastic Bottles for Food Storage

Only certain bottles are good candidates for storing food long term. Don’t risk storing your food in containers that don’t meet the standard.

Only Use Bottles with PET or PETE Recycle Symbol

Plastics are not all created equal. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) has no known health issues. The bottles should have the PETE symbol with a number 1 recycling emblem imbedded on the bottom of the bottle. PETE bottles are your safest plastic option for packaging dry goods for food storage.

Learn more about using PET/PETE bottles in our post, The PET Bottle Safety Debate.

PETE Plastic Bottles Must Have Screw-On Lids

The PETE bottles must have lids that screw-on tightly and create an air-tight seal. Snap-on, paper or foam lids will not work. If you are unsure if the lid will work, seal the bottle, submerge it in water, and squeeze. If you see any air escaping, the lid does not create an adequate seal.

Some wide-mouth PETE bottles such as mayonnaise jars or peanut butter jars do not work well because the lid doesn’t provide an air-tight seal after the initial opening.

It can also be very difficult to adequately clean jars that have held greasy food substances. Some may work just fine. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Examples of PETE Plastic Bottles that Work Well for Food Storage

Now you know the criteria for selecting the right bottles to package your food storage inside. These are some of my favorites.

  • Soda pop bottles
  • Shelf-stable juice bottles
  • Sports drink bottles
  • Heavy plastic water bottles (not the thin plastic crushable variety)

Although you can use PETE plastic bottles that have held greasy substances (such as vegetable oil or dressings), I have found that they are pretty tough to get clean, and not worth the hassle when I have so many easier options available to me. It is important that the bottles are sparkling clean before storing food in them.   

Examples of PETE Plastic Bottles that SHOULD NOT BE USED!

Just because a bottle is made from PETE plastic does not necessarily mean that it can be used for food storage. These are some of the PETE containers that should not be used.

  • DO NOT use milk jugs for storing water or food. Milk jugs will not provide an adequate oxygen barrier or an air-tight seal. They are engineered to degrade quickly, and the plastic can harbor bacteria. DO NOT use milk jug type containers, even if they only held water.
  • DO NOT use plastic bottles that are made from very thin, collapsible plastic such as some disposable water bottles. Thicker plastic water bottles will work nicely.
  • DO NOT use any bottle that has contained inedible items. Avoid bottles that have held contents with a strong odor such as vinegar or peppermint. The smell is tough to completely remove. Over time the dry goods may absorb the odor.
  • DO NOT use bottles with a lid that does not create an air-tight seal. 

The bottles must have an air-tight seal that prevents air infiltration that will shorten the shelf life of the product. I do not usually use wide-mouthed PETE bottles to package food storage. I find that the jar seal usually isn’t always air-tight.

I know that some people use mayonnaise jars, peanut butter jars or similar bottles, but I don’t like them. As a rule, they are difficult to clean thoroughly, and the plastic isn’t as durable.

However, there are exceptions to this general rule. I will reuse the wide mouth plastic containers that I purchase chia seeds, coconut sugar, or pink Himalayan salt in. These containers are sturdy and easy to clean.

Acceptable Dry Food Candidates for Plastic Bottle Food Storage

The best candidates for long term storage in PETE plastic bottles are dry goods that are low in moisture and fats. The target moisture content should be 10 percent or less. Popcorn has a moisture content of 13.5 percent.  

Brown rice is an example of a grain that is too high in fat to store well. Over a short period of time brown rice will go rancid in storage. Cold temperatures will slow the process, but not eliminate the problem. It is best to store white rice in your long-term food supply. Other good candidates include:

  • Corn
  • Corn starch
  • Dry beans
  • Kamut
  • Non-fat dry milk
  • Pasta
  • Potato flakes and dehydrated cubes
  • Rolled oats
  • Spelt
  • Steel-cut oats
  • Sugar (do not use oxygen absorber)
  • White rice
  • Wheat

Foods That Should NOT Be Stored in Plastic Bottles

Foods that are high in fats or moisture should be rotated in with your short-term food supply, and should not be packaged in plastic bottles in your long-term food supply. These are fantastic items for short term storage in your pantry.

