At some point during your accumulation of food stores, you probably bought bulk food of some sort. We started buying 5-gallon buckets of rice, beans, oatmeal and other food a few years ago. The funny thing is we kept buying rice, beans and oatmeal in small quantities from the grocery store to eat on a daily basis.
In some cases, like oatmeal, this makes sense. In other cases, it’s cheaper to buy in bulk, so it’s kind of like jerking meat by the pound and still buying the stuff you regularly eat from 7-Eleven.
You might be different, but we were really kind of intimidated by the big buckets. Really, it was just a lot of unknowns. How do we reseal the buckets? How do we keep from losing 5 to 10 pounds to spoilage?
I realized the blunt answer is kind of like everything else with preparedness: It’s much better to have experience with these issues before an emergency than to learn it all when you are stressed.
When we opened our buckets, we discovered our local emergency-supply store uses an inner 7-gallon Mylar® bag to extend the shelf life to 20 to 30 years. (Yours may or may not have that. It would be smart to find out.)
1. Cut open the Mylar® bag. Make as small a hole as practical so you can easily reseal it.
2. Put a week or a month’s worth of food in a smaller container. You can use sealable plastic bags, widemouthed jars or empty plastic drink containers.
3. Burp the Mylar® bag in your plastic bucket to get the air out of it. You probably won’t need your oxygen absorber if you’re actively using the item. Of course, if you think it will take you more than a few months to use up the entire bucket, you might want to put in some oxygen absorbers. If you don’t have oxygen absorbers, you can substitute dry ice. If you don’t have dry ice, you can “float” the container with carbon dioxide from a carbon dioxide canister. I have found carbon dioxide tire inflators that are activated by a lever to be particularly good for this. Since carbon dioxide is heavier than air, it will go to the bottom of your container and push out the air. For most applications, one 12-gram carbon dioxide cartridge will be more than enough.
4. Seal your Mylar® bag. If you have a FoodSaver®, you can use it to both suck out the air and seal the Mylar® bag. If not, you can seal the Mylar® bag by pressing it between a 2-by-4 plank and a hot iron. You probably don’t want to use the same iron you use on your dress clothes. If you don’t have electricity, heat up an old-fashioned iron or piece of metal on a stovetop or in a fire. One trick you can use if you don’t have a FoodSaver® is to seal the Mylar® bag mostly closed and then suck out the remaining air with your mouth or with a pump like you would use on inflatable beds and toys. Once you have sucked out the air, finish sealing.
5. Close your 5-gallon bucket with a Gamma Seal® Lid. The plastic lid makes your bucket airtight. Just unscrew the lid when you want access in the future. The lids cost between $5 to $10 apiece, depending on how many you buy.
Canning is also a great option for taking bulk quantities of food and making them more manageable. One of the biggest advantages is you aren’t limited to food that comes in 5-gallon buckets. You are able to can food from anywhere — your garden, a local farmers’ market or your grocery store. Unfortunately, that is a topic that is beyond the scope of this article.
I alluded to something earlier, and it’s worth repeating. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. As an example, we can buy two-packs of oatmeal from Costco for slightly less per pound than we can buy it in bulk long-term storage containers. There are tradeoffs, of course. With bulk packaging, we have another solid bucket when we’re done, but we have to buy a Gamma Seal® Lid for it. The smaller containers from Costco are easier to store and are more portable.
That being said, don’t let the possibility of a better deal being out there stop you from taking action now. In other words, if you find yourself at a big-box store and have the option of buying something immediately or checking bulk pricing somewhere else, go ahead and get some supplies at the big-box store. You never know whether there will be a hiccup with the supply chain or if food inflation will cause the prices to go up before you have a chance to buy in bulk.
Are you an old-timer at buying foods that you use on a daily basis in bulk? Please share your hard-earned wisdom by commenting below. With the price of food going up on an almost daily basis, have you accelerated your emergency-food buying?