Food Storage in Paint Cans!

#10 cans of food storageI got spoiled years ago by having access to an electric #10 can sealing machine. I stored so many different things in #10 cans it turned into Food storage in #10 cansan obsession. I loved the convenience and felt secure in knowing how safe the contents were. I canned many, many cases of food in #10 cans because I had access to an electric can sealer. But that all came crashing to a halt a couple years ago.

unused paint cans for food storageBut there is an answer…paint cans.

Let’s start this off on the right foot…clean, unused paint cans. Meaning the kind that you buy from the store that are new, never used at any point for anything. Different stores sell them and you can buy them online as well. I strongly suggest you try and negotiate the price if you are buying any kind of quantity. But all that being said you will still pay about $4 – $4.50 per can. I am trying to find a supplier that can do better than that. I will post their info if I can get it figured out.

So the cans you want to use have an epoxy liner. The idea of the epoxy it to keep the integrity of the metal can intact (i.e. no rust, etc.). But I have no idea if the epoxy is safe for contact with food. I would doubt it, and I wouldn’t chance it. So get the cans with the epoxy lining but use a food grade plastic bag to contain the actual food. You can also use Ziplock bags as well as Foodsaver bags.There is also a bonus benefit to this situation, I will explain in a minute.

Make sure you know that you have enough cans to hold the food you wish to store.The following table gives you an idea of how much can fit in a paint can. I tried to allow for the bag and a little space left over. If you really shake the food down and tamp in as much as you can get into the can the amounts will obviously be more. But this gives you a good starting point.

How much food can you get into a #10 canMake sufficient labels to correctly identify the cans contents. I really like the Brother P-Touch label maker. But you Brother P-touch label maker for food storagecan also use permanent markers as well.

I actually use both. I put the label on the side of the can and permanent marker on the top of each can. Make sure your label clearly says what is inside. Also, don’t forget to put the “date” that the can was processed. That will help you, or your group, identify which food to use first and keep it properly rotated.

Step #1 – You sure the can’s insides are clean and they are ready to go. You have your silicone seal standing by, along with a couple of paper towels to wipe the silicone off your fingers. You also have your labels printed, or ready to print. Alternatively, you have your permanent markers ready to go.

NOTE – There are two primary “paths” to storing food in paint cans. Let’s go with the easiest and cheapest path first.

Step #2 – Put your plastic bag inside the can as if it were a can liner. Leave plenty of “top” to the plastic bag to use a twist tie, tape, or other method of closing the top of the bag.

Step #3 – Put your food item in the plastic bag. Periodically shake the can and tap it. This will help the food settle in the can and remove the air. Here is a tip, the more food you put in bag/can, the less air there will be. The less air there will be, the fewer (or smaller) O2 packets you will need to put in the bag/can. So getting the food to settle is important. Then filling the can as full as possible is next in importance.

Note: Don’t put O2 absorbers with foods such as sugar and salt. It isn’t needed and will turn the contents into bricks.

Step #4 – You have the plastic bag full of food, you’ve gently shaken and tapped the can to settle the food. And you have filled the plastic bag as full as you can get it and still seal the can. Now is the time you place the O2 packet in the plastic bag. Twist your “tie” tight and you are ready to go.

Note – We will continue the “steps” to finish off the process in a minute. For now, I will go over the Foodsaver / Mylar bag option. If you want to, skip to Step #5 below to finish the process noted above in Steps 1 – 4.

– Foodsaver / Mylar Bag Option Steps –

The alternative to the above method is the Foodsaver or sealed Mylar bag option. I really like this option for things like spices or any time I am putting multiple different items in the same can. I have a Foodsaver machine and love it. We use it regularly to keep foods fresher in the freezer or in the refrigerator. The Foodsaver bags are a little pricey but I think we come out ahead anyways.

The Mylar bag option is similar to the Foodsaver bag route in many ways. Mylar bags are a great option for preserving/storing food for a long, long time. The bags are designed to keep air out way better than standard plastic bags. But, Mylar bags are not the “end-all” when it comes to storing food. Bugs, and especially rodents, can chew right through the bag material. That is one of the main reasons why storing food items is cans is so practical.

Step #2 – Put your food item in the bag. Periodically shake it. This will help the food settle in the bag and help remove air pockets. Here is a tip, the more food you put in bag the less air there will be. The less air there will be, the fewer (or small) O2 packets you will need to put in the bag/can. So getting the food to settle is important.

