If you have been trying to accumulate extra foodstuffs to hedge against inflation, crop failure, etc., then you have probably wondered how you will make sure all that bulk food is still good when you want to eat it. Canned goods are pretty well sealed up and impervious to insects, moisture, and so on, but that 50 pound bag of rice is another story. One mouse could render it useless to you.
One of the best ways to protect food is to use mylar bags to seal it up and then store the bags inside plastic buckets with tight fitting lids.
Why bother with the special bags?
You may be tempted to skip the mylar bags and just go with buckets, but let me tell you why that probably isn’t the best way. HDPE buckets may or may not be safe for contact with food to begin with. In other words, unless the bucket specifically says that it is “food grade,” it may not be. They could be made with chemicals that (at best) just give the food an off-flavor or (at worst) make you sick.
Beyond that, plastic is not truly air or moisture tight often. Storing something that is very sensitive (like powdered milk) in plain buckets could shorten its shelf life considerably if not cause it to spoil.
Mylar is made of metalized layers of food safe film. It is very good at keeping out air, moisture, and light. They are sealable and come in a variety of sizes.
Why do I need the buckets then?
The buckets are valuable for several reasons. First, they are sturdy. You can stack them. Second, they keep out vermin. The bags are good at everything else, but they aren’t puncture-proof and mice can get into them if left unprotected.
Third, the buckets are re-usable and you can buy “gamma seal” lids that will help reduce air exchange once the bags inside have been opened for use. Fourth, they can be repurposed for hauling water to your garden, washing clothes in- really, any number of things. We’ve even created chicken waterers out of them.
Which bags do I need?
Mylar bags come in different sizes. Some fit either 5 or 6 gallon buckets. Others are smaller.
If you have a large crowd to feed or want to store things you know you will use lots of (maybe wheat), you may opt to get the large bags and use one per bucket.
If you aren’t sure how quickly you will use something up (for example, rolled oats) and want to be sure it doesn’t get stale, you may opt for smaller bags and pack more than one bag per bucket. We do this with most things so we will not feel obligated to continuously eat only a few things just to get them used up. Appetite fatigue can be a serious problem so variety is important.
Is there anything else?
There is one more supply you may want to get. Most people use oxygen absorbers also. These are small packets that are put inside the bags just before sealing that will bind any oxygen present to prevent it from making food stale. As an additional perk, any insects that may be present when the food is sealed up should die (rather than reproduce and eat your food!) in the absence of oxygen. An alternative is using dry ice but the O2 absorbers are a lot simpler.
The number of absorbers you will need is dependent on how much food you are storing and the type it is. Small things like rice will contain much less space, and therefore less oxygen, between the pieces than something large and open like macaroni noodles. Absorbers come in different sizes or you can use multiple smaller ones within the same bag.
In a future piece, I will explain how we go about actually sealing the food in the bags.