How To Store Food Long Term? Best Containers For Emergency Storage

Food and other items for emergency

There’s a lot you could pack for a rainy day, but learning how to store food long-term for emergency use can be tricky. This article will guide you through the dos and don’ts of packing food for long-term storage while recommending our top picks for kitchen use.

Food preservation has massively changed the way we consume food. You can store food long-term using airtight storage containers, food-grade canisters, Mylar bags, or keeping them in the freezer, to name a few.

Why is Long Term Food Storage Important?

Not all food will survive in the fridge or out of its original packaging. Certain types need a specific container or storage method to maximize their quality for more than a few days. 

Keeping food long-term is an excellent way to reduce waste and reuse ingredients before going bad or throwing them in the trash. Storing fresh food like salad greens, fruits, and hard vegetables are all done differently, but when done correctly, meal prep throughout the week wouldn’t require frequent stops at the supermarket.

Long-term food storage is also essential during emergencies. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a global pandemic inciting a lockdown, proper food storage can help you survive the first leg of an emergency. All it takes is research and a couple of hacks to prepare a doomsday bag effectively.

How to Store Food Long Term?

Salad inside clear food containers

Survival food should be kept in an optimal environment, so you should invest in the proper packaging tools to achieve extended storage periods.

Airtight containers are generally the best food storage containers for any kitchen. They are essential and versatile for many types of food. You should also check the grains, legumes, and canned goods you plan to store and ensure they’re hermetically sealed.

If you prefer to keep foods away from bugs and insects, using oxygen absorbers and silica gels is just as effective as Mylar bags. These are particularly suitable for small to medium quantities of dried foods. 

Look into the conditions of your pantry and ensure they’re cool and dry to store your emergency or survival stash. Best to adjust your organization, so your canned items are not directly exposed to sunlight to prevent rusting and corrosion.

What are the Best Containers for Food Storage?

When it comes to keeping food for long periods, multiple storage containers can help. Learn which container for long-term food storage is best for you.

  • Cans Cans for long term food storage

 Pros Cons
  • Moisture barrier
  • Lightweight 
  • Easy to manage 
  • Not resealable 
  • Tends to rust in humid environments

Cans are great for dry storage as it only takes in 10% of moisture or even less. Shelf-table and other low-oil content foods can also last long in them. Cans with enamel coating and lining won’t have any reaction with such foods.

#10 cans can specifically give complete oxygen and a moisture barrier for an extra layer of protection for the food stored inside. They’re lightweight and are easy to manage when produced in bulk. 

However, #10 cans are not usually resealable and tend to rust when humid. The best way to keep your canned beans and vegetables from rusting or corroding is by storing them away from direct sunlight and somewhere cool and dry instead.

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 Pros Cons
  • Pest-resistant 
  • Multiple size options
  • Great for dry foods
  • More fragile (compared to cans and food-grade buckets)

Also known as foil pouches, mylar bags are unique storage packaging in several laminated food-grade plastic and aluminum layers. Food stored in these bags won’t react with the aluminum due to it being separated by food-grade plastic lining.

When food is stored correctly in these foil pouches, they’re bound to last long periods and maintain their edibility for a long while. Mylar bags are also ideal for keeping pests or bugs away from dry foods like flour or powdered sugar. They come in multiple sizes and can store contents equivalent to five gallons.

How to Store Food in Mylar Bags

The best way to store food in Mylar bags is to seal them well with clips or purchase the ones with clear transparent zippers. For extra protection, consider keeping them in a tote, metal basket container, or plastic canister to keep them away from rodents. Placing them in boxes also makes them stackable and a space saver.

How Long Does Food Last in Mylar Bags?

Dried foods like beans, grains, flour, and rice in Mylar bags can last up to 10 years. As long as you keep moist foods out of these bags, the more effective they are. Moisture-rich foods don’t do well in this type of storage since they’re likely to develop botulism.

