How to Properly Store #10 Cans

Picture shows the inside of a 55-gallon drum filled with #10 cans of food.

There are only two things food needs to spoil—oxygen and moisture. Oxygen and moisture allow the growth of microorganisms that make you sick, this is why we eliminate moisture and oxygen when preparing foods for long-term storage. Doing this yourself, dehydrating, canning and storing, is a long process, requiring expensive equipment and a lot of time. Alternatively, you can buy prepackaged freeze-dried or dehydrated food supplied in #10 cans. A #10 can is the exact same as a soup can, just bigger. Freeze-dried foods packed in #10 cans will stay viable stored away for 25 years or more. Even though #10 cans are sealed and impermeable to air and moisture, there is a proper way to store your long-term survival foods.

Blue 50-gallon food-grade storage drumsExperts recommend storing long-term foods on shelves in a cool, dry place away from sunshine. The ideal storage temperature is between 72 and 65 degrees with no humidity. For those living in dry, cooler climates—storage isn’t a problem, but not all of us live in areas where houses have basements. Some preppers, like those of us in Texas, store our preps in detached garages, attics or an outside storage building subject to extreme temperatures.

#10 cans left in cardboard cases in a humid climate are subject to rust. Varmints such as mice, squirrels and bugs will eat through the cardboard and make nests in between your cans. Their excrement creates a corrosive environment, quickly causing the steel cans and their paper labels to degrade. If you are planning to store long-term foods in an area where you cannot control the temperature, pack your #10 cans in 55-gallon, food grade poly drums.

Here is how:

1. Before beginning, think through your process.
Organize your #10 cans into meals. In each 55-gallon drum, you will want breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. The 55-gallon drum will hold 39 cans—four layers of eight cans and one layer of seven cans—each standing on top of the other. Considering caloric needs, individuals’ tastes, nutritional value, special dietary requirements, and variety, mix menus per layer. For example, on the first layer—or bottom layer of your drum, place one can each of beef stew, corn, crackers, raspberry crumble, macaroni and cheese, ground beef, pears and green beans. These eight cans will provide a family with two meals, dessert and a snack. Build complete, balanced meals per layer so you can remove and prepare the food you need layer by layer without having to open a second drum. For more on survival meal planning, read Survival Meal Planning.

2. Organize and prep your storage and work space.
Our 55-gallon drums went into a wooden garden shed, four barrels wide, with some drums stacked on top of one another. Depending on the size of your storage area, you have quite a few things to consider:

  • How much weight will the floor of your storage area bear? Inspect the joists underneath your outbuilding or look for screw heads in the floor. Store the drums along this line for more strength.
  • Will the lid of each drum hold up to being stacked on top of each other? If not, do not stack your drums.
  • Are you able to move the drum around by yourself or do you need a partner? The drums themselves are not very heavy and #10 cans are lightweight. However, once packed full, moving the drum will most likely require either a dolly or a team lift. In a pinch, you can roll a drum along the ground turned on its side.
  • Will you have room to get the drums out once put into the storage area? Do not pack your shed so tightly that it will be difficult to remove the drums. Further, leave space between the drums to allow air to circulate.
Picture shows a 55-gallopn drum filled with #10 cans of food
Use only food-grade, open top poly 55-gallon drums.

3. Pick the correct 55-gallon drum.
Use only food-grade, open top poly 55-gallon drums. Unused drums are preferred, but used ones will work as well, as long as you clean them thoroughly before using. Start with a clean and spotless drum. If you found previously used drums, clean them out with soap and hot water. Make sure the drums are completely dry before packing them with your #10 cans. Any moisture inside the drum will stay there once you seal it and over time will rust your cans.

4. Pack your drum.

Picture shows the inside of a 55-gallon drum filled with #10 cans of food.
Step 4. Using your menus from step one, start packing your drum with #10 cans.

