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Master Gardeners: Pests in the Pantry

Adapted from Texas Gardener’s Seeds by Sheri Bethard, Orange County Master Gardeners

Original by Paul Schattenberg, Texas AgriLife Extension Service

We are going to look in the deep recesses of your pantry and see what pests might have snuck in from the store.

According to Molly Keck, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist, pantry pests are insects feeding on stored food items. Some of the common pantry pests include ants, weevils, and flour beetles. These insects are harmless to humans, and there is little to no likelihood of anyone becoming ill if one of these interlopers is accidentally consumed.

The ‘gross factor’ is the worst thing of having them in your food, then having to throw out the infested food and cost to replace it. And, of course, there’s the time and trouble it takes getting rid of them.

Usually, the oldest items are infested, but even new dry foods and unopened containers may be also. Some pantry pests can penetrate plastic, waxed paper and even cardboard.

Before buying a pantry item, check to make certain the bag or container is well sealed and undamaged. This way, you don’t inadvertently invite these pests into your home.

Most pantry pest problems can be prevented by using all dried food within 2 – 4 months of purchase. Spices and other products that will be kept for longer should be sealed in airtight containers.

Ants in your “pant”ry
Probably the most encountered pantry pest is the sugar or pharaoh ants. They should never be sprayed, or they will disburse and bud into multiple colonies.

The most effective way to treat them is to using ant bait. With baits, ants think its food and take the toxin back to their hiding place and shares with other ants. This way, they do the work of killing the colony. Ant baits or gels are the preferred method of treatment if being applied near food.

If you’re using a spray, be sure to remove food products, utensils and containers from the treatment area. Read and follow all label instructions. And, allow the spray to dry completely before placing clean shelf paper on the shelves and returning items to the pantry.

Weevils wiggle and eat grains
Another well-known pantry pest, the weevil, only feeds on whole grains.

Once these pests have reproduced, it’s easy to notice their presence in your pantry because they appear as small, brown specks in light-colored foods.  You usually find weevils in rice, corn, flour, cereals and pasta, but you can also find them in chocolate, spices and other grain-based products.

Many people mistakenly call any small beetle in their pantry a weevil, but unlike other pantry pests that just eat food, weevils also lay eggs inside the food. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae continue to eat that food until they are fully grown.

Steps to remove weevils from the pantry before calling an exterminator are removing any unsealed dry foods, including containers of flour, rice pasta and cereal. Toss out any infested products as well as any unopened boxes of food containing whole grains, as weevils can live inside cardboard boxes.

Any dried foods not infested with full-grown weevils can be placed in the freezer for four plus days to kill any larvae that may be present. Also, freezing dry foods soon after buying them is always a good preventive measure to ensure there are no live weevils inside.

Once you have removed all infested products, clear the pantry shelves completely, vacuum every shelf and crevice, wipe down the shelves with hot soapy water and let the shelves fully dry before restocking with pantry items.

Beetle grain
Flour beetles and confused beetles are also among the more common pantry pests. The two species are almost identical at about 3/16 inch in length and both have flattened bodies ideal for crawling into cracks and crevices.

For treatment and control, for both species, the practices are the same. Adults and larvae of these species feed on stored food, primarily milled or prepared products, and are perhaps the most common pest of processed flour. In addition to flour, they are found in cereals and other dried foods such as beans, peas, peppers and nuts.

Remove and dispose of any infested food products, remove all food and containers, clean pantry shelves thoroughly with soapy water then let the shelves dry before reapplying shelf paper and/or putting the items back. This is the best approach for managing these pests.

If you do a pantry ‘spring cleaning’ from time to time to remove older items and check to be sure new food items are undamaged and properly sealed, you’re well on your way to controlling any unwelcome pantry pests.

 

For any horticulture questions, please call our hotline at 409 882-7010 Tuesday and Thursdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. or you can email ocmg1990@gmail.com your question.