Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals

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Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|

Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|Are your ready for our next lesson in long term food storage?  The topic today is buckets, lids and gamma seals.  Say what says you?  Nope, we are not mopping the floors or playing in the sand.  Instead, we are going to package up our non-perishable dry foods, add some oxygen absorbers, and seal it all up in a 5 or 6 gallon bucket, which, just so you know, is also referred to as a pail.

Food Grade Plastic Buckets Please

You will hear the term “food grade” mentioned when the subject of long term food storage buckets is discussed.  So what do they mean, food grade?

Here is the scoop from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

The FDA requires that plastics used in food packaging be of greater purity than plastics used for non-food packaging. This is commonly referred to as food grade plastic.  Food grade plastic does not contain dyes or recycled plastic deemed harmful to humans.

The Society of Plastics Industry has established a seven-point system of categorizing and labeling food-grade plastics. Learning how to tell if a plastic container is food-grade plastic is easy. Look for a triangle-shaped label with rounded corners made of three arrows, then check the number in the center to determine what type of plastic is in the container.

The various types are:

1-PET (or PETE):  PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) is a clear, tough polymer with exceptional gas and moisture barrier properties. PET’s ability to contain carbon dioxide (carbonation) makes it ideal for use in soft drink bottles. Examples: Soft drink bottles, detergent bottles

2-HDPE:  HDPE (high density polyethylene) is used in milk, juice and water containers in order to take advantage of its excellent protective barrier properties. Its chemical resistance properties also make it well suited for items such as containers for household chemicals and detergents. Most five gallon food buckets are made from HDPE. Examples: Milk bottles, shopping bags.

Most but not all food grade buckets are type 2 HDPE.  But, and this is a big BUT, unless your #2 bucket is specifically  labeled as “food safe”, assume it is not.  You can still use it if it is lined with a Mylar bag prior to use.

3-Vinyl (PVC):  Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) provides excellent clarity, puncture resistance and cling. As a film, vinyl can breathe just the right amount, making it ideal for packaging fresh meats that require oxygen to ensure a bright red surface while maintaining an acceptable shelf life. Examples: Plastic food wrap, shrink wrap, garden hoses, shoe soles

4-LDPE:  LDPE (low density polyethylene) offers clarity and flexibility. It is used to make bottles that require flexibility. To take advantage of its strength and toughness in film form, it is used to produce grocery bags and garbage bags, shrink and stretch film, and coating for milk cartons. Examples: Squeeze bottles, dry cleaning bags

5-PP:  PP (polypropylene) has high tensile strength, making it ideal for use in caps and lids that have to hold tightly on to threaded openings. Because of its high melting point, polypropylene can be hot-filled with products designed to cool in bottles, including ketchup and syrup. It is also used for products that need to be incubated, such as yogurt.

6-PS:  PS (polystyrene), in its crystalline form, is a colorless plastic that can be clear and hard. It can also be foamed to provide exceptional insulation properties. Foamed or expanded polystyrene (EPS) is used for products such as meat trays, egg cartons and coffee cups. It is also used for packaging and protecting appliances, electronics and other sensitive products.

7-Other:  This category basically means “everything else” and is composed of plastics that were invented after 1987 .  Plastics labeled as grade 7 should be specifically noted as being “food safe” before they are used to package or handle food.

The definition of the various types of plastics is all fine and dandy but how do you tell – specifically – that a bucket or pail is truly food grade?   That is an excellent question especially since there is a lot of misinformation out on the net regarding what constitutes food grade plastic.  There are three methods you can use to identify food grade plastics:

1.  Purchase new buckets that are marked “food grade” by the manufacturer.  In addition to the actual text, you can look for the marks “NSF”, “FDA” or “USDA Approved”.

2.  Find free or low cost used buckets that you know have already been used to store food and haven’t been used for anything else. You can find these at bakeries, restaurants, and food processing plants.

3. Call the manufacturer and ask.

Here are some other tips and things to look for when searching for buckets:

  • If transportability is important to you, make sure your bucket has a bail or a handle so that it can be easily lifted and carried.
  • As long as the bucket is food grade, don’t be afraid to use “free” buckets from the local bakery or fast food joint.  Yes, the bucket may smell like pickles but with a good scrubbing with bleach and another day or two airing outside, the smell will be all but gone.
  • Still smelly? Put some baking soda or charcoal in the bucket and seal it up for a few days.  Take the seal off, rinse the bucket well and it should be sweet smelling once again.
  • Important:  if a food grade bucket has been used to store non-food items like chemicals, paint, or detergent it is no longer food grade.