Using your menus from step one, start packing your drum with #10 cans. Write down each can’s contents, expiration date and calorie count as you go. Take the first eight cans and one by one, place them in the bottom of the drum in a circle. The eighth can goes in the center of the circle. Continue with this pattern for four layers. The fifth layer will consist of only seven cans due to the slight taper in the top of the drum.

5. Create a gasket seal with industrial grade plastic wrap.
Using industrial-grade shrink wrap available at packing and shipping stores—plastic kitchen wrap will work in a pinch—circle the top of the loaded drum’s lip with three rotations of the plastic wrap, allowing for half of the wrap to be inside the drum, and half of the wrap on the outside of the drum.

6. Seal the top of the drum.
Put the lid on top of the drum. You might have to press the lid down in order to fit the plastic wrap gasket. Plastic wrap the drum’s lid and the drum like you did in step five. Letting half the wrap cover the outside rim of the lid and half the wrap covering the top of the drum, wrap the plastic wrap at least three times around. Place the steel ring of the drum’s lid onto the drum and lid forming the seal that holds the lid on. Shrink-wrap this steel ring the same way you did the gasket and sealed lid in steps five and six.

Picture shows a man sealing a plastic drum with plastic wrap.
Step 6. Seal the top of the drum.

7. Label your drum.
With a permanent marker, list the contents of the drum on the outside of the drum and then number the drum. You should have written down inventory while you packed each drum. Once finished packing all your drums and storing them, create an inventory list. Keep a master copy of the inventory in your important documents with the contents and calories per layer in each drum. During a disaster or emergency the combination of stress, hunger, exhaustion, and anxiety will be high causing unclear thinking. Not to mention, time and exertion will be at a premium. Doing all the labeling and inventory list making now cuts down on stress, confusion and potential fighting.

Drums may swell during hot months and contract during colder months. This is a normal occurrence and since the drums are so durable, should not cause any issues. However, all the drums should react to the extreme temperatures the same way. If drums labeled one and three are swelling, but number four or two is not, it is a good indication that the drum’s seal is not airtight. Inspect the drum, seal and lid for problems. You might have to reseal the drum.

Storage of survival supplies is always a topic of conversation for preppers—especially for those of us who are urban dwellers where space goes for a premium. Here I have supplied one safe way to store long-term food supplies. In our wood garden shed, we packed enough food for two people to last six months. Of course, you can pack any number of 55-gallon drums as your storage space will allow—even one drum in the pantry or closet contains enough food to last for a month.

For more on stockpiling food and survival caches, read the following blog posts:

How do you store your long-term food supplies? Share your tips with others in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (13)

  1. At the top of this article, it’s mentioned that oxygen and moisture are the greatest enemies of food.

    But the article didn’t mention how to exclude oxygen and moisture.

    IT’S NOT THAT HARD. (oops, shouting not required)

    These gases are more dense than air, and a hermetically sealable container will hold them nicely:

    * Nitrogen (the best choice)
    * Carbon dioxide
    * Argon (90/10 or 75/25 welding mix is OK)

    If you do TIG or MIG welding, you probably have an argon mix bottle, and this is acceptable to use if you’re stashing sealed containers in a bigger gas-proof container.

    If you have a gas supply house in your town, you may consider pooling resources with other future-minded folks to get a nitrogen bottle, and have a few food-packing parties. It’s good to know who your friends are, and it’s good to share. Just tell the gas house that it’s for food preparation, and don’t mention anything else. They can advise on “food grade” nitrogen.

    And now we get to carbon dioxide.

    You know that dry ice is carbon dioxide, right? And many grocery stores sell carbon dioxide. You see where this is going?

    For small food-prep projects, get all your preppables in one place (chefs call this “mise en place” — google it), and have a hermetically sealable container like a great big ice chest. Into each small container of preppables that you put in the ice chest, put a tablespoon-sized chunk of dry ice into said container.

    After the dry ice has sublimated (“melted” completely), seal each container while keeping its open end up and still inside your great big ice chest.

    The only concern is that you want to do this in an area with adequate ventilation so that the carbon dioxide can’t build up. But — carbon dioxide is heavier than air, so it’ll sink to the floor and try to seep out under the door.

