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Survival Skills: Long Term Food Storage of Grains

Cynthia is a gardening enthusiast. She has a green thumb and always plants a variety of items for harvesting during gardening season.

Not all grains are equal! Learn which ones can safely be stored for a decade or more.

Not all grains are equal! Learn which ones can safely be stored for a decade or more.

Which Grains Keep the Longest?

Learning how to properly store grains long-term is key to extending their shelf lives. No matter your reason for building up your food storage, you still need to know the basics. Failing to properly prepare long-term food storage in a survival setting can mean you facing starvation!

Grains are one of the cheaper options for long-term food storage, as they are usually easily purchased in bulk, often coming in a food-grade bucket. But not all grains are suited for long-term food storage.

A large bag of rice can easily be purchased for around $10 or less. It will not be a hard hit to your monthly budget, but it can provide much-needed food for a long time. Even if you are not preparing for survival, storing for an emergency is beneficial. If you are hit by a natural disaster, having an emergency food supply can mean the difference between having dinner and not eating at all.

In a survival setting, natural disaster, or even just a hardship due to job loss, you will be thankful for that emergency food supply. But it's important to learn how to properly store grains and other food items, not just purchase them and shove them in a cabinet. Ideally, you should make an effort to extend the average shelf life of any emergency food item in your supply.


Soft Grains

It goes without saying that there are many different types of grains that you can add to your emergency food supply. First, let's talk about the soft grains you can add to your emergency food supply:

  • Barley
  • Hulled Oats
  • Pearled Oats
  • Rolled Oats
  • Rye
  • Quinoa

If properly stored a soft grain will have a shelf life of 8 years. When storing with long-term emergency food supply in mind, it is possible to extend that shelf life up to 20 years.

Wheat is a very valuable item for long term food storage. It can be used for pie crusts, breakfast food and making biscuits. Once milled the bran can be a beneficial livestock feed.

Wheat is a very valuable item for long term food storage. It can be used for pie crusts, breakfast food and making biscuits. Once milled the bran can be a beneficial livestock feed.

Hard Grains

Soft grains are great, but hard grains are a better option for your emergency food supply. When stored correctly, they will produce a much longer shelf life than soft grains. A diverse group of hard grains will produce long-term foods worthy of culinary greatness. The best grains for long term storage are:

  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Flax
  • Millet
  • Kamut
  • Durum Wheat
  • Hard Red Wheat
  • Hard White Wheat
  • Soft Wheat
  • Special Bake Wheat
  • Spelt
  • Triticale

So long as you store hard grains properly they will have a basic shelf life of 10–12 years. When using proper techniques for building long-term emergency food supply, you can store these grains up to 30 years or longer. That is a phenomenal shelf life!

Grains to Avoid Storing

Now that you know some of the best grains for long-term food storage, you should know not all grains are suitable for the long term. It is best to focus on the grains whose shelf life you can greatly prolong.

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These are the grains you should avoid storing long term:

  • Brown Rice
  • Pot Barley
  • Pearl Barley

Brown rice should never be considered an option for your emergency food supply, as it is not a good choice for long-term food storage. Much like nuts, the oils in brown rice break down quickly and cause the rice to go rancid within as little as 4–6 months. Even if you prefer eating brown rice, it is not a candidate for long-term storage and should be avoided. Your time and effort will be wasted if you choose to attempt to store it like you would other grains.

Pot barley and Pearl barley should also be avoided when building an emergency food supply. These forms of barley are processed and the hull is removed. The outer hull is what protects the barley and keeps it from breaking down during long-term storage. Just like brown rice, these processed forms of barley will have a short shelf life.

Choosing these three types of grains for long-term emergency food supplies should be avoided. You would be wasting your time, money, and labor in storing them.

Proper Food Storage Techniques

Now that you are armed with a list of grains suitable for long-term food storage, you need to know how to properly add them to your emergency food supply. As mentioned, simply buying a sack of grain and tossing it in the pantry is not proper food storage. Here are the items you need to ensure the proper storage of grains for long term use:

  • Food-grade buckets
  • Vacuum sealer or heat sealer
  • 5-Gallon food storage bags
  • Oxygen absorbers

I prefer buckets over other food storage containers; they work wonderfully and if need be many restaurants will give them away for free. Many of the grains mentioned can be purchased in bulk, and already come in a food-grade bucket. Choosing to purchase in bulk buckets reduces the need to spend additional money on purchasing buckets or containers.

Just tossing your long-term food storage in any corner of your home is not recommended. Finding an area of your home or property with the optimal conditions and temperatures is key to extending the average shelf life of the food you will be storing. You want an area that never goes above 70°F (21.1°C). Better still is if you have a cellar or similar area that stays in the 62°F–68°F range.

As a general rule, heat is never good for your emergency food supplies. So putting food storage containers in areas of your home that you heat during winter should be avoided altogether.

