Letter Re: A Week in a Bucket

Mr. Rawles:
I just “discovered’ your site and find it interesting and informative – thank you for this great service. I love the idea of A Week in a Bucket by ChemEngineer. It is simple and cheap and low key – three good rules to follow for most things in life. I currently have a few week’s supply of food in cardboard and plastic boxes but really want to move in this direction – I have been thinking about it for some time now. I would love to see a follow up by you or the original poster that addresses the following points that are frustrating me:
1) Storage life of crackers and cereals – The expiration dates on boxes of Saltines (and other crackers) and packaged cereals are typically only a few months. What is the “real” storage life of these products and how can you keep them even longer? Having a breadstuff to spread things on is pretty useful but so far the only thing with much of an expected shelf life is canned brown bread.
2) Is there a requirement to use mylar bags to pack food products that are already in envelopes, bags, (dry soups, pasta, Hamburger Helper, instant mashed potatoes) etc? Is there any value to putting these packages into Ziploc freezer bags to protect/extend their storage life?
3) Wise Foods sells rectangular plastic buckets with their freeze-dried food assortments that stack and pack closer than standard round buckets. Can you find these anywhere else? What do you think of using the rectangular plastic buckets that some kitty litter comes in? The buckets are “free” if you have friends with cats and have really great handles and a fitted lid that can be sealed with electrical or duct tape to help keep out bugs and moisture. If I wash them out with bleach they should be clean and odor free? Everything else would be in cans or plastic bags – would that be okay? Should I use Mylar bags? – Tom K.

JWR Replies: In answer to your questions:

Most low-oil content crackers and cereal products will store for up to ten years, if protected from moisture and intrusive odors. Vacuum-sealed mylar bags provide the best protection.

Clear plastic bags as interior bucket liners don’t add much protection, aside from preventing foods from getting mixed together. This is because most plastics are not long term vapor barriers. They are essentially gas permeable. For that matter, so are the HDPE plastic buckets themselves, long term. But a well-sealed food grade mylar bag is 99% effective as a vapor barrier. Buy oversize mylar liners that will protect the entire contents of a 6 gallon bucket. These mylar bucket liners are available from a number of Internet vendors, including several SurvivalBlog advertisers. (Be sure to do some comparison pricing, as the prices on these vary widely.) If you are worried about strong food odors affecting the other contents of your bucket, then also use smaller supplementary mylar liners for each food product that might be vulnerable. Note that if you are careful with mylar bags, they can be washed, thoroughly dried, and re-used.

Regarding re-using cat litter pails: Be advised that not all HDPE plastic buckets are food grade.  Many of them give off toxic vapors that can ruin stored foods.

Rectangular food grade buckets with lids are available from Yankee Containers.