Lids and Gamma Seals

Lucky for us, most 5 and 6 gallon buckets utilize a universal, 12” lid.  This means that the various lids are interchangeable.  What you want to look for is a lid with a rubber gasket fitted in to its inside rim.  With the gasket in place, the lid, when securely attached to the bucket, forms a nice seal.

Often times you will find a source for low-cost, used food grade buckets but they come with banged up or damaged lids.  Fortunately, it is easy to purchase new lids, independent of the buckets themselves.  I recommend that you purchase new lids regardless, since the seal is what is going to prevent moisture and insects from entering your buckets.

Lids come in two basic flavors, the standard lid and gamma seal lid.  The standard lid is okay in that it does the job but in my opinion it is difficult to use.  To get it on properly, you have to pound it down hard.  Needless to say, this is hard on the hands and nails so if you decide to go with the standard lid, I recommend a rubber mallet so that you can tap tap tap around the edges to secure a decent seal.

Getting the standard lid open and back off the pail is also a challenge but luckily, for very little money you can purchase a special tool that will pry the lid open.  The tool is called a bucket lid removerFood Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival| and should cost less than $5. Amazon has them as well as your local hardware store – check in the paint department.

The other type of lid uses a Gamma seal arrangement.  Think of the Gamma seal as a giant screw top for your bucket.  All you need to do is snap the outer adapter ring on to the bucket then screw the inner lid into the outer ring.  To make it easy, the gamma lid has a big “X” molded in plastic making it easy to grab on to and spin.

Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|

Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|

Need to get something out of your gamma sealed bucket?  All you need to do is unscrew the inner lid, pull out your product, then screw the lid back down, easy sneezy.  Other advantages?

  • The Gamma Seal Lid – at least all that I have seen – have a built in stacking channel built in to the outside rim.  This means that you can safely stack several sealed buckets on top of each other, saving space.
  • They are airtight and leak proof.
  • Can be re-sealed over and over again.
  • The bugs can not get it (although you product has to be bug and insect free to begin with).
  • Easy to use – no special tools required.
  • The Gamma Seal Lids can be purchased in various colors if color-coding is your thing (it is not mine).
  • An inner bag is recommended but is not mandatory, especially if you are using the bucket for short term storage to keep our moisture and insects.  An example would be short term storage of dog food.

The disadvantage?  I can only think of one one.  The initial investment can be costly.  Still, when you consider that they are reusable and are interchangeable with various sized buckets, I think the price is worth it.  Plus, if you get the buckets themselves for free, you can dollar cost average and the combination of a bucket and lid will still be a great deal.

In practical use, I prefer a double seal system where I package my goods in 1 gallon Mylar bags with a 300 cc oxygen absorber.  I then put the bags in the bucket, seal the bucket with a gamma lid, and I am set.  When it comes time to use some of the products, I take off the gamma seal lid, remove a single Mylar bag, screw on the gamma lid and I am good until the next time.

A Final Word on Storing Food in Buckets

The other thing I recommend, for practical purposes – is to mix up the products in each bucket,  So, for example, fill a single bucket with a 1 gallon bag each of various beans, another 1 gallon bag with rice, and another with oats.  Throw some spices and bouillon in the bucket and you have a grab and go bucket with variety of food stuffs.  This is ideal if you need to get out in a hurry or if you want to share some of your product with a loved one.

Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|       Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|

Also, don’t forget to get out your Sharpie and label the bucket with its contents and the date it was packed.  Now that I think about it, a bucket filled in this matter would make a great gift for a non-prepper friend or relative.

So what’s next?  Head on out to Walmart, Costco, or your bulk food supplier and start purchasing 25 or 50 pound bags of of dried beans, rice, pasta, oats, sugar, salt, coffee, spices other foods that you know your family will eat.   If you buy a little with each paycheck, things will start building up fast.  Get your self some Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers, seal them up, and put them in your buckets.  Now how easy was that?

