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Food Storage Cans: How to Decide Between #10 or #2.5

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Building a sustainable and secure food storage plan is a key part of family preparedness. But with differing can sizes at food storage companies, how do you know which foods to buy in which sizes? This guide will help you choose the right food storage can size for your needs, whether you’re a family of two or a large household, and ensure you get the most out of your food storage investment.

woman looking at can size

I’ll never forget the very first time I placed an order of food from a food storage company. I figured that the big #10 cans were the way to go. The bigger, the better, right? That’s what I used to think. I began to rethink that strategy one Phoenix summer when a perfectly good #10 can of freeze-dried grapes became virtually inedible due to a small level of humidity, one of the enemies of food storage. The grapes became sticky, a little gooey, and clumped together. It was hard to eat them and I ended up throwing most of them away. That can of grapes was a #10 can. My young kids just couldn’t eat that many freeze-dried grapes and weren’t all that crazy about them to begin with. Not a mistake I wanted to repeat.

I completely relate then, when people ask me why they should buy food in #10 cans when they are storing food for only themselves or, perhaps, one or two other people. Or ask about the food going bad in the opened cans if they don’t eat it quickly enough, and what if they open a can of something and discover they don’t like it? Don’t worry! I’m going to dive deep into the world of food storage can sizes and decipher #10 cans from #2.5 cans to ensure you’re getting the most out of your investment!

What is the difference between a #10 and a #2.5 can?

Food storage companies sell most of their freeze dried and dehydrated foods in two main sizes: #10 and #2.5. A #10 can holds a whopping 1 gallon (or 16 cups) of food, including both the food itself and the airspace in the container. Cans labeled #10 are the really big cans you might see at Costco or Sams Club, holding foods like nacho cheese sauce. This makes it a good choice for bulk storage.

In comparison, a #2.5 can holds about one-quarter the volume of a #10 can. That translates to roughly 0.25 gallons (or 4 cups) of food. This smaller size is ideal for single people, small families, or foods you won’t use frequently.

Factors in Choosing the Right Can Size

Here are some factors to consider when choosing between a #10 can and a #2.5 can:

  • Family size and eating habits: Consider how many people you need to feed and how often you’ll eat the food.
  • Shelf life: Some foods, like beans and rice, have a long shelf life even after opening a #10 can. Other foods, like freeze-dried fruits, are more susceptible to spoilage and might be better suited for #2.5 cans.
  • Storage space: #10 cans take up more space.

Here are my recommendations for what you should buy in a #2.5 size can or a #10 can.

