Food Grade Buckets That Are Safe For Long Term Food Storage

How To Identify Food Grade Buckets

“I know that for many, saving every penny possible is paramount, but when it comes to food grade buckets I think that going around begging for them at businesses that discard them is cost ineffective.”

That comment from one of our readers is prudent. I believe that the reference was towards the required efforts of thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing them for use, coupled with the risk of contamination if they are not entirely rendered “safe”.

Consider this: “Rendering a food grade bucket that has had food products in contact with the surfaces safe from bacterial growth can be iffy.”

While I am not discrediting those who seek out “used” food grade buckets from restaurants, grocery stores, bakery’s or other sources to be used for their own food storage preparedness, I do want to point out how to identify a bucket as “food grade”…


A food grade bucket will be clearly marked or branded as food grade. If the bucket is considered ‘food grade’ it will typically be marketed as such and / or labeled “Food Grade”, “Food Safe”, etc.. some wording to that effect.

Some food grade buckets or containers will be marked with a cup-and-fork symbol as an indicator. The symbol may be located on the bottom of the bucket-pail.

A food grade bucket may also be specifically marked as USDA approved, or FDA or NSF approved.

It’s best if they are opaque or mostly opaque (can’t see light through them) which is beneficial for long term food storage.

If you will be storing food directly in a plastic bucket or container, or if you will be using the container for drinking water, it is best to verify that the material is food-safe before you purchase.


Note: All food grade buckets are made of HDPE #2 (high density polyethylene), but apparently not all HDPE #2 buckets are food grade.

Years ago I discovered this information from JWR’s site:

Buckets that are not food grade may out-gas and leach into the container, as well as into the contents held within the container.

HDPE #2 buckets that are not food grade may have been manufactured with a non-food-grade “mold release agent”.

In some processes, a mold release agent is what is used to help get the newly shaped plastic off of the hard mold that it was shaped from during the manufacturing process. Without the release agent, the new plastic shape will likely stick to the mold. Some mold release agents enable much faster production than others, but may be toxic to your health if later used with food.

Other processes apparently do not use a mold release agent and only use high pressure compressed air to blow the bottles into shape on the inside. No mold release agent of any kind is used inside the bottles of this process.

If you are unsure, you might simply contact the supplier or manufacturer to confirm.

Okay, with all that said, if you will be storing foods in these containers, simply check the container bucket, pail, etc.. for a markup that indicates that it is a food grade food safe product.

Related article: Safe Plastics For Food And Drink

Food Grade Buckets on Amazon

If you have further information in this regard, comment below:


  1. Last year when we moved it gave me a chance to check out our 5 gallon bucket supplies. We had not lost the vacuum on any of the Mylar bags and the buckets outside looked great. The buckets were purchased from the manufacturer that supplies Walton Feed and some of the F.D. companies. Everything is on selves now one high and not stacked three high as before. When you stack, sugar on the bottom with beans,rice,wheat next topped off with dehydrated and freeze dried on top. Had one casualty so I now have flares, fire starter and Life Straws and small survival tools with the scent of pickle. Will have to clean this up as being Dill Pickle Man in the woods will not work.

    1. Care to divulge who this said company is that you got the buckets from? Or would you prefer to keep that a secret? LOL

  2. I have been using sanitized kitty litter buckets as they are labeled 2. I thought they were food grade but I didn’t know about the mold gassing. Anyone know anything about them?

    1. old lady
      I only use them for storing parts to keep mice from leaving unwanted materials on the equipment.

      “If” you were to use them purchase a ‘high mil Mylar bag’ to fit inside for your food, otherwise use them for other items but not food.

  3. Interesting report, thanks.

    For what it is worth I noticed my zip lock style coffee bag from BJ’s was heavy duty and metallic inside. I tested my cell phone with 4 bars signal strength outside put it inside it closed and no way to get my phone to respond when I called it.

    The bag is 9X9 inches with bottom gusset. Anybody have input if this could be useful for EMP protection?


