Types Of Food Storage Buckets [Gamma Seal Lids]

Avatar for Chris Thompson Chris Thompson  |  Updated: July 20, 2022
Types Of Food Storage Buckets [Gamma Seal Lids]

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Buckets are a fact of life when it comes to food storage. They are strong, light, moisture-free, and, when sealed they’ll keep most — if not all pests at bay.  They are also readily available and the cost is nominal, if not free.

In this article, I share the ins and outs of food-grade buckets, lids, and gamma seals to safely store your bulk food items for the long term.

Food Storage Basics Buckets Lids Gamma & Gamma Seals

What Are “Food Grade” Buckets?

The term “food grade” is often mentioned when the subject of long-term food storage buckets is discussed. So what exactly does food grade mean?  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.

Food-grade plastic does not contain dyes or recycled plastic deemed harmful to humans. In addition, a plastic container can no longer be considered food grade if it has been used to store non-food items like chemicals, paint, or detergent.

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. Each type is identified with a triangular-shaped label with rounded corners made of three arrows and a number in the center.

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.


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 HDPE 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 acceptable shelf life. Examples: Plastic food wrap, shrink wrap, garden hoses, shoe soles.


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.


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.


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.


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.

These definitions of the various types of plastics are 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 on the Internet 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.

Some Tips When Searching For Buckets

These are just a few things I’ve picked up over the years that can help you store your food properly:

  • 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, along with a day or two of airing outdoors, 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 odorless.
  • 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.

Best Food Storage Equipment Table

6-gallon Pail with Gama Air-tight Lids – 10-pack

Good Quality Construction
Two-Piece Gamma Seal Lid
Air-Tight and Leak-Proof

Gamma Seal Lid- 6 Pack

Fully Airtight
Hi-density Polyethylene Construction
Made Of Food Grade Approved Materials

Plastic Pail/Paint Can Opener

Strong Construction
Hi-density Polyethylene

Standard Lids Versus Gamma Seal Lids

Fortunately, most 5 and 6 gallon buckets utilize a universal 12” lid. This means that the various lids are interchangeable. The important thing to look for is a lid with a rubber gasket fitted 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 may come with banged up or damaged lids. Fortunately, it is easy to purchase new lids, independent of the buckets themselves.

Given the importance of a good seal, it is recommended that you purchase new lids regardless. The seal is what is going to prevent moisture and insects from entering your buckets.

Tip: Applying a light coat of petroleum jelly, Crisco, or other lubricants on the lip can keep the rubber gasket supple and help to avoid tears in the rubber. This will also contribute to a good seal.

Such lids come in two basic types, the standard lid, and the Gamma seal lids. The standard lid is okay in that it does the job, but, for some, it may be difficult to use. To attach it 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, you should also use a rubber mallet so that you can tap around the edges to secure a decent seal.

Getting the standard lid open, in order to remove it from the pail, is also a challenge. For very little money, you can purchase a special tool that will pry the lid open. The tool is called a bucket lid remover and is available at your local hardware store, typically in the paint department.  For a bit more money, you can get a metal lid opener, which is sturdier.

Opening Buckets With a Lid Removal Tool

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 onto 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 onto and spin.

Gamma Seal Lid
Gamma Seal Lid on Food Storage Bucket

When you 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.

Gamma Seal Lid on a Food Storage Bucket

Other Benefits of Gamma Seal Lids

Being easy to open isn’t the only thing Gamma lids have going for them, these are some other advantages you can expect while using them:

  • The Gamma Seal Lid has a stacking channel that is built into the outside rim. This allows you to safely stack several sealed buckets on top of each other, saving space.
  • They are airtight and leak proof.
  • They can be re-sealed over and over again.
  • The bugs cannot get in (although your product has to be bug and insect free to begin with).
  • The Gamma Seal Lids can be purchased in various colors if your storage system uses color-coding.

The disadvantages of using food storage buckets with Gamma lids?  I can only think of one.  The initial investment can be costly. Still, when you consider that they are reusable and are interchangeable with various sized buckets, the price of a Gamma seal lid is worth it. Plus, if you get the buckets themselves for free, the combined cost of a bucket and lid will still be a great deal.