Foods to Purchase in #2.5 Cans

  • Baking powder. Your can of grocery store baking powder has lasted for how many months? Don’t bother buying this in a #10 can.
  • Baking soda. If you use baking soda just for baking, this size is fine. If you use it in household cleaners or in other ways, I recommend either a #10 can size or the much bigger 5 or 13.5 pounds bags available at Costco, Sam’s Club, or on Amazon. That’s what I’ve purchased, along with a handful of #2.5 cans to use for baking.
  • Shortening powder.  Unless you make biscuits frequently, that is.
  • Yeast or Instant Dry Yeast. This tends to not store very well, long-term. You’re better off with smaller packages. If you very rarely need yeast, you might just want to buy an occasional jar of it at the grocery store so less is wasted if the yeast becomes too old to be effective. Always proof yeast that is more than a few months old. It’s also possible to make your own yeast, which is a good skill to know.
  • Butter powder. A little goes a long way and this product produces a flavorful spread but it can’t be melted
  • Cheese blend. This is a powder, similar to what you would find in a package of store-bought macaroni and cheese. Not everyone likes it, but it’s a handy ingredient for making cheesey things. A smaller can will last for quite a while.
  • Hot chocolate mixes. Most people just don’t go through this very quickly. A small can will do very nicely.
  • Iodized salt. Learn more about salt storage, including which salts to store and how to store them.
  • Cocoa. Unless you make brownies every night, which I think is a fabulous idea!, it takes a while to go through even a small container of cocoa.
  • Specialized grains. Unless you cook with grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and millet like other cook with wheat, then you’ll only be using smaller amounts. Read more about storing and using amaranth and how to stock up and cook with millet.
  • Juice mixes. I’m not a big fan of these and my family never drinks juice, but if yours does, look for varieties that offer a nice dose of Vitamin C, in particular.
  • *Freeze-dried cheese. If you’re stocking up for just 2 or 3 people, smaller is probably fine. Read all about freeze-dried cheese including a recipe and video demonstration.
  • *Freeze-dried meat and chicken. This is another instance where, if you will be preparing meals for just 1-2 people, a smaller can is sufficient. Learn more about using freeze-dried chicken.
  • Vegetables that are cut into very small pieces.  A little will go a long way. Examples: celery, onions, diced carrots, green onions, peas. A #2.5 can of dehydrated onions will last practically forever , and a single #10 of carrots must contain 50,000 little dices! Unless you are a carrot maniac, buy this in smaller containers.
  • Vegetables that you don’t use very often. Or that you find go bad before you can use it all or that only a few family members like.
  • Bouillon and soup base. These are very susceptible to humidity. Once opened, they can quickly absorb moisture and you’ll have to chip away at the mass of bouillon with an ice pick. Better to either buy in smaller quantities or buy the #10 can and repackage. Read about the versatility of dry soup mixes here.
  • Tomato powder. Ditto. But there are so many uses for tomato powder, it’s definitely one to keep on hand.
  • Most fruits, especially if you live in a humid climate.
  • Many freeze-dried fruits. Unless you eat a lot of fruit in your household and especially if you live in a humid climate. Humidity causes the sugar in fruit to become sticky and the pieces clump together. I’ve thrown away #10 cans of freeze-dried pineapple and grapes because the little humidity we have here in Phoenix was just enough for them to form a sticky, chewy glob. Oddly, this doesn’t happen with freeze-dried berries.
  • Freeze-dried yogurt bites. We love these but, please, a gallon of vanilla freeze-dried yogurt bites? That’s an awful lot of yogurt bites! I prefer buying them in smaller containers and enjoying them while they’re crunchy; they’re a great addition to homemade trail mixes! These, too, are affected by humidity. I review freeze-dried yogurt bites here.
  • Sour cream powder. Again, the problem is humidity and the powder becoming a hard mass. Depending on where you live and the conditions in which you store your food, your experience might be different, but still, sour cream powder isn’t an ingredient typically used in large quantities, so buying it in #2.5 cans is a good idea regardless.
  • Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), any flavor. If you choose to stock up on this, a little goes a long way, especially the taco and bacon flavored varieties. When I make chicken noodle soup using chicken flavored TVP, I only use a half cup or so of the TVP.
  • Powdered eggs. A #10 can of powdered whole eggs is the equivalent to about 8 dozen eggs and an opened can has a limited shelf life. Better to buy the smaller version unless you’re cooking for a large number of people who love scrambled eggs for breakfast! Learn ways to use powdered eggs.

Foods to Purchase in #10 Cans

  • Bakery mixes. Some companies offer cookie, cornbread, bread, biscuit, muffin and brownie mixes. Before ordering these, take a look to see how much is required for one batch of a recipe. One sugar cookie mix recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups of the mix! Just 4 or 5 batches, and that can is ready to recycle. You’re better off stocking up on the individual ingredients to make your favorite desserts, but some people really like the convenient mixes.
  • Beans. Beans have a very long shelf life, even when the can is opened. Read my review of Instant Black Beans.
  • Grains. Virtually all grains, from wheat to pasta to oats and rice, and excluding the specialized grains mentioned earlier, are fine in the larger cans. If you use grains at all, they are probably a staple of your family’s diet and you’ll have no problem using up the contents in a #10 can as these foods store very well, long term.
  • Just-add-hot-water meals. You’ll most likely use a few cups of these meal mixes at a time. Learn more about how to make just-add-water meals.
  • Meals in a jar. If you plan to make a whole slew of these, assembly line style, you may want to consider larger cans of those specific ingredients. Read this post for tips that will help you create meals in a jar.
  • Any frequently used ingredients. Or if you keep running out of a 2.5#, then upsize to the #10. For example, do you cook a lot of meat and potatoes? Then #10 cans of potatoes in all their varieties is probably your best choice. One caveat is for those living in a very humid climate. In that case you may want to buy the smaller 2.5 size cans because humidity will affect freeze dried and dehydrated vegetables.
  • Multiple use foods. If you use baking soda for cooking and cleaning and other uses, you may benefit from the larger size.
  • Freeze-dried entrees. Any that you enjoy eating and you’re certain won’t go to waste once opened. Mountain House Mac-and-Cheese. Yumm!
  • Freeze-dried cheese. Most recipes will call for at least 2-3 cups of rehydrated cheese (think enchiladas or a lasagna). Unless you are cooking for only a couple of people, and if these are recipes you want to continue making, the larger cans will be best. Read all about freeze-dried cheese including a recipe and video demonstration.