Some moist foods may develop botulism when packaged in a reduced oxygen environment. Learn more at, Is There a Killer Lurking in Your Food Storage.

The following food items are either too high in moisture, have a high-fat content, will turn rancid quickly, or lose nutrition value too quickly. Do not package them for your long-term survival food supply.

Don’t be afraid of storing these foods. Just leave them in their original packaging and enjoy them in your short term storage that is rotated on a regular basis.

  • Bean flour
  • Brown rice
  • Brown sugar
  • Dried eggs
  • Dried meat
  • Granola
  • Nuts
  • Pearled barley
  • Pancake, muffin, biscuit or cake mixes
  • Whole grain flours or milled products (with the exception of rolled oats)

Protecting Foods Stored in PETE Plastic Bottles from Insects

Almost all dry goods will have some insects, larvae, or eggs in it. It is important to make sure that we kill all of those critters to prevent them from infesting and ruining the food.

You can choose to use oxygen absorbers or the freeze/thaw method to control insects. You DO NOT need to use both methods.

Use Oxygen Absorbers for Best Results

Oxygen absorbers remove the oxygen from a sealed container. Oxygen is one of the bad guys when it comes to stored foods. You can purchase oxygen absorbers here.

Oxygen Absorbers Inhibit the Growth of Insects

Oxygen allows for the growth of insects, which means that removing the oxygen keeps your stored food free from insect infestation.

Oxygen Absorbers Extend Original Quality

Oxygen also degrades the food over time. Storing the food in an oxygen-free environment helps to maintain the original quality longer.

PETE Plastic Bottles Create Air-Tight Environment

PETE bottles will allow for a slow transmission of oxygen over time. The oxygen absorbers remove the oxygen from the container long enough to ensure that adult insect, larva, and eggs are all killed. PETE bottles can provide a good oxygen barrier for at least one year. It only takes a couple of weeks to make sure that all of the insects and eggs are killed.

The following is a quote taken from a study published on September 18, 2010 by S. Broderick, M. Lloyd, L. Ogden, and O. Pike from Brigham Young University.

Many consumers are beginning to store grain on their own creating a need for easy disinfestation methods that can be accomplished in the home. Oxygen deprivation has proven to be an effective method for grain disinfestation when kept below 1% for 12 days. Re-using PETE soda bottles is an easy way many consumers can store their grains. The purpose of this study was to determine if using oxygen absorber packets in used PETE soda bottles will keep the oxygen percent low enough to disinfest the grain stored in them. Experiments were carried out to determine how long oxygen absorber packets could keep the oxygen level below 1% to disinfest grain. It was determined that low moisture foods can be stored in re-used sealed PETE bottles containing oxygen absorber packets for at least a year without any appreciable increase in oxygen at a level low enough to accomplish disinfestations.

Feasibility of Re-using PETE Soda Bottles to Exclude Oxygen During Storage of Low Moisture Foods

Treating Food Storage for Insects Using Freeze Thaw Method

Oxygen absorbers are by far the best choice for long term storage because, in addition to killing the insects at all stages, they extend the shelf life of the grain or beans by removing the oxygen. Oxygen degrades food over time. If using oxygen absorbers is not possible, you can use the freeze/thaw method.

Follow these simple instructions to kill insects using the freeze/thaw method.

  • Fill the clean, dry PETE bottle with the dry goods and screw the lid on tightly. Place a piece of tape around the lid to secure. It is important that you do not allow the moisture from the freezer to get into the bottle.
  • Place the container in the freezer for 3 days. Containers larger than 15 pounds will require a longer freeze time.
  • Remove from the freezer and allow to warm to room temperature for at least 24 hours. This allows the eggs to hatch.
  • Return to the freezer for 3 additional days. This should kill the newly hatched insects.
  • Repeat the process. Depending on the source of the dry product, you may want to repeat this process again to ensure that the insects have been completely eradicated.

