Keeping a well-stocked pantry is vital to the health of your food budget and the well-being of your family. Whipping up meals become easy, fluctuations in supply lines are reduced to inconveniences, and your cost per ounce falls to rock bottom. Saving up to 75% on traditional grocery store prices can as easy as a phone call or visit to your nearest bulk food store.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided it was time to restock our pantry, which was ailing from weeks of avoiding the grocery store during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. We knew from years of experience that we found find our best prices by shopping in bulk.
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But, what do you do when you arrive back home with big bags of bargains? How do you store bulk grains, beans, oats, or cereals safely and effectively?
I demonstrate each of my four storage methods in this YouTube video.
Location, Location, Location
Just like shopping for real estate, your first consideration should be location. Look for a place in your home that is both cool and dry. Excessive moisture is the enemy of your shelf-stable items. Be sure that you select a place that improves your chances of keeping insects, mildew, and mold at bay.
Running a dehumidifier can be helpful in keeping the relative humidity optimal, especially if your pantry area is in a basement. There are also several ways you can insure that insects or rodents do not invade your long-term storage area.
Before You Store (Yuck! Bugs!)
In over 20 years of buying in bulk, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a problem with insects of any kind.
Yes, sometimes eggs or insects hitchhike on our food. It happens all the time. But, if you buy pre-packaged items, you are likely less aware of this possibility. Big, 25 or 50 pound bags of rice, oats, or grains are more prone to becoming infected with an infestation of larva or bugs.
To insure that you are not bringing vermin into your home, throw the entire bag into the deep freezer for 72 hours. Three days of temperatures of zero or below will kill anything that should not be on your food.
If you don’t have room to put the entire bag into your freezer, then open one bag at a time and divide the contents up into 1-gallon or 2-gallon freezer bags. Place as many bags as you can into your freezer for 3 days. After you remove this batch of bags, go onto the next batch of filled bags. Continue this process until you have frozen all of your bulk food items.
The advantage of doing it this way is that your goods are already divided into easy-to-use increments, saving you time later on.
Methods of Storage
There are four main methods of long-term storage that I use for bulk food storage: large food grade buckets, food grade bins, glass jars, and a combination of freezer bags and Rubbermaid tubs. All four are effective. However, the final method works best if you plan to subdivide your items into smaller quantities before storing.
We have four of these, 5-gallon, food grade buckets. Their biggest advantage is that once the lid is on, then moisture really isn’t getting into this bucket. The disadvantage is that the lid can be difficult to remove. That’s why I have a simple, lid removal tool.
Yes! It really works. It doesn’t take a lot of brute strength to get that lid off when you use this special tool. Honestly, it will cost you around $10 and it’s worth it to have it on hand.
You can either pour items directly into the buckets or subdivide the larger 20 or 50 pound bags into smaller, 1-gallon or 2-gallon resealable plastic bags and then place the filled bags into the 5-gallon bucket. I have used both methods and both work. I like the convenience of being able to reach in and grab the smaller bag and take it upstairs to cook with, rather than taking down a separate bowl and then filling it from the large bucket.
Amazon sells a variety of storage containers, which range from 2 to 22 quart capacity. You can refrigerate or stack these on your pantry shelves. The plastic is designed to resist breakage and is dishwasher safe. Lids for these containers are sold separately.
I use some Tupperware products in my pantry area, because they tend to hold up to long-term usage and the lids always fully seal.
You can also find an array of storage products at your local restaurant supply store. Just Google “restaurant supply in my area” and you’re sure to find one that is within a short drive.
Want to know what really works? Ask a friend who owns or works at a local restaurant or small grocer. They will be able to tell you where to find the best (and least expensive) storage products.
Recycled glass jars are a great way to store bulk pantry items for long-term use. If the jar has a pickle smell, it’s generally the lid that is the source and not the actual jar. Whatever, the source, you can nearly always get the pickle smell out. Simply follow these steps.
- Wash and dry the jar and lid thoroughly.
- Make a paste of equal parts of water and baking soda. Using a sponge, apply the paste to the inside of the jar and on the lid.
- Close the jar.
- Leave it for several hours or overnight.
- Wash and dry with warm water and dishwashing liquid.
- If you are storing it for a while before use, stuff it full of newspaper before storing.
- The paper will absorb any lingering odor, leaving your jar ready to use.
Plastic Bags and Bins
For some items that are frequently used in my home, I subdivide the bulk goods into smaller storage or freezer bags, before storing them. I label the freezer bag with the name of the item which is in it and add the date. Then, I place the individual bags into a larger Rubbermaid container, which is labeled on the outside with a sign, designating what is inside the bin.
The whole idea of this storage method is to reduce the possibility of insect infestation ruining your pantry storage. If there is larva in one bag, if you are frequently checking your storage, chances are that you can catch the problem before it spreads from one bag to the next.
You should know that some storage containers are not designed to hold food. The plastic is not food grade. So, it is not safe to throw the items directly into the bins.
The fastest work-around is to simply divide up the larger bags into bags that are designed to hold food and then place those bags into the larger Rubbermaid container. It should be noted that if you are working actively on reducing your use of plastics, then this is not the method for you.