Bulk Food Storage: Flour and Other Dry Basics

Buying bulk food can save you tons of money – if you can keep it from going bad. Here are some long-term storage tips about flour and other related dry grain products.

The biggest problems you’ll have with food item storage relate to nutrition, pests, and odd changes. Nutrition wise food does deteriorate, but the degree depends on the food item. Pests are a big problem unless you have a good system in place, and odd changes means things like changes to flavor, texture, smell, color, and cooking quality.

Smart buying tips for bulk flour and grains:

Pest infestations can happen in flour, grains, nuts, sweeteners, beans, pet food, and more. When it comes to saving your bulk dried grains the first step is prevention.

  • If you’re buying in bulk packaging, check the sell-by date, look for cracks and rips in the package. Don’t man-handle the package. Most bugs love the top of a package. If you don’t shake the package, you can open it at home and see the buggies then return the package.
  • If you’re buying from bulk bins, check the top layer of food in the bin for bugs.
  • Buy from reputable sellers. This is especially important if you mail-order bulk foods.
  • Add bay leaves to the top of your bins – note that this can change the flavor somewhat, but bay leaves do naturally detour pests.

Moving on to storage…

Keep your storage area clean and if possible up off the ground. One idea is to use bins on a wheeled cart (if you have the space). Of course, if you don’t have the space, maybe you shouldn’t be buying bulk. If your storage area become dusty with flour on the floor, vacuum up the flour. Wet mopping can push crumbs into crevices where bugs will try to get at them. Keep your vacuum in the garage and change the bags often because bugs can live on in your vacuum bag. One way around this is to get a cup vacuum.

For your storage bins go for air and moisture tight. You need containers made of glass, metal, heavy plastic, or tin. I know some people who have used metal garbage cans, big fat Tupperware, and even the large mason jars. It really doesn’t matter so long as the lid is tight.

Rotate if you use multiple bins. If you use a single large bin, never add fresh to top off the container. Use all the grains, clean the container, then add more. This is one reason why two bins per item at least are better for bulk food storage.

Temperature: If you’ve got the room many dried grains do well in a refrigerator. Most of us do not have extra cold storage so second best is to try and keep foods stored in an area that can be maintained to stay below 70 F and above 32 F.

Light: Light can be an issue to many bulk foods. I like mason jars, but they’re not really ideal for keeping foods fresh and nutritionally fit, unless you store in a pantry or other unlit area. No food should be sitting in direct sunlight.

Moisture: Humidity is the worst for bulk foods. I’ve heard that ideally you should aim for 15% or less humidity – but that’s a tough one. In NM we could keep bulk items with less trouble but say, in Oregon or Ohio, you’re in trouble. Keeping containers off the floor can help. Keeping foods in an air conditioned space can also help. Lastly, use those air tight containers.

Time frame to keep dried grains:

  • White flour -6 to 12 mos
  • Wheat flour – 3 mos or longer if kept in the fridge (I don’t like the taste of wheat flour kept in the fridge though).
  • Popcorn – 2 years
  • Baking soda – up to 18 mos, but go by the expiration date when possible.
  • Ground spices – 1 year
  • Whole herbs and spices – 2 years

The Food Marketing Institute has a fairly long list with many foods and their use by times – but it’s not extensive. If you buy a lot in bulk you might want to get a good food storage booklet to read from your local cooperative extension service.

My food storage book rant:

IF you decide to buy a book on the subject research it completely first. Many have a large religious slant, which is fine if you’re ok with that, but of course not if you’re not. Also many books on food storage seem to be written by would-be poets who just decided to write a food storage book – i.e. more quotes and poems than tips. I’m not sure why, but most home food storage books are just not all that useful – I’ve found better info through my local extension service. I have seen some good root cellar books for veggie and fruit storage, but we’re talking about grains so…

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    • http://homemakerbarbi.blogspot.com Homemaker Barbi (Danelle Ice-Simmons)

      Great information. We’re getting into grain storage as well and just bought new containers yesterday. I’m going to pass on your article via my website. Thanks again!

    • Jennifer

      Bulk food storage is a big job, at first. Once you get a system it works. I used to do a lot of bulk storage, but now I’m doing the whole live light deal. Still, it was cheaper to store up.

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    • Frank

      Can you store in 5 gallon plastic cans flour, rice, and sugar in the cellar?

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    • Rick Tallent

      I have been buying and storing in bulk for many years. I get the plastic buckets from cookie stores and bakeries, clean them out really good, and use the daylights out of them. I have two five-gallon buckets for sugar, oatmeal, flour, corn meal, pinto beans, and rice. I also have several of the 2 1/2 gallon size that I use for instant potatoes, macaroni, brown sugar, popcorn, and other items I keep in lesser quantities.

      I have been buying cooking oil by the gallon when on sale, keeping at least a couple of units in storage and building up to a preference of about twelve -fifteen units.

      Our other food storage is canned goods by the case, things like hamburger helper, mac and cheese, etc.

      We have been buying chicken in bulk as well, breaking it into smaller zip-lock packages for freezing, doing the same with pork, hamburger, ground turkey, and sausage.

      If you watch the unit prices, you can save a lot of money by buying bulk and cycling your grocery stores so that nothing becomes stale.

      It is only my wife and me, so our large quantities have saved us so much money that it is hilarious. I use our crockpot and make a lot of stews, soups, and beans (and of course chili–I am in Texas, you know!), spreading our budget out by having four or five meals cooked at one time. Half I freeze and half we use. And since I work on the road some, my wife doesn’t have to cook when I’m out of town. Works for us!!