Utah State University Extension recommends the following process for treating for insects by freezing:

To control insects by freezing, 1-15 pounds of grain should be placed in a medium to heavy plastic bag or double bagged and stored in a freezer for 2-3 days. Eggs of insect pests, if present, will not be affected by freezing. Warm grain for 24 hours to allow some eggs to hatch. Repeat freezing cycle. Multiple freeze-thaw cycles may be required.

Treating Dried Foods For Insects – Extension Utah State University

How to Package Food Storage in PETE Plastic Bottles

It is incredibly easy to package dry goods in the PETE bottles. However, it does take time and effort to make sure that the containers will protect the food and not be a source of contamination to it. Just follow these simple steps.

Carefully Clean PETE Bottles and Lids

It is critically important the bottles and the lids are cleaned thoroughly. There should be no trace of food or other potential sources of bacterial contamination. Most of these bottles have a narrow neck which can make this a bit difficult.

Wash PETE Bottles in Soapy Water

The bottles are easier to wash out if you rinse them immediately after emptying the original contents. I start by filling a sink with hot soapy water and submerging the bottles.

If the lids have an insert, I remove the insert and scrub the inside of the lids well. For some reason, the inside of the lids seems to be the greatest source of contamination.

I don’t clean the bottles in the dishwasher because it doesn’t clean the inside well enough, and sometimes it will melt the plastic. You may be able to wash the wide mouth bottles on the top rack of the dishwasher. Just find a way to make sure the bottle if really clean.

Rinse PETE Bottles Well

Next, rinse out the bottles to ensure that no soapy residue remains. Take plenty of time to make sure they are clean.

Sanitize Bottles in Disinfecting Solution

Make a sanitizing solution using 2 teaspoons of fresh unscented chlorine bleach and one gallon of cool water. I fill up my sink completely with cold water and add ½ cup of bleach to the water.

Next, I submerge the bottles and lids completely in the sanitizing solution and leave them there for several minutes. Chlorine requires at least two minutes of contact time to sanitize.

I prefer to leave them in for a little longer than the required 2 minutes. I also spin the bottles a few times to make sure that all of the inside surfaces have had plenty of contact time to kill any bacteria.

The correct procedure for sanitizing dishes with Clorox® Regular Bleach2 is to first wash and rinse dishes, glassware, and utensils. After washing, soak for at least 2 minutes in a solution of 2 teaspoons of bleach per 1 gallon of water, drain and air dry. … It’s important to wash and rinse the dishes first before applying the sanitizing solution because the organics coming off the dishes would react with bleach active, decreasing the concentration.

Sanitizing Dishes Using Bleach – Clorox

Air Dry Completely

Remove the bottles from the sanitizing solution and place them on a towel on the counter to dry. Do not rinse!

I lean them up against the backsplash so that the water can drain out but so that air can still flow into the bottle. This process usually takes a few days depending on the temperature.

Make sure that the bottles are COMPLETELY DRY before you fill the bottles.

Prepare Dry Goods, Funnel, and Bottles

Gather the clean, dry bottles and lids, oxygen absorbers (if using), funnels, and dry goods on a clean working surface. I use a table or countertop. Wash your hands well. You may want to use disposable gloves to prevent contamination.

You will need to have some type of a funnel to prevent spilling when the grain is poured into the bottle. You can roll up a thick piece of paper (such as cardstock) into a funnel shape and pour food through it. Create a funnel by cutting the top off of a similarly shaped PETE bottle, or use a commercial funnel.

Add Oxygen Absorber to Bottom of the PETE Bottle

Oxygen absorbers start working the second they are exposed to the air. I place an oxygen absorber in the bottom of a few bottles, fill them, and cap them immediately.

