Food Storage Battle: Cans vs. Buckets

food storage plan

More than getting yourself safe, survival means being calamity-ready and making sure that you have stored ample amount of food and water. With a preparedness guide and proper food storage, you can have a lifetime supply of food.  Looking at your food storage options is especially important if:

Looking at your food storage options is especially important if:

  1. You are planning on bugging in or shelter in in place for any period of time
  2. You are planning on caching food and supplies along your bug out route
  3. You have a bug out location where you will be storing food for months or years
dry food storage
There are lots of food storage options, you don’t need to limit yourself to MRE’s. Photo by See-ming Lee via Flickr

Did you know that there are certain types of foods that can definitely last a lifetime? Knowing which foods to include in your food storage list is crucial to survival. Recently, there has been a heated debate over which between cans or food buckets are better to store. With various natural factors to consider such as moisture, sunlight, and even insect infestations, this list is geared toward helping you choose whether cans or food buckets work best for you.

Canned on Cans

Most preppers today think of canned goods as the only way to store food. Accordingly, it seems that canned foods have been an everyday necessity in every American household. Last 2011, a survey by the Canned Food Alliance revealed that 84% of Americans eat meals out of canned foods a couple of times in a month, with 34% having canned food meals thrice a week.

food storage checklist
There are both store bought and DIY options for your food preps. Photo by US Department of Agriculture via Flickr

Canned goods are safe alternatives to fresh or frozen foods while meeting the dietary needs of every consumer and avoiding preservatives. These offer a wider variety for storage purposes and are readily available since they can be purchased in any grocery store. As such, it is no wonder that most Americans living a busy day resolve to eating canned foods.

Bucket It All Up

Most prepper’s storage room is filled with a variety of foods other than canned goods. Since variety and quantity are crucial, preppers tend to go for buckets and pails as an investment for long term bulk food. Unlike canned foods, food buckets could hold rice, grains, beans, dehydrated vegetables, sugar, powdered milk, and even ready-made meals.

food storage buckets
Storing food in buckets has lots of flexibility. Photo via ClintJCL via Flickr

Since both canned goods and food buckets could give you the food you need for your survival, here’s a rundown on the pros and cons of canned foods and food buckets to keep your preparedness guide and food storage secured.

Pros and Cons Of Cans vs Buckets


    • Canned goods are cheap and this is why most people consume these products.
    • Food buckets, since they come in larger sizes, are sold at a higher price. If you count the math, buckets are good for a number of servings, making it better at price. However, you may opt to make your own food bucket which costs less, as long as you take note of the proper food storage techniques and buckets allowed for long-term storage.


    • Most of the canned goods have 3 years shelf-life. However, if exposed to water or a humid temperature, it is reduced to 2 years or less depending on the amount of rust. Rusting around the lid of the can is a sign that the canned good is not fit for eating anymore.
    • On the other hand, food buckets have as long as 15 years of shelf-life. It should be noted, however, for those making their own food buckets that recycling signs such as HDPE#2, LDPE#4, PP#5, or PETE#1 should be present for a bucket to be food grade.
food storage in plastic buckets
An advantage of buckets is that they can store more food in a single container. Photo by Tim Patterson via Flickr

Portability and Convenience

    • Canned goods give you the convenience of eating with just heating or eating it fresh from the can. Canned goods are perfect for on-the-go or carrying in your backpack since it comes in small sizes.
    • Food buckets have a wide variety, grains, beans, and the like. You could buy paint buckets or food storage buckets in your nearest local store and prepare these on your own. However, when it comes to portability, going for food buckets might be a nuisance since it is too heavy to bring around.

Nutrition Value

    • Though canned goods are often labeled as bad for the health compared to fresh produce, it’s really not that bad at all, especially when you are talking about food that lasts for a longer time. Accordingly, canned foods were processed within hours of their harvest to keep their freshness and nutritional value.
    • Food buckets are often dried or dehydrated. As such, it is free from preservatives and the drying or dehydration process keeps its original nutritional value.
food storage canning
Canning is a time-tested way to store excess harvest from your garden. Photo by Sharon Drummond via Flickr


    • Canned goods are mostly drenched in some liquid solution which overpowers the actual taste of the food.
    • Food buckets are able to retain the actual taste of the food, may it be sausage, rice, pasta or beans. Some food buckets available in the market today often come with recipes with all the ingredients included inside. This enables people to have a varied menu for the day.


    • Canned goods do not require preparations as they are readily available in every market or grocery stores.
    • If you choose to make your own food buckets, then it requires time for preparation and the right storage, depending on the food to store. However, food buckets may also be bought in the market or online.

Final Thoughts On Food Storage Planning

Throughout history, people have come up with various ways of keeping and storing food as a crucial step towards being calamity-ready. Two of which, cans and food buckets have been popular today as it is able to store food at a longer length of time. Do take note that variety and balance in food storage is essential.

More than choosing between cans or food buckets, preppers should consume and replace these stored foods as well to keep them in the loop on how these are prepared and to keep their stock new. Assessing your readiness for the calamity right now will benefit you and your family, so check your preparedness guide and keep your food storage filled with cans, or buckets; it’s your choice.

Your Thoughts?

Do you have a favorite food storage method?  Is there anything that someone who is new to storing food should look out for?  Please let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!