    NH Michael

  4. I just buy them at lowes, they sell food grade buckets and gamma lids, anything i store in them goes in a big mylar bag anyway, unless its framing nails or screws that is.

    1. same here except I buy them at home depot. Mylar bags and oxygen adsorbers are way to cheap to be scrimping on for food that may save my life.

      1. thanks everyone, I do use mylar bags and iron them shut if I am going to store for a while.

  5. There are so many things that come in buckets in the food business. The buckets themselves also come in different shapes (square or round) and sizes (3,3,4,5 gallon). It’s against health code for restaurants to re-use these buckets for direct contact food storage because the 90 degree angle between the bottom and the wall is not “easily cleanable” and bacteria love to hide there. NSF multi use food storage containers like those made by Cambro are rounded where the bottom meets the wall. This is why there are so many buckets given away by restaurants. They don’t want to get in trouble with the health inspector.

    When cleaning out a used bucket, use a cloth, sponge, or green scrubby. Never use a steel scrubby, as it will scratch the surface. It’s in the scratches where bacteria are most likely to hide. If you are going to be using the bucket for direct contact with food (where dried beans are touching the plastic instead of sealed in bags), then make sure you also sanitize the bucket by immersing it in a bleach solution of 100 ppm for two minutes.

    Pickle buckets are most common, but will hold their odor for a long time. So will sauerkraut and hard boiled eggs. Buckets that held fruit salad, whipped butter, sour cream, or mayonnaise tend to be odor free.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Skibum
      You wash yours the same way I do, nothing abrasive inside the bucket. We keep a stock of bar towels for washing up items including the buckets, and I like them better than dish washing cloths.
      Have you had to remove the fake butter from a FG bucket? It only happened once for me, and any buckets there after I gave away to others.

      1. AC, we always use bar towels, too. DH does NOT like sponges. After they become too stained for use in the kitchen, they go out to the shed for lubing bike chains, washing the boats, and other chores.

        Yes, I have cleaned buckets of butter. Orange oil or a similar citrus degreaser seems to work better than anything other than a commercial dishwasher. 😋

  6. Skibum has great advice!
    We got most of our food grade buckets free from a restaurant. They still had the pickle labels attached, along with the kosher-dill smell! No problem….I rinsed, then soap-washed each bucket, then filled them with water and set them outside to ‘outgas’ in the shade (in warm weather). After a week or so, I’d empty them, rinse again, then wash again. Then I used a bleach and water final wash-out. No more pickle smell.

    I think we got about 40 of those buckets for free and it was worth the time to clean them up. I’ve used some for container garden experiments. And I’ve got another dozen or so that I keep as tote-buckets and one became a slop-bucket for the pigs. So handy to have those things.

    1. @ Modern Throwback

      I believe you just reinforced my comment, using for anything but food storage is a great idea, totes and such, agreed that are VERY handy to have a pile of them.

      I have a few with the bottoms cut out of, trying to grow a few potatoes in them, and can stack them up as needed. Gardening experiments are a BLAST HAHAHAHA BTW, left the handles on so ya just grab the handle and pull it apart from the lower one and dump the pot’s. We’ll see .


      1. NRP
        Before you grab those handles on the buckets to separate them you should have placed a barrier between the plastic outer & inner bucket. In your area it gets as hot as us, and those buckets will adhere to one another, how well I know. :-(

  7. I don’t care what the Internet says; ya CAN-NOT get the pickle smell out of used pickle buckets, PERIOD.

    I get them from the local 7-2-11 for a buck apiece with lids. They make great Garden and Shop buckets, I personally would not even use these for food with a Mylar Bag, if you have a seal failure, and we all have, with the Mylar the food will be nasty, do NOT ask how I know… HAHAHA

    $3-$5 is cheap for a ‘new’ bucker with lid, better than taking the risk of having a hundred bucks worth of needed food ruined because of a stinking bucket failure.

    Remember there is a good reason we store food/water, don’t open a bucket after TSHTF and discover the food/water is unuseable and now yar in deep do-do.

