Thanksgiving is the start of a joyful time of the year when homes fill with delicious smells of holiday cooking and the sound of laughter among family and friends. Unfortunately, pests can stealthily become uninvited guests to your holiday events, creeping out of your cupboards and pantry, spoiling the day. These critters are often referred to as “pantry pests” and include moths and beetles – all of which can be attracted to food stored in the kitchen.
Learn more about common pantry bugs and how you can help keep them from making a meal out of your food.
What Causes Pantry Bugs?
Pantry bugs usually feed on starchy items — think of the ingredients you use in baking. Flour, cereals, spaghetti and crackers are all popular items, but they'll also eat things like dried beans, popcorn, nuts, chocolate, raisins and dried fruit, spices, powered milk and even tea.
Some of these pests find their way into opened items, and others can chew through packaging like paper, cardboard, plastic and foil. Some packaging is easier for insects to enter than others because it may not have seals or it may have small holes designed into the package. However, they can infest items in the store, even before they make it to your house. So if any of their preferred foods are on your grocery list, it's best to inspect them before purchase or use.
Most household pantry pest infestations stem from products that have been in a home for a long period of time. It's beneficial to utilize the "first in, first out" concept and only purchase what you can use within a year or two to reduce the chance of infestations.
Types of Pantry Bugs
There are a few common types of insects that you might find in your pantry. Some of these include:
These pests, including Indian meal moths (one of the most common pantry bugs found in a home), like pet food, cereal, rice, grains and other dry items. Signs of a pantry moth infestation include webbing around packages and small clumps of food caused by their webs. You may also see the adult moths flying around.
Weevils are in the beetle family. They are small, black and brown insects that are easily identifiable by their long snouts. They like to feed on whole kernel barley, rice, wheat, soy beans, pasta and corn. Food that is infested by weevils may become sticky. Female weevils lay eggs on the surface of the stored product, and then the larvae chews its way inside where it continues to feed inside the stored product, pupates and then emerges as an adult.
As the name implies, drugstore beetles are commonly found in drugstores and pharmacies. They are brown, oval-shaped flying pests that often infiltrate packaging to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae begin to feed on items like medications and spices.
Flour beetles are small, usually reddish-brown pests that feed on processed food like flour, cereal, corn meal, bran, rolled oats and pasta.
Merchant grain beetles
Grain beetles are small insects are found in processed grains, oats and seeds, and they prefer foods high in oils or fats, like birdseed and peanuts. Because they are small, they can easily get into food through tiny openings, and their strong mouthparts allow them to chew through packaging. Grain beetles are not that common.
Are Pantry Bugs Harmful if Eaten?
While finding bugs in your pantry is certainly unsettling, the good news is that they're relatively harmless. They do spoil food, so you should throw away anything that has been contaminated. However, according to Texas A&M University, generally, there is little to no risk of becoming ill if a pantry bug is accidentally consumed. It's more a matter of inconvenience in dealing with the time and cost to replace spoiled food.
If the food infested by pantry bugs is not thrown away, the insects will move toward other food items and continue to feed and develop.
Does Vinegar Kill Pantry Bugs?
Some websites and DIY blogs may recommend a vinegar and water solution as a method for dealing with pantry bugs. In truth, this is actually more effective for cleaning your cabinets after removing the pests than actually killing them. And when it comes to getting rid of the insects themselves, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
How to Get Rid of Pantry Bugs
The best way to get rid of pantry bugs is to help keep them from finding their way into your food in the first place. Follow these tips:
- Check new packages for signs of infestation or damage before purchasing.
- Store your food in airtight glass or plastic containers. Use up your items before they expire.
- Keep your pantry organized and deep clean it regularly. Throw away any contaminated food.
- Freeze stored food products that you don't plan to use for a while.
Of course, if you do find an infestation, it's best to call in the professionals. The pest control specialists at Terminix® can help get the infestation under control and kick pantry bugs to the curb. Contact us today to find out if the pantry bugs that you're dealing with are covered by a plan with Terminix.