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


Backdoor Survival Tip of the Day: A couple of readers have suggested an alternative to pepper spray for defense purposes.  Don in NE OK says:

Substitute wasp & hornet spray for pepper spray! Cheaper, has a much longer range, causes blindness that requires an anti-dote @ the hospital, won’t blow back in your face like pepper spray will.

From the Bargain Bin: Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|Check out the current SurvivalWoman picks below.

6-gallon Pail with Gama Air-tight Lids – 10-packFood Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|:  The whole meal deal.  This works out to about $21 for each combo set of bucket and gamma seal lid.  If you are a Costco member, check their online pricing as well, If still available, you may find a real steal on buckets with gamma seals.

Gamma Seal Lid- 6 PackFood Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|: If you can get your hands on some free buckets, this is the way to go.

Mylar Bags & Oxygen Absorbers: The current price for 30 gallon sized bags plus 30 oxygen absorbers is $24.00. I have seen the price of these come down significantly over the past few months.  Now is the time to stock up – I did.

Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned SkilletFood Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|: Finally! My favorite cast iron skillet is back under $20. For awhile it was priced at $25. Keep and eye on this one. Anything under $19 is a good price. Don’t forget the Lodge Set of 2 Pan Scrapers, a must have for cleaning those food bits from your cast iron cookware.

Emergency Essentials is your source for all things preparedness, from prepackaged foods to water barrels, to go bag kits. They just announced a number of specials for the month of September including ASAP Silver SolutionFood Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival| at $12.99 for an 8 ounce bottle. Metallic silver has been used for centuries as a natural antibacterial agent for wound care, and even water treatment. Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals |Backdoor Survival|

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Food Storage Part III: Food Grade Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals — 24 Comments

  1. Other than mixing the contents of pails, which I simply never thought of, I pretty much follow your guidelines. I have plenty of pails and lids, having bought several hundred in a big load from Walton Feeds in 1999. I never throw away anything that’s useable so I’ve kept them as they were emptied of their contents. I did give a few away but there’s still no shortage at my place.

    • Wow! Pretty cool that I passed on a new tip to a seasoned pro :) We are going to make up “survival buckets” of mixed product as holiday gifts. The recipients may not appreciate the effort now, but the time will come when they will be grateful.

      — Gaye

  2. Good rundown on the different types of plastics. I might also point out that the types of plastics used for temporary (and espeically long term) water storage is also important due to chemical leeching. As such, unless your intended use is for a very short period of time be wary of the plastic containers you use to store water. The same rule of thumb can be used as for food storage.

  3. Very timely post SW. We’ve been adding to our food storage and just yesterday put away a number of additional buckets worth. We went with the more traditional mylar bag inside of a standard bucket approach, tho.



  4. Gaye,

    Recently, my wife came home with a 5 gallon bucket with a snap-down gasket lid from FireHouse Subs. It has the #2 on the bottom and was used to store pickles, which it still smells like. I think she paid a $2 dollar donation ( to some firefighters association).

    Do you have any experience or concerns with this type of lid?

    If nothing else it can be used as a utility bucket of some sort around the house.

    • I was able to score some free buckets that had held pickles. It took a while but I was finally able to get the smell down to a manageable level with bleach, baking soda and fresh air. I did not want to trust the lids, however. In my opionion you have a few options: purchase a new lid, use the bucket and the original lid as a second layer of protection with well sealed mylar bags inside, or use the bucket for some other purpose such as storing charcoal briquettes.

      As you read in my article, I use a bucket with a gamma seal lid and place one gallon mylar bags of food inside. This creates a double layer of protection and is probably overkill. I sometimes put food saver bags of food inside the bucket. Since the bucket with a gamma seal alone is good on its own, I feel confident about using the food saver bags which may tend to lose their seal after 3 to 5 years. Regardless, however, I am rotating my stored foods so they will be long gone five years from now.

      Hope this helps.

      — Gaye

      • Gaye,

        While this topic has not been posted to in a while, HyVee’s with bakery’s will give away thier food grade buckets for free w/ lids.

        One question I have is if foods are sealed in mylar bags do you need a gasket seal?

        • This is very timely since I have been exploring the possibility of storing food products in Mylar bags without the double protection of a surrounding bucket. The purpose of enclosing the sealed Mylar bags in a bucket is primarily to keep the critters from chewing through the bags. That said, I am starting to put the filled bags in large Rubbermaid tubs instead which are quite a bit less expensive especially when there is a sale. I am beginning to feel comfortable with using the food grade buckets with gamma seal for long term storage without also using an inner liner or mylar. The downside is that once the seal is broken, new oxygen absorbers are needed prior to resealing the bucket.

