Holiday baking season is underway, which means plenty of houses will be full of breads, cookies, pies, and other tasty treats. Your family members aren’t the only ones who find these goodies delicious, so watch out for every baker’s worst enemy - pantry pests.
What are Pantry Pests?
Pantry pests, which include ants, earwigs, weevils, pillbugs, Indian meal moths, and merchant grain beetles, like to infest almost all major baking ingredients. Some of their favorites are flour, dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate, but some pests will also target cake mixes, grains, seeds, dog food, and candy. All four stages of beetle and moth development (egg, larva, pupa, and adult) may be present in the food, though eggs are rarely seen because of their small size. Most people don’t notice the infestation until the insects have reached the adult stage, though most damage is actually done while they are in the larval stage.
Most Common Pantry Pests
The Indian meal moth is the most commonly encountered external feeder and the most common pantry pest in homes. This moth is easily recognized by its two-toned forewings that are tan on the front third and reddish-copper on the back two-thirds. If disturbed, adults fly in a very irregular zigzag pattern. The larvae feed upon a wide variety of foods, including seasonal favorites like chocolate, dried fruits, crackers, nuts, and just about any other dried foods we line our tables and shelves with during the holidays.
Sawtoothed grain beetles, and its nearly identical cousin the Merchant grain beetle, are tiny brown beetles that have saw-like projections on either side of the thorax. They tend to feed on fine pieces of damaged or milled grain products. This pest can be a real menace to your holiday food; they feed upon a wide variety of our festive goodies, including dried fruits and meats, sugar, chocolate, various nuts, seeds, and items of similar character. Their small size permits them easier access into packaged food items and allows them to squeeze into the smallest cracks and crevices going unnoticed for long periods, leaving ample time to build up large populations in a short span.
In the flour beetle family, the red and confused are the most commonly encountered. These two reddish colored beetles are frequent scavengers of flour and grain meals which we commonly use to make our favorite seasonal cakes and pastries, as well as spices, dried fruits, and cereal products. They can easily penetrate into sealed food because of their small size.
Where do they come from?
While some pantry pests enter a house through cracks and crevices like other pests, it is much more likely that the original infestation took place at the food processing plant, storage facility, delivery vehicle, or retail sore. Because of this, inspecting baking ingredients before storing them is extremely important! Additionally, because a few eggs can be hard to catch, products that aren’t used very frequently should still be inspected on a regular basis.
What can I do about them?
Pantry pests can infest an area in a very short period of time, and can become a major nuisance very quickly. Here are some ways to avoid having your holiday baking season ruined by these pests:
- Plan ahead and buy sealed glass or plastic containers to store your final results and their ingredients.
- Inspect all the ingredients you will be using, both at your house and at the grocery store. Signs of infestation include visible pests and damaged packaging.
- Check all expiration dates on ingredients before adding them to a recipe.
- Store finished baked goods and ingredients properly. Use glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.
- Add a bay leaf to canisters of dry goods before you put them back in the pantry or cabinet. The herb’s strong smell is a repellent for many pantry pests.
- Clean up all crumbs and spills from counters, floors, pantry shelves, cabinets, and sinks as soon as you are done.
- Dispose of garbage in sealed receptacle and take outside in a timely manner.
- Since baking ingredients will be out of the cabinets, take the opportunity to vacuum and wipe down the interiors with soap and water.
Check out our pest ID for more information on individual pests, and if there is any sign of an infestation present in your pantry, cabinets, or anywhere else in the house, please don’t hesitate to call 262-797-4160 or contact us online!