Chris Ruiz

My name is Chris and I created this site to help ordinary people prepare for the uncertainties of the modern day world. I believe that a well-prepared society is the best safeguard against any natural or manmade disaster.

17 comments on “Food Storage Battle: Cans vs. Buckets

  1. Great article on canned versus buckets. My readers would love this. I am sharing and pinning! Good job! Linda

  2. The primary thing I cann in jars is a wide varity of meat. I then put those jars in buckets. A 5 gallon bucket will hold 10 quarts and a 3 gallon 15 pints. I also have a number of 5 gallon Corney kegs ( soda kegs ) that I use to store flour, rice, beans, etc. They are stainless steel and can be purged with nitrogen very easily.

  3. You might want to check again on your canned food shelf life because you’re giving out false information. Yes its true that most cans show a date for 3 years but the fact is that they last longer than that. Those dates are for the 100% nutritional value in the can. After the date on the can is surpassed the nutritional values begin to decrease by a percentage per x amount of years. Its is possible to consume a canned product 3-8 years after the date. So many canned food are good for longer than the 3 years that you state in your article.

    1. You make a great point, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I will add something to the article so other people can benefit from your comment.

  4. A word of caution, when you mention “recycling signs such as HDPE#2, LDPE#4, PP#5, or PETE#1 should be present for a bucket to be food grade.” – That is not totally correct. It only designates the resin used in the manufacture. There are general grades and then Food/ FDA grades. Just because a bucket has one of those recycle codes doesn’t mean it’s food contact safe. Sometimes it will have food or FDA grade noted on the bottom. Other times a food grade may even be “other” because it has multiple resin layers making up the wall and therefore isn’t easily recycled.

    If it’s a new clean bucket and so long as you have something like a mylar bag in it you should be ok. Otherwise only way to know is if you buy it somewhere new where it’s sold advertised as food grade/ food contact or if your getting used buckets that had food in them from the start. pickles, icing, etc…

    I’ve seen people around the net say the buckets at Lowe’s and Home Depot are food safe but I doubt it, likely general purpose. To be classified food grade, it requires the resin manufacture to test to and certify levels for certain chemicals and sometimes requires additional steps when the polymer is being created to reduce certain levels. Other resins than the 4 mentioned that could be food grade are PP, PC, LLDPE and honestly a host of others. Typically most will be in the olefins family (think super heavy weight candle wax).

  5. One more point in favor of canned goods. In an extended power outage water may be a concern. Canned foods don’t need rehydrating and usually contain extra liquid.

  6. One more thought here for those trying to decide between buckets of food versus canned foods for their storage. If a family is on a strict budget, or with very limited storage space, then canned foods might be a better choice. Canned foods can be bought during the buy one/get one free sales. One of those cans automatically goes in the food storage, and supplies add up quicker than most people realize. I did this for years raising kids as a single parent and now my grown kids do the same with their families. Canned foods can also be easier/quicker to get table ready. That isn’t to say that we should avoid all buckets of food such as grains, cereals, and beans. Oh, and liquids from the canned foods go great in stews or soups so don’t waste the liquids.

    1. Hey Flo,
      Awesome suggestions, thanks so much! We really appreciate real-world knowledge like this and those are some great tips.


  7. One major piece of misinformation above: “Most of the canned goods have 3 years shelf-life. However, if exposed to water or a humid temperature, it is reduced to 2 years or less depending on the amount of rust.”

    Modern commercial canning techniques keep canned food edible basically forever. If the food was commercially canned (home canned is a different animal) and canned properly at the point of manufacture and if the seal on the can has not been compromised, the food will be OK to eat long after you are worm food. And if it was improperly canned or the seal has been compromised, you will get sick (and possibly die) from eating it regardless of if it was canned 3 years ago or 3 weeks ago.

    On April 1st, 1865, the steamship Bertrand sank in the Missouri River in Nebraska, where it remained submerged for 104 years. In 1969 it’s cargo was salvaged, including a variety of canned foods, such as peaches, oysters, honey, tomatoes and mixed vegetables. These canned foods were opened and subjected to chemical analysis. While it is true that the nutritional content and appearance of the food had degraded somewhat, there was no trace of bacterial growth found in any of the food. It was perfectly safe to eat after 100 years underwater.

    There is a simple 4 step method to determine if canned food is safe to eat:

    1. Examine the outside of the can for rust. Rust is a sign of oxidation and bacteria need oxygen to grow. If there is any visible rust, don’t eat it.

    2. Examine the can for bulges. Dents and dings are not important. If there is a bulge anywhere in the can, that is an indication of gas formation due to bacterial growth. Don’t eat it.

    3. Place the can between your hands with your palms on the top and bottom of the can. Press inward on the can. It should be rock solid. If there is any “give” to the can that is an indication of gas formation due to bacterial growth. Don’t eat it.

    4. When you pierce the lid of the can with a can opener, look for any contents of the can that shoot up or forcefully bubble up. This is a sign of gas formation due to bacterial growth. Don’t eat it.

    If the can passes these 4 tests then the food inside is safe to eat even if it’s 100 years old.

    1. Michael,
      Thanks for the information and specific details, this is awesome knowledge, thank you for sharing.


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