    Just my 2¢ worth

    1. I have always read baking soda/vinegar in steaming hot water resolves odor issues….Not true??

      1. @ JJ

        I have tried literally dozens and dozens of different ‘Ideas’ and have found even the best, if ya put the lid (also cleaned) on the “cleaned” bucket for a week, than remove, the smell is still there admittedly a LOT less but still there, I’m not willing to take the risk of ruining hard earned food surplus for the cost of a bucket, Although they do make great buckets for storing other stuff in.


    2. NRP

      Discovery Channel had a program on the best recipe to remove smells. Peroxide and baking soda won. I have successfully used it to remove pickle smells from containers. I tried everything until I found this. The mixture even removes skunk smell.

  8. I use buckets to hold the 5 gal mylar bags I store my foods in. The mylar w/ oxygen absorber vacuum seals and the bucket and lid protects the mylar. therefore cleanliness or type really don’t matter since the food isn’t coming into contact with it.

  9. Other than what we have purchased as long term grain storage in plastic 6 gallon super pails (where the grain is poured into a mylar bag and sealed inside the bucket), I would not store anything except dog food, cat food, chicken food etc.., as it won’t be there very long anyway. We re-cycle our grain buckets. We put all of our chicken feed in 6 gallon grain buckets. For new grain storage (grain purchased in bulk but not in buckets), we heat the grain to 140 degrees for 30 minutes in stainless pans then pour it into sterilized glass quart canning jars and seal them with regular canning lids and rings.

    I don’t trust what the experts at the EPA, USDA, FDA, or any other government agency for that matter say about how safe food grade plastics are, especially for water storage. Even though the USDA did manage to get canning safety for types and times correct, collectively, they’ve been wrong about so many other things regarding food safety, why would I trust them with this? As far as I’m concerned, all plastic leaches. Call me an old fogey if you will.

    We transfer all of our bulk liquid purchased in plastic (honey, vinegar, bleach etc…) into glass containers for a couple reasons. I think the plastic leaches into the liquid stored within it or in the case of bleach, it will dissolve the plastic container over time and eat a hole in your floor. Even though bleach will lose it’s strength over time, it still goes into glass. If the pickle smell leaches into the plastic (food grade) bucket then what makes you think toxins from the plastic are not leaching into the pickles? I cannot conceive why anyone in their right mind would store or sell acidic products like pickles and vinegar in plastic. It can’t possibly be for food safety. Call me an old fogey if you will, but glass is king!

    1. CrabbeNebulae
      Thank you for reminding me I need more 1/2 gallon jars.

      We use both glass and buckets, but we take the extra step in placing a barrier between the food and the container especially if it is plastic.

      Don’t forget to ask for free liquor boxes at the major distributors for the glass jars, if you are in EQ territory.

    2. I agree CrabbeNebulae, I have had barbecue sauce that had tasted like plastic once opened. As a result I try to buy everything in glass. When it is empty I wash the glass container and use it for storage. I may pay a little more up front but I get a glass container out of it.

  10. Although I wash the buckets that are given to us from the bakeries, I never put food directly into those buckets. Every food item is placed in a minimum 5 mil Mylar bag and processed with a oxygen absorbent and sealed. Sugar being an exception, it is still placed in the Mylar but no 02, just sealed.
    Love the smaller buckets we receive from a major company, but we have to purchase the lids as they toss them, we use those for storage and other chores.

    1. I don’t have very much in long term storage yet, and haven’t started with mylar bags and O2 absorbers. Most everything is more mid term storage that will be rotated through. I do a lot of baking and buy flour by the 25 lb bag. I always have at least one “unopened” bag on hand. Likewise with sugar and a few other staples. A 25 lb bag pours perfectly into a 22 qt Cambro, doesn’t need any kind of liner, and protects it from the critters. Yes, the containers are expensive, but well worth it in my opinion.

      As my food storage increases, I am sure I will be putting more into long term storage. When that happens, I will pump all of you for information on the mylar bag process.

