Every report I hear or see in news lately (and there have been many) confirms to me over and over again that I did the right thing and the smart thing in stocking up on grains and legumes from Bob’s Red Mill. It sets my mind at ease having a secure food supply.
After receiving my large order (6,711 lbs) it was time to pack it all up. Prior to placing the order I had researched extensively and ultimately decided which storage method I would use and then placed orders for those items. I decided to use 5 gallon buckets with Mylar liners with dry ice. I decided on dry ice because it sounded easier and less expensive then oxygen absorbers and the dry ice also acts as a fumigant to kill bugs or larvae that may be present in your food.
I had read that you shouldn’t use 5 gallon buckets from paint or hardware stores since they weren’t “food grade”. When I checked some out I found they were HDPE 2 plastic, which can be used for food although perhaps not labeled specifically “food grade”. I checked lots of places that carried food storage materials and even warehouse plastic manufacturers. Each one of them wanted $8 to $10 per bucket. That was a little steep for me to pay. I considered trying to collect them from bakeries, etc. but considering I needed about 260 of them, that would take too long to accumulate. I finally decided to go with the food grade ones from Wal-Mart at $2.44 per bucket with $0.96 per lid for a total of $3.40 a piece. I felt comfortable doing this because I was going to use thicker than usual Mylar bags in them.
I also shopped around for the Mylar bags. I learned that most places have bags that are between 3-4 mil thick only and they are $2-$3 EACH. I ordered Mylar bags from USA Emergency Supply. The bags are 5 mil thick, come in a variety of sizes, and depending on how many you purchase, may be less than $1 each. I measured the dimensions of my bucket and ordered the 20 x 30 inch flat Mylar Food Storage Bags. Remember you want the bag to be somewhat bigger than the bucket to allow for expansion as you place the food item in it and to allow for sealing the top. The bags came 150 per case and I ordered two cases. My price per bag was $0.92 each!
I hope the following explanation of the way I did this helps you readers by learning from my mistakes and maybe from some of the things I did right the first time.
USA Emergency Supply, as well as many other web sites, has a very good explanation of how to pack food items using the dry ice method. They even have a chart as to how much of a certain item will fit in a certain size bucket. This makes it easier to ascertain how many buckets, liners, and dry ice you will need. I followed the suggestion to practice heat- sealing an empty Mylar bag prior to a packed one in order to get the technique and temperature setting of my specific iron correct. It was very easy. I found a temperature setting of 3 on my iron was enough and not too hot. I had a 2 inch wide wooden board that I placed across the top of the bucket and laid the top of the Mylar bag across, then ran my iron down it. You could also use a hair iron to seal both sides quickly with no need for the board then.
Organization and a system is key to this! I will say that I was woefully unprepared and had only 65 buckets bought by the time my food order arrived, although I did have enough liners.
How to label the buckets? Bob’s Red Mill had provided to me free at my request at least one of their company labels for each item I had ordered. I decided to make enough copies of these labels to tape on each bucket. I am fortunate that I have the time and resources down at my job to make these copies and cut them to size.
I decided to start packing one afternoon after work. I went to the grocery store and bought 20 lbs dry ice. This cost $1.19 per lb. I placed 1 bag in the freezer and broke the other bag into chunks and placed into a covered bowl. I had read this would help prevent evaporation as well as keep water vapor from contaminating the dry ice and thus potentially introducing water into the food I was packing.
Working alone, I got out 10 of the buckets and labeled them with the labels corresponding to the 10 bags of food I had taken off the pallet. Working with 1 bucket at a time I placed a Mylar bag in the bucket and then a chunk of dry ice in the bottom of the bag. I opened the bag of food and poured it in. I picked up the sides of the Mylar bag and shook the bag and bucket up and down a few times to ensure the food settled in the bottom completely. I then sealed the top of the bag using my board and iron except for about 1 inch on 1 end. I thought this would help prevent air from reentering the bag as the dry ice forced it out of the small opening. When I finished those 10 buckets I stopped to have some dinner, then finished sealing the bags up. I folded the Mylar bag into the bucket forcing out left over carbon dioxide leaving the open end on top. I then came along with my board and iron again to finish sealing. Finishing my evening chores I began to see the sealed bags inflating again, an indication that there was still carbon dioxide buildup in the bags that needed to be vented. So I had to cut a small slit in the bags at the top where I had sealed it and then reseal it again. Unfortunately this happened again and some of the bags I ended up resealing 3 or more times. I then placed the plastic lid on the buckets. The next morning I saw that a couple of the lids had partially popped up indicating they would need to be vented again. This was turning into a lot of extra work!
The next day I was going to pack more buckets and hopefully improve my work speed and flow a bit. I went to the freezer only to find all my dry ice had evaporated!!!! Discouragement was creeping in.
Mistakes I made:
- Working alone
- Buying more dry ice then I could use at 1 time.
- Pre-sealing the bags, which probably prolonged the time it took for the dry ice vapor to evacuate oxygen from the bag
- Trying to completely seal the bags too quickly.
- Placing plastic lids on buckets right away after sealing.
- Use multiple family members if you can. Many hands make the work go faster and smoother.
- Only buy what dry ice you think you will use at 1 packing session.
- Leave the top of the bag fully open to allow more area for the carbon dioxide to rise and force oxygen out of the bag.
- Allow at least 3 hours or longer for the carbon dioxide to rise before attempting to seal the bag to prevent a lot of extra work reopening and resealing bags.
- Leave the plastic lids off overnight in case there are still some bags you may have to redo.
Other things I learned:
- It takes longer for the carbon dioxide to rise through a dense material (such as flour) than through a less dense material like rice or whole grains that have a lot of air in between pieces.
- Start earlier in the day to accommodate the time it takes for the bags to evacuate.
- Don’t pack the bags too full, allow sufficient room at top of the bucket to fold Mylar bag into it and put plastic lid on.
- It probably doesn’t take as much dry ice per bucket as you think, but its better to err on having too much and delay sealing rather than too little and have the food spoil.
- Label each bucket in a consistent place on the bucket to ease identifying the contents. The buckets I bought had a suffocation warning on them and I placed my label consistently to the left of this.
- When sealing the bags, elevate the bucket a little bit on a small stool or something to help prevent wear and tear on your back.
- Some of the grains, like the wheat, were really dusty and caused me to have an asthma attack. I wore a bandana around my nose and mouth when packing those items.
A couple of days later I attempted this again. This time my husband was home to help me. In an assembly line fashion I labeled the buckets to which he then put the Mylar liner in. Then I came behind and put a somewhat smaller piece of dry ice in each. I held the bucket while he poured the contents in it. I shook bag and bucket a few times to ensure food settled in bottom. He lined them up across the wall to air out. About three hours later we started sealing them up, starting with the ones we had first filled. He brought the buckets over as I folded the Mylar bag down and sealed the top. When I had a few completed he then lined them up against the wall again to set overnight.
Using this approach we were able to complete 40 buckets in about five hours total time, having a rest and dinner while the buckets aired out. I am pleased to say that the next morning there were only four buckets that I had to reopen to vent and then reseal. A much better outcome!
I had never attempted anything like this before and there was definitely a learning curve. I guess that’s true for so many things us preppers are trying to learn in order to safeguard ourselves, and our families from whatever the future may bring.
We still have about 200 buckets to pack, but with the kinks worked out of our system now it shouldn’t take us too much longer. Next we will be enlisting the help of the kids and teaching them what we have learned to pass on to their generation.