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 Pros Cons
  • Suitable for grains and legumes
  • Manageable 
  • Slow oxygen transmission
  • Not eco-friendly

Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) bottles are another way to store food long-term while reducing environmental waste. They are excellent at providing enough moisture and even an oxygen barrier to the stored food. Other PETE plastic bottles you can reuse for storage include fruit juice and pop bottles.

PETE plastic bottles may not be the best eco-friendly option, but storing grains and legumes will survive in them for long periods. Using them is relatively manageable with an easy twist cap, but they aren’t effective in oxygen transmission.

It is best to store popcorn seeds, grains, beans, and rice in PETE bottles for up to six months. Be sure to keep them away from direct sunlight.

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 Pros Cons
  • Inexpensive 
  • Effective lid design
  • Multiple size options
  • The oxygen barrier isn’t as strong
  • Lingering odor when reused

In terms of large-capacity storage for long periods, food-grade plastic buckets with gasket seals are perfect for baking ingredients like salt, flour, brown sugar, and powdered sugar. It’s important to know that reusing buckets stored with non-food content should not be used for food storage, regardless of how many times they’ve been cleaned. 

Storing food in buckets prevents critters and bugs from infesting the contents. They also perform well in moisture absorption in storage rooms while maintaining freshness with their effective lid design.

Food-grade plastic buckets come in multiple sizes and can keep gallons of dry foods like flour, dry milk powder, grains, and beans, among others. For more protection, you can add oxygen absorbents at the bottom of the buckets. Aside from the varying sizes, these are also affordable in bulk.

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 Pros Cons
  • Multiple size options
  • Non-permeable 
  • Transparent 
  • Fragile 
  • Should be stored away from light

Mason jars have become popular storage options in many kitchens. They’re not only transparent and make it easy to locate certain pantry items, but they’re also perfect for storing leftover liquids and dry foods. Good quality mason jars are thick and made from durable borosilicate glass that is great for short and long-term use.

They are perfect for sugar, spices, seeds, pasta noodles, candies, and chocolates. The best thing about mason jars is that they’re non-permeable, which does an excellent job keeping air or water from seeping through. Despite the fragility of standard glass, borosilicate glass is durable and break-resistant.

However, ensure you’re storing glass jars in an easily accessible part of your pantry and cabinet. Lessen light penetration by looking into colored glass jars or check out clear glass containers for a more budget-friendly option.

What are the Best Foods for Emergency Storage?

First aid kit bags

In terms of emergency storage, you can’t just grab random bags of snacks. Ensure you get edible items that last long and ones you could cook even after a long time in storage. 

The food pyramid shows you what nutrients and vitamins you could get from several types of fresh and dry foods, but what it doesn’t tell you is how to keep them around, fresh and edible for a rainy day.

  • Soft Grains 

    Soft grains stored inside clear containers

Soft grains like quinoa, rye, and barley are used to make our favorite breakfast bowls or even bread. They’re known for standing the test of time and are versatile ingredients that many healthy cooks and bakers like to use.

They can survive for up to 8 years if placed in food-safe containers with a good seal. An excellent suggestion to help lengthen their shelf life is by using oxygen absorbers to avoid spoilage. Check the container or packaging of your soft grains to see if they are airtight; transfer them to an airtight food storage container if necessary.

  • Hard Grains

This type of grain is another dry food that requires proper and careful storage. These include white wheat, millet, and buckwheat which are used in many bakeries. Compared to soft grains, hard grains can last longer, usually up to 1 year, if stored in food-safe buckets or containers.

  • Flour

One of the most common ingredients people don’t often store right is flour. It is multi-purpose and inexpensive, with the most extended shelf-life of up to 25 years if kept unground in optimal temperatures. 

Whether it’s all-purpose flour or wheat flour, the best way to ensure its maximum shelf life is by storing it with an oxygen absorber in an airtight container.