  11. We use 2 gallon mylar bags, two to a 5 gallon bucket. It can be a tight fit, so we lay the bucket on its side, then slide in the 2/3 full bags. We find the 2 gallon bags to be more convenient, and we’re not exposing too much content at one time.

  12. Got a question on the Mylar bags. Can metal detectors find them underground?

    1. I have often wondered that myself Grannyo. Until I know for sure, I do not plan on burying anything in Mylar.

  13. I’m using my oldest stored grains/rice since my kids/grandkids landed here.Opening buckets from 1998. As good as the day I packed it.
    I use a 5 gallon clear food grade bag inside the 5 gallon bucket.Filled it up,twisted the rest of the bag loosely inside the bucket and put nitrogen in it. Put a new seal cover and set it with a piece of 2×4 and a rubber mallet.
    Good for 20 years.
    Btw,a rubber mallet is a must!You are setting yourself up for heartache if you trust the seal by just putting it on with your hands…
    Oh, and hi all! Hope all is well with you all.
    Really busy these days.
    Ken has been on a roll with the articles the last couple weeks!!

    1. Bill Jenkins Horse
      Good to hear your stores are coming handy with the little ones and additional family.

      HI back at you & your family…hope all is well.

      1. should have read
        ‘coming in handy’ bad computer fingers. lol

  14. Those smelly 5 gallon buckets can be used for non-food items. I have lots of stuff in 5 gallon buckets-laundry detergent…??

  15. I know it might sound odd but where do you get the Mylar bags and o2 absorbers. Have read comments before but not where to get them,would like to try using them for my long term storage.

  16. Hello everyone,

    Couple of the local donut shops sell their filling buckets for a $1 a piece. Think they are 4 gallon. Might be a place to look in your area.


  17. Not sure if this is the best of the “food storage container” articles to post this on, but here goes….

    Most of Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sam’s, etc. carry big black totes with yellow lids in various sizes. They are NOT food grade, in fact, there is no recycle code on them at all. I’ve tried multiple times to find out what they’re made of, and the closest I get is “recycled polypropylene” or “heavy duty plastic” which I have no idea what it means with regard to food, or even if it’s accurate..

    My question is, can these totes be used to store canned food? I suspect they aren’t good for mylar bags or anything else that might be permeable over time, but would storage of cans have an issue (other than weight)?

    Many thanks…..

    1. FinallyOuttaCA not an expert but given the ability of steel and aluminum cans to keep things safe from everything from rat poop and such in stores and warehouses, Yes those totes are just fine.

      However I am unsure what benefit they offer you. A tote full of canned food cannot be lifted safely as the tote plastic would be overloaded. Moisture protection is a maybe IF you put in a desiccant and seal the lid with duct tape. However the First In First Out Food Rotation would be difficult?

      1. NHM,

        Thanks for the response. I wouldn’t be using the really large totes due to weight issues. I have some small dollies (12″ x 18″) that fit under totes of approx the same size to make them easy to move, even stacked several totes high. I can handle individual totes filled with cans, tho’ it’s a good point to be concerned about plastic fatigue.

        These cans are not part of my regular rotating pantry, and best buy dates are out 2-3 years. Was able to get them at a really good price in a bulk buy. Plan is to donate them to local food pantry when they get close to their BB date (pantry accepts canned foods 6-12 months past the BB date depending on contents).

        The area I have for storage is temperature controlled, but visible to anyone coming into that building, so concealment is part of my thought process, along with mobility. Then again, maybe I could just use cardboard boxes. Just don’t want cases of identifiable foodstuffs to be visible to casual eyeballs.

        Thanks again.

  18. Hello, as a manufacturer of food grade buckets, I would like to weigh in on the markings on the buckets. All of our products our FDA approved for food contact packaging, however we do not put any symbols such as the fork and spoon or food safe. The reason being is that this can be misleading, if the bucket is being reused it is no longer considered food contact safe. That is why you will find “N.R.C.” on the bottom of our buckets which stands for non reusable container.

Comments are closed.