The following is an adapted excerpt from The Disaster-Ready Home: A Step-by-Step Emergency Preparedness Manual for Sheltering in Place by Creek Stewart. 

A long-term food storage pantry is designed to provide a buffer of food for you and your family in case of unexpected shortages due to a large-scale disaster of some kind. Long-term food storage can take many different forms, but is primarily comprised of three types of food:

Shelf-stable grocery store items such as canned goods, boxed meals, and dry pastas.Freeze-dried food that has a 30+ year shelf life.Bulk dry goods such as beans, rice, and grains.

Bulk dry goods are foods, typically seeds or grains, that can be purchased in bulk in large bags or buckets. While this is likely the category that will be least familiar to most people, it is also the category that presents the greatest opportunity to amass the most amount of food for the least amount of money. While you may have purchased 1-pound bags of rice or beans at the grocery store, not many people have purchased 50-pound bags of rice, lentils, oats, elbow pasta, or whole-wheat berries.

If repackaged and stored properly at home, bulk dry goods can last 20+ years. This makes them a fantastic option for a “set it and forget it” buffer of backup survival food. A free PDF publication by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) titled “Food and Water in an Emergency” states that whole-wheat berries, dried corn, soybeans, pasta, and white rice all have an indefinite shelf life when properly stored.

I would argue there are many more dry bulk foods that do as well. If packaged and stored properly, bulk dry foods can last as long as freeze-dried foods. One of the big advantages is that bulk dry goods are very inexpensive in comparison. In fact, just a few hundred dollars’ worth of bulk beans, lentils, and rice can feed a family for several months. These items, along with some spices for flavoring are always my suggestions for people who are looking for some quick long-term food storage and are on a very tight budget.

A variety of bulk dry goods, ready to be repackaged for long-term storage.

One downside of bulk dry foods for survival is that they’re especially susceptible to moisture, oxygen, pests, and sunlight. These seeds, beans, and grains are durable when stored properly but extremely vulnerable when not. The problem is that most of these goods are sold in large paper bags or, if you are lucky, a cheap plastic bucket. This may work for restaurants or large catering companies that will use the goods within a few days, but it does not work for the long-term food pantry enthusiast who wishes to stash away said goods for twenty years or more. The good news is that I will teach you how to store these items in a way that keeps all the threats at bay.

The process outlined in the next section will give you peace of mind in knowing that the investment you have made (in time and money) in your long-term food storage is protected for many years to come.

How to Repackage Bulk Dry Goods at Home for Long-Term Storage

The best container for repackaging bulk dry goods is a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a waterproof lid—they are cheap, readily available, and stack well. They also help protect the food inside from three of our four main threats: water, sunlight, and pests. However, they do not protect your food from oxygen. Because of that you will need an oxygen barrier and absorber. This is why we use Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers.

Mylar was developed by DuPont in the 1950s and revolutionized the food packaging industry. It is technically a metalized polyester—a polyester bag coated in aluminum. This combination makes the bag a superior barrier against moisture and gases, including our nemesis oxygen. When you package bulk dry goods in Mylar bags and then pack them inside durable sealed plastic buckets, you can essentially create a time capsule of food and a microclimate of protection around it.

Below, you’ll find the step-by-step process I recommend for repackaging.