Step #3- Then head to the Foodsaver machine. If you are using Foodsaver bags then just seal it like you normally would drawing as much air out of the bag as possible. The more air you suck out, the longer your food will stay healthy to eat. You can use an O2 absorber in the bag as well if you like. That would ensure that any residual air is absorbed and won’t affect your food quality.

Note: Don’t put O2 absorbers with foods such as sugar and salt. It isn’t needed and will turn the contents into bricks.

Step #4 – Then into the can the bag goes.

For Mylar bags I essentially do the same thing with them that I do with my Foodsaver bags. I put the correct amount of food in the bag, then I drop in an O2 absorber, and then hook it up to the Foodsaver accessory suction hose option. I draw as much air out of it as possible before sealing the bag.

Obviously I use the smaller size of bags to make sure I can get as many bags into the can as easily as possible. I have never put a silica gel (moister absorber) in a bag containing food that I have stored this way. I just never saw the need for it. If I was going to store homemade jerky I would consider it.

Using the accessory suction hose on the Mylar bags does let some air back in the bag as I remove the accessory suction hose and move the bag to the sealer. But, there is a lot less air in the bag than if I hadn’t used the Foodsaver to suck the air out to begin with. And the O2 absorber is there to finish off any air that might still be in the bag once it is sealed.

end of Foodsaver / Mylar Bag Option Steps –

Step #5 – At this point you are ready to seal the can but a thought first. When using Foodsaver bags I have found that occasionally they aren’t as sealed as I thought they were. Normally this isn’t a problem since the food is in the freezer for longer term storage or in the refrigerator for use in a couple days. But counting on the “seal” for long-term storage (10 – 30 years) might be a little more problematic. For me, I would drop in O2 absorbers in the can at the point just before I seal the can. Now if the bags didn’t completely seal, their contents are not exposed to an oxygen rich environment. The larger the O2 absorber the more O2 is will absorb…yes, seriously. There are different size of O2 absorbers. You won’t go wrong with the larger ones. A little more money but worth it.

Step #6 – Seal the can. But, I have my own method of sealing the can. The paint can is metal, the can top is metal. A metal-to-metal seal of the can may appear to be airtight but isn’t in my opinion. Metal-to-metal isn’t really capable of airtight seals in the real world.

I place a reasonable amount of silicone seal in the lid grove of the can. Then I place the lid into the grove and gently tap it tight with a rubber mallet. I use my finger to “squish” any leftover silicone seal back into the grove.

Step #7 – Label the can.

That concludes using paint cans for storing food. But I do have a few more tidbits for you…read on!

I use cardboard boxes to store my #10 and paint cans. I have the luxury of storing my food indoors where it is dry and temperature controlled so cardboard boxes are a good option for me. If I had to store my cans in a damp location I would use plastic bins. I would seal them the best I could and I would use silica gel packets if I was storing them in a damp environment.

Now you have a case of food that has been prepared for long-term storage. If you have done it right, that food will be good for 5 – 30 years, much longer for things like wheat.

Tip – Do you know how large of, or how many of, the O2 packets you need to put in the can?

O2 packets are sold in different sizes. The sizes are based on “CC” which is a measurement of volume. Think in terms of shots you get by a nurse. You get a shot in the arm and it is 5cc of flu vaccine or some such thing. So you guess the number of CC’s of open space left in the can after you have put your food in the can. So say you estimate that there is 100cc’s of air left in the can. You would put a 100cc O2 packet in the can, or two 50cc packets, etc.

But here is how I would do it. I would estimate the size just as I mentioned earlier. And I would put the entire amount of O2 packet in the plastic bag, push as much air out of the plastic bag as possible, twist the plastic bag top around really tight, bend the twisted top of the bag over on to itself and then use a twist tie to seal the bag. Then I would put the half original CC amount of required O2 packet on top of the plastic bag but outside of the bag.

This method gives you a 50% bonus margin of additional O2 absorption within the bag itself. That absorbs the oxygen that will affect the food within the bag. Then the O2 packet(s) that you placed outside of the bag but within the can will absorb all of the remaining oxygen.

Your food will be double-sealed, double protected and should the bag ever fail the food is still within an oxygen free environment.

Tip – I clearly label each case of food as to what is in the case. I state the contents of each can. Using computer-generated labels ensures that someone other than you can read it.

Tip – When you are done labeling your case of food with the contents, whether computer labels or handwritten, place clear packing tape over the label to help protect it from fading or water damage.

Tip – When taping a cardboard box of food closed, I tape all the seams to improve the strength of the box.



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