Thursday, April 2, 2015

Preventing Pantry Pests

Most of us at one point or another, will unknowingly bring pantry pests into the home. The term 'stored food pests' is used for a wide variety of insects including weevils, beetles and moths. These unwelcome guests can even be found in a home that is spotless.

The first indication of infestation is often the presence of small brown beetles, moths or worms in cupboards or on counter tops. Upon closer inspection, insects may also be found in opened packages or containers of food and in the cracks and crevices of cupboards. Initially, infestations are easy to overlook because the insects are quite small especially in the egg and larval stage. Infestations can start with just a few insects but a population can quickly surge if given the proper food source and a place to reproduce. Commonly infested foods include; flour, cereal, pasta, rice, baking mixes, whole or cracked grains, dried fruit, nuts, candy, crackers, popcorn, spices and sometimes beans and chocolate. Other items around the home that may become infested are; pet food, birdseed and dried flowers. Pantry pests can thrive in unopened boxes or pouches and a sealed box is no guarantee of confinement because the insects can chew through paper, cardboard, plastic and foil. These pests can remain active all year because our homes are heated through the winter months.

By the time insects are noticed they have most likely spread to other food packages. Other than the insects themselves, other telltale signs include webbing in tight places of a package or tiny holes in the container.  
One of my kitchen pantry drawers
In general, sanitation will eliminate pests and prevent further infestations. Most situations are controlled by isolating and removing all infested food from your home and regularly vacuuming food storage areas. Washing infested areas with detergent or bleach will only create a food paste in shelving cracks that is favorable to insects. Chemical control is rarely justified since sanitation will provide sufficient control. Never apply insecticides in a manner that allows direct contact with food, food preparation surfaces or utensils. Freezing food for 3-4 days can kill many bugs. As a general practice, storing infrequently used food items in the freezer prevents infestations from developing. Another preventative practice is to place any of the products listed above in the freezer for 4 days as soon as you bring it home, then store in airtight glass, metal or heavy plastic containers.

Prevention and Sanitation ~Following a few general guidelines when storing food products will help you avoid any potential problems;
  -inspect grain-based food immediately after purchase and periodically for insects
  -only buy what food you can use within 2 months
  -store food in insect-proof, airtight glass, plastic or metal containers, this will prevent entry or escape of insects... plastic bags are not adequate
  -don't mix old and new lots of food, if pests are present they will quickly invade the new
  -clean containers before filling with fresh food
  -remember FIFO (first in, first  out) when stocking your pantry
  -clean up any spills in cabinets right away
  -don't purchase broken or damaged packages of food
  -regularly vacuum pantry shelves and areas where food is stored, empty the vacuum to prevent re-infestations
  -clean food storage areas well at least once a year
  -use caulking to seal cupboard or pantry shelving cracks to reduce food particles

Ironically, I was tossing around topics for this week and a few days ago opened the container of short grain brown rice. Now this was purchased about 3 months ago and stored in a heavy plastic, Tupperware container. It was full of rice weevils! At first I was a bit horrified, I have never seen rice weevils 'in person'! It took me a minute to realize there was no way they had gotten into the container, they couldn't get out! Guess I will get back into the habit of freezing all grain products before storing.

Getting rid of pests is not hard, but it does take time if you have not stored your foods properly. You must also take care to not bring new pests into your home. Also, to answer a very common question... it won't hurt you or make anyone sick if you happen to eat some... just added protein!!

For more information and insect identification photos, go to;

Till next week... Bon Appetit!

Photo by Sally Rae

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