Don’t Let Pantry Pests Spoil Your Holiday Cooking!

San Antonio Express News
Gardening, ETC
Sunday, October 19, 2003

By Nathan Riggs

As autumn progresses and the holidays approach, many folks will be stocking their pantries with baking goods and supplies. Flour, cornmeal, sugar, spices and boxed items are the many things occupying pantries and awaiting their conversion into tasty confections and concoctions. With these items comes the possibility of infestation by insects and other pests. This week’s article from the Bexar County Extension office will give some tips about protecting your food from the common pests found in and around San Antonio.

Insects are present everywhere on earth except the north and south poles. Therefore, it is no surprise that they would be present in a place like a food pantry or storage area. Sometimes, these insects can infest food in warehouses before they reach the grocery store and don’t make themselves known until they reach the home.

Some of the more common pantry pests can include beetles, weevils, moths and ants. The most common food-infesting beetles include drugstore beetles, confused flour beetles and red flour beetles. These tiny beetles prefer flour, cornmeal, boxed mixes, dry pasta and dry cereals. They can bore through paper or cardboard packaging to enter or exit the food source. These perfectly round holes are approximately the size of a pencil lead. Once infested, these foods should be thrown out to get rid of developing beetles. While most homeowners would call these types of beetles “weevils,” there is only one true weevil that infests stored foods: the rice weevil.

Rice weevils are tiny black beetles with a short snout. Rice weevils love to infest whole grain foods as well as cornmeal and flour. Again, discarding the infested food item will go a long way to reducing this pest.

A couple of moths even call our pantries home. The Indian Meal Moth is small (1/4″ long) and has wings that are ½ gray and ½ tan. They prefer nuts, pasta, birdseeds and dry pet feed on their menu. Food infested with moths will contain webbing and small caterpillars. Once ready to become moths, the caterpillars will leave their feeding area and spin a cocoon in a hidden location such as a crack or under other food packages. Removing infested items will help with this problem, but there are also moth traps available for purchase at grocery stores, WalMart and on the Internet.

The other common moth is the Angoumois grain moth (AHN goom wah) which commonly infests popcorn, Indian corn decorations, and seeds in dried flower arrangement.

Some pantries also get visited by ants on occasion. Frequently, these ants are sugar ants, sometimes called pharoah ants. Sugar ants frequently infest peanut butter, sugary cereals and sometimes jams or jellies that are not properly sealed. Because sugar ants don’t spoil the foods they infest, a little bit of housecleaning can make the food edible. For dry cereals, place the infested cereal into a large container and freeze it for 48 hours. After 48 hours, remove the container from the freezer, tap it a few times and gently pour the cereal into another container, leaving the dead ants and cereal crumbs in the bottom to be discarded. Another means for controlling ants in the pantry is using ant baits. The best trap on the market at the moment is Raid’s Double Control Ant Bait. It contains protein and sweet foods that the ants really seem to like.

Other strategies for controlling these pests include storing flour, cereals, cornmeal and nuts in tightly sealed containers. Some homeowners store these items in their freezer. Check items at the store before you buy them to make sure there are no signs of infestation. Consider using small sticky traps in the rear of the pantry to trap unwelcome critters before they have an opportunity to move in. Many of the home pest control sprays available over the counter have pantry approvals. Remove all items, lightly spray the shelves, along the corners and edges of shelves and replace your items after the spray has dried. These materials have very low odor and smaller amounts of active ingredient.

There are many solutions to pantry pest problems, some of which weren’t mentioned in this particular article. We hope that whatever option you choose or use works for you and provides the peace of mind that comes with knowing that the food is pest-free. For more information on controlling pantry pests in the home, send a self addressed stamped envelope to “Pantry Pests” – 3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 212, San Antonio TX 78230.

Nathan Riggs is an entomologist and Extension Agent-IPM with Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County. For more information call (210) 467-6575.


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