          Watch for a new article on this topic soon.

          — Gaye

          • I have found that the hand warmers for outdoors works just the same and tend to be cheaper.

            Just want to make sure I have a clear understanding. the gasket lid really isn’t necessary if they are sealed in mylar bags as long as there is a lid?

            If you have a Walmart Super center they will sell 5 gal buckets for 1 dollar each. another good place to get 5 gal buckets.

            Hope that helps.


              • I would be concerned about two things: are they food grade and can they be sealed against the instrusion of insects, bacteria, debris and other nasties. Of course water purifiers would be necessary. Also, the purpose of the water makes a difference too (drinking, bathing, cleaning). That said, storing in any bucket theb running through a Berkey or other similar type system before drinking should be okay.

                The most important question, though is the first. Are they food grade?

          • Again sorry for such a long wait on the posts I’ve been so busy. Yes they are food grade they come from the bakery and are already washed out.

  5. I always do the mylar bad no matter what it is better to be safe than sorry. I also seal stuff into usable 1 lb bags too. I do this about every other bucket or so. This way I have usable amounts without breaking the seal on a complete bucket. I have also been doing my own type of homemade MRE’s that are sealed in their own mylar bags. Great post Gaye.

  6. There is one draw back on gama lids that i found and that is they break when you stack them over 3 high.

    I had a large number of buckets stacked 5 high.

    I had a few buckets with gama lids in what i call wekk food paks. The few gamma lids that were on the bottom of the pile cracked. Other than that i cant fine anything wrong with them.

    For ultra long storage i still prefer the regular locking lids.

    P.S. when sealing a mylar bag I only seal about 4 inches of the end so i can cut along the sealed edge and re-use the bag

    • > There is one draw back on gama lids that i found and that is they break when you stack them over 3 high.
      > I had a large number of buckets stacked 5 high.

      It’s not how high you stack them, it’s how much weight, load or stress they take. I guarantee you can stack these exact same containers 10 high with two pounds of rice in each and they will not crack. But put 300 pounds in the upper one of a stack of two and the bottom one will probably crack almost instantly.

      Let’s say the bucket lid load limit was 45 pounds, and you put a mere 20 pounds in each container, that bottom lid with 4 buckets on top of it is now supporting 80 pounds, how soon do you think that 45 pound capacity lid is going to last with 80 pounds on it?

  7. Unless one has a steel or concrete room without any holes the size of a quarter, these buckets can easily be chewed thru by rats and other vermin. I know, several of mine were.

  8. Could a bag of wheat be place in a large zip lock baggie and stored in a Rubbermaid container? It might not keep for 10 years but would it keep 2 years? I’m just looking for alternatives that could be just as good but cheaper that using the mylar bags and buckets.

  9. An extra option for when those buckets start smelling. *I learned this from my brother, who moved thousands of people from here to there, professionally .* Put some coffee grounds in and seal it…the grounds will absorb any smells. I moved half way across the US and did this for my freezer, fridge and I do it when I store empty plastic containers. No bleach used and a little baking soda rinse out when I need to use it and anything is good to go.

    • A lid with a gasket provides and extra layer of protection but no, it is not 100% necessary as long as the Mylar bags are properly sealed. I am pretty sure the critters and the mice can not break through the lid.

  10. Any food container is fair game. Using a former container for dry dog food to store rice is okay since it had to be food grade to hold dog food, and it had to be leak proof to hold kibble. But a former container for cat litter may not be appropriate for anything edible.

  11. I am really enjoying your site a lot! I have a couple questions. I plan on packaging my foodstuff in 1 gallon mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, then storing those in the 5 gallon buckets. Is it necessary for them to be food grade since they are going to be in the mylar bags first? If so, do I also need to put oxygen absorbers in the buckets (using regular lids), even though there will be absorbers in the individual bags themselves?
    And this next question is kind of random…if im not supposed to store wheat berries the same way as rice or beans, then how do i store them for long term storage?
    Thank you so much! Your blog has a lot of great information in an easy to understand format. :)

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