What About Mylar Bags and Buckets?

When using buckets and lids (either type), an inner bag is recommended but is not mandatory, especially if you are using the bucket for short-term storage to keep out moisture and insects. An example would be the short-term storage of dog food.

In practical use, I prefer a double seal system when I package my goods.  Sometimes I will use a FoodSaver bag and other times I will use a one gallon Mylar bag.  Either way, I will also use 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 bag of food, screw on the gamma lid and I am good until the next time.

Something else I recommend, mostly 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 a variety of foodstuffs.  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.

Bucket with Beans in Foodsaver Bags
Be Sure to Label Your Food Storage Buckets

Whatever you do, don’t forget to get out your Sharpie or other markers so that you can 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.

Additional Resources

Now that you have learned about buckets, lids, and gamma seals, you might also be interested in the following articles on food storage basics.

Survival Basics: What the Heck are Oxygen Absorbers?
Survival Basics: Using Mylar Bags for Food Storage

Bargain Bin 

Below you will find links to items related to today’s article.

Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage 

This modestly priced book is about food. What to store, how to store it, and best practices. It is a roadmap for showing ordinary citizens that long-term food storage is not something that will overwhelm or burden the family budget. A lot of material from Backdoor Survival is here; conveniently located in one place.

Prepper's Guide to Food Storage

6-gallon Pail with Gama Air-tight Lids – 10-pack

6 Gallon Pail Kit with Gamma Seal Lids, 10-pack

The whole meal deal.  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 Pack

5 Gallon Green Gamma Seal Lid- 6 Pack

If you can get your hands on some free buckets, this is the way to go.  Or you can purchase singles here.

Plastic Pail/Paint Can Opener

Plastic Bucket Pail Paint Can Lid Opener Opening Tool For Home Office Garage(Red)

I told you these were dirt cheap.  This one is only a couple of bucks and shipping is free.  I purchased my own metal bucket opener from Tropical Traditions.

60 – 300cc Oxygen Absorbers

Oxyfree 60 - 300cc Oxygen Absorbers (3 packs of 20ea.) for Vacuum Seal or Mylar Bag Food Storage,OF-300CC-60PK

This is one area where you want to make sure you are getting a quality product.

Sharpie Permanent Markers

Sharpie King Size Permanent Markers | Chisel Tip Markers for Work & Industrial Use, 12 Count

Sharpies were invented for preppers!

FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer

FoodSaver V4400 2-in-1 Vacuum Sealer Machine with Automatic Vacuum Sealer Bag Detection and Starter Kit, Safety Certified, Black and Silver

As long as the unit has an accessory port (and this one does), an inexpensive FoodSaver will work just as well as the fancier models. That is my two cents, at least.

FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer

FoodSaver Jar Sealer for Vacuum Sealer Food Storage with Accessory Hose for Regular and Wide Mouth Mason Jars

Already have a FoodSaver? If so, check out this jar sealer which can be used to vacuum seal your Mason jars. This is a great option for short to mid-term storage of items such as beans, rice, sugar, and salt.

Store your jars in a cool, dark place, and you are set with the added advantage of removing a small amount for current use without having to disrupt your large Mylar bag or bucket of food.  There is also a version for regular-sized jars.  See Fast Track Tip #4: How to Use a FoodSaver for Vacuum Canning.

Help support Backdoor Survival. Purchases earn a small commission and for that I thank you!

The Final Word

What happens next?  I suggest that you head out to Wal-Mart, Costco, the LDS Home Storage Center, or your favorite bulk food supplier and start purchasing 25 or 50 pound bags of dried beans, rice, pasta, oats, sugar, salt, coffee, spices, and other foods that you know your family will eat.

As always, do your best to purchase a little bit extra with each shopping trip or with each paycheck.   It may not seem like much but trust me, your emergency food supply will grow quickly and you will begin to feel confident that you will have plenty of food to eat during hard times or following a major disruptive event.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

If you enjoyed this article, consider voting for me daily at Top Prepper Websites

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56 Responses to “Types Of Food Storage Buckets [Gamma Seal Lids]”

  1. I’m a little lost on one item. The article states “In addition, a plastic container can no longer be considered food grade if it has been used to store non-food items like chemicals, paint, or detergent.” but… it then states “Yes, the bucket may smell like pickles but with a good scrubbing with bleach, along with a day or two of airing outdoors, the smell will be all but gone.” Is using bleach to clean it out nullifying the non-food items like chemicals, etc or is the key word “storage”? Thank you.