    Storage in carbon dioxide using dry ice is so simple that you could adopt it for daily food storage. Here in Texas, we have enough bugs that I’d suggest this for everybody who has more than a few weeks of food in their pantry — like, soccer moms who have to make brownies and cookies on a regular basis, or home chefs who have lots of ingredients to make lots of food, or grillmasters who get large quantities of meat and BBQ sauce fixin’s for competition cooking.

    Remember, the greatest enemies of food are oxygen and moisture — and the third greatest enemy is oxygen-loving bacteria or bugs. Carbon dioxide can’t displace moisture except for what’s suspended in the air it displaces, but it works like a champ on displacing oxygen and killing cooties.

    If it were my first personal choice, I’d have a nitrogen bottle in the kitchen to use when repackaging ANY food. That’s expensive. My next preferred alternative would be to get dry ice from my local grocery whenever I have a food repackaging weekend.



  2. I live in South Carolina.
    The summer heat and humidity are brutal. I have an outside storage shed,but the summertime temp and humidity is extremely high. Even with ventilation and shade. Any suggestions using this building ?

  3. I am currently 15 months into an experiment. I used a new clean 80 gal(?) rolling trash can. I debated the “valve and vacuum” idea, but wanted an inert gas to avoid trying to maintain a long team vacuum. Instead I put a 15# block dry ice in the bottom then layer plywood then packed in the food. Ran a bead of silicon caulk around the rim and loosely closed the lid. Watched the CO2 stream out over the rim, having hopefully filled the trash can and displacing the oxygen. When it slowed I tightened down the lid with pre- drilled wing nuts. I can move the trash can on the wheels, but it is heavy, as I put about 300# in it. I packed rice, beans, canned meat, even honey and peanut butter. I live in Texas and unfortunately my garage routinely averages 85 degree for about 5 months straight. I will open it at 18 months and check it out. Whatever is good I will give to a food shelter. If it works at all, I will replace with new food and try again, eliminating what didn’t store well. Eventually hope to dig a root cellar to store it in a more hospitable temperature environment. Appreciate feedback. Stay safe!

  4. Excellent advice…
    Perhaps these folks in areas where there’s ‘real summer weather’ with high heat and humidity conditions might consider packing the spaces between the cans with desiccant bags and Styrofoam peanuts to help insulate and dry the contents, and then do their best to find as much heat shelter as possible for the storage area.

  5. If you could fix a valve on the top , you could put a vacuum on the drum. This would take some of the air and moisture out of the drum. You don’t want to put to much vacuum on it to collapse the drum. With the valve on there when you are ready to open the drum you can take the vacuum off by opening the valve. This way the lid wont be hard to get off.

  6. Question,
    In Southwestern states with 100 + degree summers how should drums be stored to offer maximum protection of contents from heat issues once the drums are buttoned up?

  7. Question?…for those of us in hot Southwestern states what is best suggested storage method once the sealed drums are buttoned up?

  8. The photos show a drum being packed outside. You should pack drums in a dry environment as well, like inside your air-conditioned house or garage. If you pack a drum outside on a humid day, you will end up sealing in a lot of moisture in the air.

    Try sealing an empty drum outside in the heat and humidity. Then bring it into the A/C. Check in a hour or two and all of the moisture will have condensed on the inside on the drum and probably pooled at the bottom.

  9. If barrels placed on pallets this will aid in reducing fluctuation of hot cold, especially on concrete floors, and spaced placement of wood slats aid air circulation.
    Know average temperature of ground, 42F at 3′ in western washington may aid your storage plans such as we who used to have root cellers know about.
    Root cellars still a viable food storage option today with Your canned dehyd’s in Barrels or fresh and canned goods
    Lable can lids and bottoms and place packing lables outside and inside , with inside a check list as you use an item.
    Good sources for large plastic barrels are cola plants syrups, and fast food
    plants that make tv and prepackaged microwavables.

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