Practical Pest Preventive Practices for the Pantry

While people hate to find insects in their pantry, managing them should begin long before the pest is found. Pests in the pantry often mean that there are one or more stored food items that have become infested and, left unattended, the infestation may spread to other stored food items. When it comes to pest problems in the home, the kitchen can be a hot spot as there are three requirements for pests: food, water, and places to hide (shelter).

Common pests in the kitchen and pantry include meal moths, carpet beetles, drugstore beetles and other grain beetles, cockroaches, fruit flies, and drain flies. While you may not  pay much attention to these pests when you haven’t seen them, cleanup and control can be costly, time consuming, and emotionally taxing when you do find them.  This article focuses on pests of food products and their prevention in the pantry.

Common Pantry Pests

Figure 1. The distinctive 1/2-inch long Indian meal moth is easily recognized by the pale gray and coppery brown front wings (Photo: Ric Bessin, UK)

Indian Meal Moth

One of the most common pantry pests that is submitted for identification is the Indian meal moth. The dirty white to pink larval stage is a caterpillar that crawls away from infested products to find a place in which to transform to the adult. The caterpillars feed on the surface and produce silk webbing throughout the food source.

Flour & Grain Beetles

Figure 2. Drugstore beetle infests items in the pantry, as well as leather, wool, books and museum items. (Photo: Ric Bessin, UK)

There are several species of flour and grain beetles that attack dried grain products, dog food, and bird feed. Two of the more common are the cigarette and drugstore beetles, which attack almost any household food, spice, and leather articles. Cigarette beetle is most commonly found in dried dog food and paprika. Drugstore beetle is often in bread, flour, meal, breakfast foods, and spices like red pepper. Adults of both species can fly and are attracted to light. Drugstore beetle can also penetrate some types of packaging materials.

Responding to an Infestation

One of the first steps is to recognize which foods in the pantry are likely to become infested. Opened and partially used packages containing nuts, dried fruit, seeds, and grains are some of the most likely to become infested. Some of the earliest signs of infestation are small beetles crawling across the counter or shelf, or a small moth flying around in the kitchen or in a cupboard.  As infestations develop, larvae may be seen wandering on countertops or walls in search of places to pupate.

At this stage the work begins to identify everything that has been colonized and must be thrown out. This includes all stored food items that are not in cans, jars, and sealable plastic containers, including pet and bird foods. While pests more easily can get into opened packages, many store-bought cardboard and thin plastic containers and packaging are not pest-proof. Shelves and counters must be thoroughly cleaned, including cracks and crevices that collect food for these pests. It is better to do a very thorough job one time than to have to repeat a hasty inspection and cleanup. Spills need to be thoroughly cleaned up quickly.

Preventing New Infestations

The strategy to keep pests out of your stored food products is exclusion. By placing individual stored food items into sealable storage containers you can keep them out of these foods, or if they do get in you can keep them from spreading to other foods in the pantry. Glass and plastic containers with tight-fitting lids help to mechanically keep the pests out. Good sanitation and proper storage are the long-term practices to keep pests out of your stored food products.

By Ric Bessin, Entomology Extension Specialist

Posted in Household Pests
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