    • Gaye, I think what Sean is asking is, if using bleach would be considered a chemical negating the food quality of the bucket. Which it wouldn’t since bleach cam be used to purify water. Am I getting this right Sean???

    • Thanks for explaining, Pam. I can be dense sometimes.

      Yes, bleach is considered an FDA approved disinfectant, and thereby no considered a chemical contaminant when used to clean the bucket. Non-food grade buckets are actually manufactured with toxic chemicals in the plastic material itself. These chemicals can then leach out into the food.

      Hope this explains things a little better.

  2. Great article! Just wish I could give the some review for the product! About two years ago we found the gamma seals and thought we had found a great treasure , but upon inspection last week this wasn’t the case! The lids we have , developed rather nasty cracks around the top next to the spin lid which compromises the seal. They were installed according to instructions and we’re not subjected to any adverse conditions. Don’t intend to bash the product ,just a warning!

    • If you don’t mind sharing, where did you purchase your gamma lids? Mine were purchased both at Costco and Emergency Essentials and are fine. One thing I do, however, is ensure I do not stack them no more than 3 high. I am not saying that was your problem, just letting everyone know that is a precaution I take.

    • We purchased a pack of 24 Gamma lids from Costco about a year and a half ago. 8 red, 8 blue, and 8 white lids came in the pack. Two weeks ago we discovered all the red lids have identical cracks in the center of the lids. 5 of the lids had never even been used. They were just sitting in a closet. The blue and white ones are all fine so far. I spoke with Casey at Gamma2 (760-734-4003, option #2) and he said he spoke to the owner who refused to replace the lids. He said we’d have to take them back to Costco. So I’m apparently supposed to pry all the lids off and empty the buckets so I can haul them all back to Costco. It’s ridiculous! Also, Gamma2 has a warranty listed on their website. It doesn’t specify any time frame or anything about when and how a product would be covered under warranty, so I asked Casey and he said it’s on a case by case bases. Clearly the problem is a manufacturing error. Anyway, I plan to talk to Costco next and let them know that Gamma does not stand behind their products.

    • I am pretty distressed to hear about this. Costco will take anything back with no time limit. Have you considered replacing the lids first and returning the defective lids after. Also, if you ordered them online, Costco will arrange a pickup.

      Be sure to check back and let us know what happens.

    • So I spoke with Costco today. I had spoken with them a couple of weeks ago and they said I would need to return everything. That’s why I contacted Gamma2 because I didn’t want to have to do that. Anyway, I told Costco what was going on with Gamma2 refusing to replace the lids. This time the lady got the company on the phone which apparently got the lids from Gamma2 and sold them to Costco. This other company (Food for Heath International, I think?) said the issue I was having us a known issue and they would replace the lids. She said I should have them in about a week.

      I’ve sent Gamma2 multiple emails informing about all the people I’ve run across having the same issue and I sent another email about my phone call with Costco today. I received no responses. I’m happy to be getting new lids, but I’m not confident I won’t face the same problem or that the rest of my other lids won’t develop cracks. Either way I’m still left with the impression that Gamma2 is a sleazy company.

  3. I’m with Steve from an earlier post, mice will eat through anything plastic. I had grain for our hoses stored in plastic garbage cans and the mice ate through it in no time. They even went through the top handle which was an extra thick plastic, plus they’ve chewed through a 2×6 subfloor. The only thing we use now for grain storage is metal trash cans. If mice have access to your storage area I wouldn’t recommend using plastic buckets for long term storage.

    • The mice will only eat through containers that smell of food. So if you bag things in mylar and make sure to wipe down the bags before storing them in the plastic buckets you should be fine. I have a bit of a mouse problem in my basement (fieldstone foundation in a 100+ year old house), but none of my buckets have been touched. Rice, pasta, beans, drink mixes, etc are all stored in mylar then placed in the buckets, along with soy sauce bottles and standard 1 pound salt cardboard containers. I buy sugar in 10 pound bags which I store directly without opening into buckets. I know sugar is shelf stable, but I wanted to further protect them from accidental punctures which would then bring the vermin.