  • Dry Pasta

Pasta lovers probably have rotini, penne, spaghetti, and lasagna noodles in their pantry. But more often than not, they’re left in their packaging, which isn’t always ideal. 

The great thing about dry pasta is that it can substantially last longer than expected, a maximum of 2 years beyond its expiry date. Generally, the lifespan of pasta is as long as beans or rice, around 30 years when kept in high-quality airtight containers.

  • Canned Beans

Apart from other canned goods, canned beans are suitable for emergency packing. They can last up to 6 years as long as you store them in a cool and dry area. 

It is best to transfer canned beans to airtight containers from aluminum cans immediately to avoid botulism, a deadly toxin that can harm the human body. Store the transferred beans in the fridge to preserve their quality for at least the next few days. 

  • Sugars and Sweeteners 

White, brown, powdered, cane, and even coconut sugar generally have a long shelf-life but can spoil if exposed to water. 

The best way to keep sugars and sweeteners is to store them away from moisture in airtight containers. Sweeteners like Splenda, honey, maple syrup, and caramel syrup, among others, will last longer when hermetically sealed.

  • Powdered Milk

Powdered milk for adults or infants is excellent for emergency storage. They can last up to 25 years if kept in a cool and dry location in the pantry or kitchen cabinets. You can determine powdered milk that has gone bad by just looking at it since it can turn yellow or when it emits a rotten smell.

  • Seasonings and Spices

Spices and seasoning are essential for adding flavor to your foods. They can be bought in bulk and can be kept in your pantry for up to 4 years when stored enough to avoid moisture. 

It is best to keep them away from getting wet to maintain their consistency and fragrance. You can also buy spice jars with terracotta lids for easy use and a tight seal.

  • Canned Vegetables

Peas, carrots, and corn in cans are often purchased for convenient cooking. They can be bought in bulk and can last up to 5 years in storage. They usually go on sale fast and can quickly be replenished for emergency packing.

Where Should You Keep Food Storage?

Fresh, raw meat, leftover sauces, dry foods, and baking ingredients can last longer when kept in an optimal environment.

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Cooked rice and pasta, leftover sauces, dairy-based desserts, eggs, and fruit salads are food items that need to be stored in the fridge. They’re at risk of spoiling or going bad faster when left out at room temperature. 

Ensure you check the temperature of your fridge, which should be set at 41°F or below. You can use a thermometer to check the temperature correctly.

  • Freezer 

    Freezer with frozen meat and other frozen goods

High-risk foods like raw and uncooked meat or fish should go in the freezer in vacuum-sealed packaging. Check the temperature before storing your frozen items; your freezer should be set below -5°F.

Freezing foods correctly isn’t just about tossing them in the freezer; it starts from how you transport them from the supermarket. Ensure frozen meats are packed separately from hot foods. Also, store the frozen foods first in the freezer before other grocery items.

  • Pantry 

     Pantry with glass jars filled with dry foods

The pantry is better suited for dry foods or snacks in the kitchen. It is the zone where most of your ingredients for meal prep should go for easy access, such as spices, chips, pretzels, and other snacks.

You can also store ample dry storage containers used for pasta, beans, rice, cereal, and other breakfast items in the pantry. Organizing your pantry with airtight and transparent containers will make it easier for people in the house to find what they need.

  • Undercabinet

Apart from organizing small appliances and cleaning supplies, the undercabinets in your kitchen are suitable for storing containers and leftover bulk ingredients for baking. Since they’re usually a cool and dry area, you can safely keep grains, flour, sugar, and oats in bulk.

  • Upper cabinet 

    Dry foods stored in the cupboard

Cupboards are excellent for spices, condiments, and breakfast items like cereals and oats. They’re easy to access, especially if you’re cooking on the range right underneath. 

Upper cabinets also make grabbing the right spices and canned veggies and beans less of a hassle. Not to mention, they prevent cans from rusting since they are away from sunlight.

