Pesky Pests in the Pantry

— Written By Jeannie Leonard
en Español / em Português

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A sure way to ruin an appetite and dampen the enthusiasm of any cook is to open a box or bag from the pantry and find insects. A number of pests find their way into items stored in the kitchen or pantry shelves, and it is often difficult to tell when the item became infested. Just because a box looks sealed does not mean that insects have not found their way to the products inside. Contamination can occur during storage in a warehouse, at the retail store, or even in your home. Sometimes, pests show up in places other than a pantry. Regardless of when the insects are discovered, the key to solving the problem is to locate the source of the infestation. Insects will often attack any item made of plant material.

The following are some signs of pests in the pantry:

  • The emergence of holes in grain products.
  • Fine sawdust in a bag or on a surface.
  • Adult beetles crawling on nearby surfaces or adult moths flying about.
  • Larvae or adults on the infested material.
  • Larvae or webbing on the surface of infested material.
  • Larvae or pupae spun into crevices along walls, ceilings, or cupboards.

It is often easier to prevent pests from entering your home than it is to get rid of them, once they have become established inside. Seal as many cracks as possible to keep pests out, or if they do get inside, make it harder for them to locate hiding places. A tight seal on the bottom of exterior doors will help exclude certain cockroaches and other outdoor crawling pests. Keep your yard clean, grass moved, and shrubs trimmed. Be sure to store food in tightly closed containers. Don’t leave open garbage in the kitchen overnight but place it daily in a tight outdoor container for proper disposal at least weekly. Examine your newly purchased goods for hitchhiking pests. Bring your groceries home in bags, not in cardboard boxes, which are more likely to contain hidden pests such as cockroaches. To keep pantry pests from developing, always freeze all foods that are prone to develop bugs for two or three days. Any larva in the container will be killed and the food can then be safely stored in air-tight containers. Example of products that often develop bugs includes flour, rice, cornmeal, pasta, poppy seed, and hot spices such as red pepper and paprika. Placing two or three bay leaves in the storage containers will help repel bugs.

The most obvious place to start looking for insects is usually in your kitchen or pantry cabinets, but don’t forget other cabinets and drawers in these areas. You also need to look for items that may have spilled under or behind furniture or appliances, such as your stove, refrigerator, or dishwasher. Remember that these pests are mobile either by flying or crawling, so don’t assume that where you see insects now is necessarily the source of the problem. If you don’t find the source of the pest immediately, then look in other areas such as rooms other than the kitchen where food is consumed; utility room; attic, basement, crawlspace, chimney, and attached garage or storage areas. Check items in storage and be on the lookout for bird or rodent nests. Nests containing seeds or plant debris may attract pests.

If the source of the infestation is difficult to identify, try using pheromone traps which contain chemicals that attract the insects. However, because moths are usually very mobile, simply finding moths in an area does not guarantee that the source is nearby. However, areas, where insect numbers are greatest, are typically near the source.

Discard infested materials. Items that do not appear to be infested but have the potential to contain eggs that have not yet hatched can be placed in a freezer for 4 to 5 days to destroy eggs. Thoroughly clean storage areas, particularly the corners and edges of shelves. Store items not infested in tightly sealed containers or in the refrigerator. Practice “First In – First Out”, always finishing the oldest items before opening new packages. Pesticide application in storage areas is not necessary if you clean the area thoroughly.

mealworms in grain, pantry beetles in white flour

Various pantry pests you find in a kitchen.