  4. A question about bouillon. I know I’ve read that you have to be careful, in general, about using packages of dry ingredients (like flavor packets for rice or the dry cheese for macaroni and cheese) past their expiration dates, as they can contain some kind of spores that can be toxic. How do you recommend storing the bouillon? In the jar they come in? And how long a shelf life would they have? Or should you just rotate out like any other canned or boxed good? Thanks.

    • Honestly? I think most packaged food expiration dates are bogus and are there for corporate CYA purposes. But that is a story for another time, right?

      I have used bouillon that is 5 years old without a problem. It is, after all, mostly salt, which is a natural preservative. When I am storing spices inside my rice and bean packets, I put them in a separate little baggie first. I do this mostly so I can locate them quickly. Try not to be over-concerned but if you are, package them separately and rotate them just like the rest of your food storage items.

    • Agree on the expiration dates. But I am more cautious with dry packet ingredients. I like the idea of storing the flavorings with the food. That’s always one of my concerns. Am I storing enough flavor and enhancements with all those beans and rice to make it palatable and interesting? As always, use common sense, and we’ll be fine.

  5. Cherri, Take out the number of absorbers you intend to use immediately and put the rest in a canning jar, put on a lid and, if you have one, use your food saver vacuum with a jar sealer accessory to seal it up. We, use this method frequently and have had great success with it. Make sure you put the oxygen indicator “OxyEye” in the jar where you can see it to make sure it is staying sealed.

  6. Hi Gay,
    I just wanted to kick out another idea for where to shop for rice, lentils, dried chick peas, and spices. I get mine at a an Asian grocery store. We are very lucky to have a nice store close to our house.

    Spices can be purchased in bags for a fraction of the cost at regular stores or even Costco. (Be sure to check the ingredients though. I found some black pepper with added MSG, but most is great.)

    I can get a larger selection of lentils and such there. Food and nutrient diversity is a concern for our family. I have also been playing around with how other people/cultures cook everyday without modern ranges. Indian food has peaked my interest: cast iron, open flames, flat breads, staples of lentils, beans, rice, and potatoes.

    I know a lot of people might be concerned about where the food is made. I was very surprised at the large number of items produced here in the USA or Canada. It will say on the package.

    As always love your blog!

  7. You may not want to place the oxygen absorber directly in with the food as yhe more time that goes by the greater chance of it turning to zinc oxide which s poisonous. I use the thickest clear storage bag (food saver) withdraw all of the air. I then put that in a Mylar bag and put the oxygen absorber in between the two layers. This way I at least have a chance of eating my food. Also order small bags of oxygen absorbers because once you open the bag you need to use them all quickly.

    • I am confused by your comment of “you may not want to place the oxygen absorber directly in with the food…”. I thought that it o.e. went directly in with the food. Doesn’t the little bag that the o.e. ingredients are in protect the food? How would you know that it has turned to zinc oxide? I placed my o.e. on top of my oatmeal, which I just put in the bucket – does that mean the oatmeal will not be edible? I do not expect the oatmeal to last for years, as we use quite a lot of it, but I want to clarify my storage information.

    • ????? …. not sure where you got your idea about 02 absorbers being/turning poisonous … the absorbers are constructed of food grade outer material – near sterile manufacturing environment – FDA approved for direct food contact for the last 25-30 years …

      food CANNOT be separated and isolated from the 02 absorbers to work properly …. your method is entrapping 02 into pockets within the mylar bag/food bucket … nothing goes into the mylar bag but food ….

  8. 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. 🙂

    • Technically the mylar bags are enough by themselves, but I always use food grade in case of accidental punctures in the mylar bags….those bags aren’t terribly tough even if you go with a 5 or 6 mil bag. And the incremental cost of using food grade buckets versus non-food grade is pretty low compared to the risk.

      And if the bags don’t get punctured you shouldn’t have any need of o2 absorbers in the bucket, just in the bags should be fine.

  9. 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.

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