  • Countertop 

    A basket of fruits placed on a countertop

Bigger kitchens with spacious countertops are suitable for keeping hard vegetables like onions, garlic, and potatoes in open baskets as well as your coffee and tea bags. You can also place apples, oranges, lemons, and pears in fruit baskets for more organized storage.

How Long Can You Store Food?

Not all foods have the same lifespan, and their storage varies depending on how often you use them for meal prep. Dry foods commonly used as a base for certain meals like rice or beans last longer than salad greens.

Canned goods and grains are great supplies during natural calamities because you can keep and consume them for a long time without any change in flavor. But please note the expiry dates of each item in your pantry before storing them in the right environment. 

While you can consume other items past their best-by date, other goods can only last until mold forms. Bread, fruits, and cereal are some examples of foods that can only survive mid-length. Keep in mind that long-term food storage can last for more than 25 years if done correctly. 

Check this article on how to store rice for a more extended period.

How Long is Food Safe in the Fridge?

 A woman looking inside her fridge

It is necessary to store fresh foods in the fridge. It also helps preserve the edible quality of leftover meals and even a few condiments. Whether you’re thawing frozen meat from the freezer, remember that some foods can only last a couple of days.

Items like raw pork can only survive storage in the fridge for up to 5 days. Meanwhile, raw poultry and beef have a shorter window of time, from 1-2 days at most in the refrigerator. 

On the other hand, lunch meats can last up to 2 weeks if unopened. You can keep soups, stews, and sauces in the fridge at 40°F or below for 3-4 days. Eggs and dairy have a life span of up to 5 weeks if kept in check.

How Much Food Should You Store Long Term?

When preparing your doomsday food storage, consider the people you imagine yourself with during an emergency. Remember that preparing food during emergencies should cater to everyone in your family.

Think about the number of people you plan to feed or make a meal for, as well as the length of time you need to prepare the food. Another significant factor to consider is the space you have to store these items. 

The rule of thumb for emergency food storage is up to 7 days worth for a family of 3-5 people.

These should include food for three meals a day, as well as snacks. Adjust the rations necessary for portion control and avoid storing more snacks than ingredients for lunch and dinner meals.

How to Prevent Bug Infestation in Grains?

One of the pains of keeping food fresh and edible for a long time is making sure they’re kept away from bugs and pests. Grains, sugars, flour, and other dry foods are often the first ones that get contaminated. Try the following treatment methods to preserve these foods for more extended periods.

  • Dry Ice

Using frozen carbon dioxide is an excellent way to prevent insect infestation of grains and legumes. Place the dry ice in a paper towel and wrap them well before placing them on top of the grains.

Proceed to put the lid askew, then wait 30 minutes to an hour before sealing the top. The dry ice will gradually sublimate, displacing the lighter air. This process will help control adult and larval insects from continuously going through your grains.

  • Oxygen Absorbers

Another treatment to try to keep bugs away from your grains and legumes is by using oxygen absorbers. They come in small packets that have iron powder inside. 

This method will allow oxygen and moisture to enter the container. It is more effective in glass or stainless steel containers than plastic buckets, which don’t provide enough oxygen barrier for the contents.

  • Silica Gel

Silica gel or Desiccant is an excellent way to control moisture in dry food storage. It helps in reducing humidity during the summer months when storage or pantries tend to overheat. It also works well in airtight containers by creating a low humidity environment. 

Silica gel helps prevent rust, oxidation, corrosion, and mold for long-term food storage. Simply place small packets at the bottom of the container before placing the grains or legumes. However, avoid putting them in containers with oxygen absorbers as they negatively affect the preservation of the contents.


Whether you’re preparing for an emergency or finding new ways to preserve dry foods in your kitchen, knowing how to store food long-term is an excellent approach. It also helps with your grocery runs and budgeting the supplies you commonly buy for consumption.

At the end of the day, storing food means understanding how much effect you have in helping lessen waste, which could positively impact you and your family’s overall lifestyle.

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