Do not let the unused oxygen absorbers sit out. They get to work right away absorbing oxygen and will no longer be good in a few hours. You can store the oxygen absorbers in a small, glass canning jar, or in a Mylar bag with an air-tight clip.

Fill Bottle with Dry Food Product

Use a funnel to fill the bottle with the dry goods. Tap down the bottle several times to help settle the contents. Continue to tap and fill until the bottle is completely full.

Fill the entire bottle to the top of the rim. There is not any benefit to leaving headspace in these bottles. The bottle will take up the same amount of room in storage whether it is full or not.  

Clean Top Rim of Bottle

Wipe off the top rim of the bottle to make sure it is clean from any debris that may prevent you from obtaining an air-tight seal.

Tightly Secure Lid

Screw the lid on snuggly. It is important to achieve an air-tight seal.

Tape Lid for Security

It is a good idea to place a piece of tape around the lid. It will help to maintain the air-tight seal. If the seal has been broken, you know that someone has opened the bottle and compromised that seal.

We just used some fun colored duct tape that had been leftover from another project. We divided the tape down the center to make thin strips that were more convenient and provided a better fit.

The quality of the food in storage depends on maintaining an air-tight seal and loosening the lid will compromise that seal.

Label Bottle for Storage

One of the things that I like about the PETE bottles is that the contents are visible through the plastic. It is easy to see what is in the bottle. It is still a good idea to label the bottle with the contents, along with the date it was packaged.

I usually mark the bottles with a permanent marker but it is possible for the marker to be rubbed off. You may want to consider labeling it with a sticky label to ensure that the marker doesn’t disappear. Be sure you use a good quality mailing label so that it doesn’t fall off of the bottle.

I like to tape the directions directly on the bottle when I am not using bulk dry goods. It comes in handy especially if we are taking the bottles camping or when a “less experienced” cook is using it.

Store Filled Bottles Correctly

Filled PETE bottles should be stored in a cool, dry, dark location to achieve optimal shelf life.

Rodent Risk

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your grains are safe from mice or rats in a plastic bottle. This problem can be solved by storing the PETE bottles in a rodent-proof container. A 5-gallon plastic bucket, heavy-duty plastic tote, or a sealed garbage can will help with an additional layer of protection for mice.

Apple Boxes

It is important to understand that cardboard boxes will not protect the bottles from rodent damage. I do not have a problem with rodents in my storage room so I use apple boxes to organize and store my PETE bottles.

I pick up apple boxes free from our local grocery store. They are the ideal size to store the 2-liter soda bottles turned food storage containers. Apple boxes make it easy to stack and organize the plastic bottles. They also add another layer of protection from light.

PETE Plastic Bottles are an Inexpensive Solution to Building a Basic Food Supply

Financial constraints don’t have to prevent you from building a reserve of food for your pantry. Every time you go to the market, pick up an extra bag of rice, beans, oats, sugar, or your favorite dry good that is low in moisture and oils.

Save all of those PETE bottles that you would normally throw away and wash them out. Package the dry goods inside of the free PETE bottles with an oxygen absorber. If you can’t use oxygen absorbers, use the freeze-thaw process described above.

You may also be interested in learning how to package food in Mylar bags in your own home. Check out our post, How to Package Dry Foods in Mylar Bags for Long Term Storage.

To learn more about storing food for emergencies you may want to check out these posts and their accompanying videos:

Start stocking up while basic dry foods are inexpensive. You can do this! It takes a little bit of sacrifice, planning, and some work, but with a little persistence, you will have a full pantry before you know it.

Thanks for being part of the solution!

Jonathan and Kylene Jones

Kylene

Kylene Jones is a blogger, content creator, published author, motivational speaker, homesteader, prepper, mother, and grandmother. She practices self-reliance, provident living, and emergency preparedness in her everyday life. She loves working with her husband, Jonathan, and is committed to helping our community be prepared to thrive during the challenges that lie in our future.