Tips for Choosing Which Can Size to Buy

  • I’ve assembled all of my best tips that you need to know before you place your first freeze-dried food order.
  • Definitely consider buying varieties of freeze-dried and dehydrated vegetables and fruit that you cannot grow yourself, for whatever reason, and/or tend to be pricey. Blackberries, raspberries, cherries are all some of my favorites, but I’ve chosen to stock up on their freeze dried versions because they usually are more expensive in the grocery stores. I’ve purchased fewer freeze dried blueberries because I live in Texas blueberry country and can easily buy them in large quantities and can them for later.
  • Virtually all baking ingredients should be purchased in smaller amounts, except for sugar and flour — if you normally use those 2 ingredients frequently.
  • Unless you go through food pretty quickly, it’s best to portion out the food in the larger cans into smaller containers, such as canning jars, small mylar bags, and Food Saver bags. By adding an oxygen absorber and then keeping these smaller packages in a covered plastic bin or cardboard box to protect them from light, they should last a very long time. I cover food repackaging methods in this post.

What do you do with an opened #10 can when you know you won’t finish the contents?

Sooner or later you’ll be faced with the dilemma of what to do with the contents of an opened #10 can when you know, full well, that you aren’t going to polish it off any time soon. The food doesn’t have to go to waste, and shouldn’t. You can easily repackage it.

Most of the foods I’ve listed here can easily be repackaged in canning jars of the size you prefer. You’ll need a selection of jars, canning lids, a vacuum sealer, and a jar sealer attachment. This is a very, very simple process, and I’ve used it to package in jars everything from salt to biscuit mix to quinoa. You can also use the vacuum sealer and vacuum sealer bags. That’s a nice option because the individual bags can be stored in larger bins and buckets.

If rodents and/or insects are a problem, an open container of any food is the equivalent of posting a big Welcome! sign for them. What you don’t want to have is a couple dozen opened #10 cans of food waiting to be used. Trust me. The pests will find their way to your food before you do!


When is a #10 can not a good choice?

#10 cans are not as good a choice for foods that you don’t use frequently, have a short shelf life after opening, you and your family don’t like.

How much food is in a #10 can?

A #10 can holds 1 gallon (or 16 cups) of food, including both the food itself and the airspace in the container.

Get your Freeze-Dried Food Primer now!

Click here for everything you need to know to get started using freeze-dried food:

  • What it is and how to use it
  • Which brands are the best quality
  • How to decide what to buy
  • How to save money buying freeze-dried food

Click here to get your FREE freeze-dried food primer!

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right can size for your food storage needs is all about finding the balance between bulk and practicality. #10 cans are great for staples and frequently used items, offering long-term storage and cost-efficiency. However, for smaller households, less frequently used foods, or those susceptible to spoilage, #2.5 cans are the way to go. Remember, it’s better to have a smaller amount of food you’ll use entirely than a large quantity that goes to waste! By understanding the capacities of #10 and #2.5 cans, you can create a food storage plan that’s both sustainable and minimizes waste, ensuring your family has the provisions they need for any situation.

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