Pantry Pests- Moths and Beetles
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The holidays can bring a bounty of baked goods and savory treats, and leave you with a variety of odd ingredients. People come and go from your home, bringing you food from all over; it can be overwhelming. The holiday guests you are bound to not welcome are those raiding your pantry. It is unsettling to measure out flour to see worm-like grubs or caterpillars wriggling in your mixing bowl. Rest assured, this is generally due to bringing in food that is already infested, but here’s what else to look out for and what you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting a pantry pest.
Signs of Pantry Pests
There are several species of moths and beetles that are notorious pantry insect pests. Each species has its own preference for light and temperature, and what it likes to eat. Some prefer damaged grains, like corn, rice and wheat germ, and some prefer oily foods like chocolate and nuts. There are even some that can infest crackers, spices, pastas, hair, potatoes, dried food, pet food, pharmaceuticals, and rodent poison. You may notice webbing, an odd or unpleasant smell when you open the package, and/or adult moths or beetles congregating around windows or lights in the afternoon or evening.
Conditions of Pantry Pests
The presence of pantry insect pests is not necessarily a commentary on how clean your pantry is. Sometimes food you purchase can already be contaminated, but you only see it when you get home or after a couple weeks or months, because it takes time for eggs to hatch and larvae to start feeding. Most manufacturers have practices in place to control these insects, and GAP certification usually entails standard operating procedures to protect consumers from infested foods. Each species prefers different food sources, temperature and humidity conditions, so if you have contaminated food and ideal environmental conditions in your pantry or food storage place, you can inadvertently help the insect grow.
How to Prevent Pantry Pests
It is important to keep your pantry clean of old food, and vacuumed and clean of crumbs and food debris. Insect pests can get a foothold in small cracks and crevices where crumbs gather. The recommendation is to try to eat food within two to four months of purchase, even if they are shelf stable. If you are trying to store for longer periods of time, consider storing your flours and grains in your refrigerator or freezer. Repackage flours purchased in paper bags in sealed containers. Make sure food packages are properly sealed. Most insect pantry pests are incredibly small and adept at getting between incomplete seals. Inspect food occasionally, to make sure you do not see any webbing, insect skeletons, or odd smells. Observe if you see moths or beetles around the pantry area, and bring them into your local Cooperative Extension Service for identification.
Pantry pests have similar tastes to us, so don’t let the holidays be the time you discover an unwanted pantry pest. Be vigilant and practice sound integrated pest (and pollinator) management in your own home. And remember, N.C. Cooperative Extension can help you identify these pests, if you think you have an infestation!
Amanda Wilkins is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.