In a pinch, a hair straightener can be used in place of a heat sealer, so long as it has a high-temperature function. Personally I opted to get a heat sealer, which was a worthwhile investment for food storage, and which also avoided any chance of ruining my hair straightener.

How to Store Grains for Maximum Shelf Life

The key to properly storing any emergency food supplies is a double barrier system. The grains should be not just inside the bucket or food container, they should be inside a bag first, preferably mylar. This way if pests make their way into the bucket, there is still a barrier protecting the food.

Using a handheld heat sealer is my favorite option when dealing with bulk grains, it is fast and effective. Even using the large vacuum sealer bags, it can be a bit awkward to use a stationary vacuum sealer for 10-gallon bags you are trying to seal.

For proper storage of your emergency food supply items, follow this order and never miss a step. This is the best way to ensure that your grains will last (or possibly even outlast) their shelf lives.

  1. Portion grain into bags.
  2. Add an oxygen absorber to each bag.
  3. Push out all excess air.
  4. Use heat/vacuum sealer to seal bag.
  5. Add the bag to food grade bucket and seal.

Optionally you can add an additional oxygen absorber after sealing the bag and placing it in the bucket. Oxygen absorbers are relatively inexpensive so I go ahead and toss an extra in just for an additional precaution. Limiting the air that is around your food helps to extend the shelf life and keeps it from breaking down.

Choosing Storage Containers

It is not wise to just use any old bucket for long-term food storage. Food-grade buckets are designed to store food in order to prevent pest infestations, and ensure the freshness of foods for long-term sustainability.

Mylar bags are the best option for storing the food inside the buckets to extend the shelf life. Mylar bags are my favorite option as they keep light out. Keeping light away from the food greatly extends its shelf life. Light can break down the quality and eventually lead to premature spoiling of your stored grains.

Mylar Is a Must

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Cynthia Hoover


Almarose on July 24, 2020:

Cynthia I really appreciate you taking the time to post this kind of information for someone who doesn't know these things it's quite helpful and informative.

Melinda Stearns on July 21, 2020:

Such valuable information, thanks for sharing! I just purchased a grain mill and wanted to buy a large bag of wheat berries, good to know if stored properly they will last quite some time.

Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on May 26, 2020:

Greg, yes! Thank you for catching that typo! I will get it edited and fixed! Appreciate you letting me know, I am not sure how I managed to miss it!

Greg on May 23, 2020:

Thanks for the tips and charts of best grains to store. By the way one grain is mispelled Mullet??? shouldn't that be millet? Thanks again, Greg

Erin on April 02, 2020:

Do you know anything about sorghum and how long it stores?

Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on April 01, 2020:

Wendy, I do not have germade stored personally the average shelf life is around 10-15 years when stored under the right conditions. If you have some that is at 20 years old, maybe time to check your stock and see how it is doing and if it is still viable without any signs of mold or spoilage. I would love to hear how it works out for you if you decide to open your germade do please let us know how it turns out for you!

Wendy barnes on March 31, 2020:

I have germade stored in Mylar that is 20 years old? I know whole wheat lasts that long. What about germade?

Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on March 15, 2020:

Mahatch, right now purchasing in bulk seems to be harder to find as far as grains. With the current Covid-19 issues a lot of places are back ordered or completely unavailable, I often shop online for bulk goods, places such as Amazon online generally have decent prices, and of course normally fast shipping. This past week I have been looking to add to our stock, and I simply cannot find any in stock from my regular sources. Locally most places are even sold out of rice and brown beans, smaller less shopped locations seem to still have stock, but not in bulk just smaller packages.

As far as how much to put inside, you simply need to ensure that you leave enough room in each mylar bag that you can still properly seal it. Buckets we fill so long as we can still appropriately seal the bucket closed as well.

mahatch on March 01, 2020:

Thank you for the article, Cynthia! Where do you recommend buying the grains in bulk? How much do you put inside each mylar bag and then how many bags in each bucket?

RTalloni on November 10, 2017:

All the reasons you mention are really good motivation for doing what you present so well here, but there is one more. During cold/flu season I avoid shopping even for food as much as possible, making each trip count a lot. Having healthy foods stored up helps me extend the space of time between trips to stores (or at least lets me get in and out of stores quickly). Thanks for more info on storage practices.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on November 10, 2017:

Your article was very educational for me Cynthia. I replaced rice with barley in my cooking regiment, because rice contains arsenic. But what I didn’t know—is the proper method of storage of various grains.

I use Pearl Barley, and now I learned from you that this does not store well. So, now I’m going to experiment with cooking with Millet and with Buckwheat, which can be stored long term as you explained.

I always try to make sure I have foods available if a storm should knock out power and cut delivery to local stores. It has happened, and I can always cook with camping gear.

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