Get Rid of Small Pantry Pests

Packaged foods are very attractive to many pantry pests. These unwelcome guests can even be found in a home that is spotless. They can crawl through cracks, fly through open windows or enter the home by hiding in a bag of groceries.

Grain and flour beetles are slender, flat, brown bugs about one-tenth inch long. They eat foods that come from grains such as flour, cornmeal and breakfast foods. They also like dog and cat food, nuts, candies and dried fruit.

These pests will multiply fast. You may see them in great numbers. When a container is opened, they will move quickly away from the light.

Indian meal moths are about 3/8-inch long with a 3/4-inch wingspan. These brownish moths have a gray band at the base of the wings and reddish or copper markings on the outer part of the wings.

Adult females lay their eggs in or near dried food. The eggs hatch into dirty-white larvae (worms) with dark heads. Indian meal moth larvae eat the same grain foods that grain beetles eat. They also like rice, bird seed, pasta, cake mixes, granola, and dried flower arrangements.

The larvae spin thin webs over the surface of food. When full-grown, the larvae crawl across walls and ceilings to hide in cracks and crevices. Moths come out a few days later.

Many other kinds of beetles and moths eat stored foods. You may find these little bugs in packages of food in the cupboard. Cracks and corners of cabinets, especially where we spill food, is another favorite hiding place. They multiply rapidly!

Getting rid of pantry pests is not hard, but it does take time.

Get Rid of the Bugs

Clean well and store food properly to get rid of pests. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean shelves and to remove spilled food and insects. Clean cracks and corners well. Put the vacuum bag in a tightly closed container before throwing it away. This will keep the insects from coming back into your home.

Freezing can kill many bugs. Freeze food at zero degrees for three to four days. In cold weather, food can be placed outside in an air tight container. A kettle type grill will keep food safe from animals.

Some garden catalogues sell sticky traps to catch Indian meal moths. Pick up Indian meal moth worms on a cloth and drop them in water to kill them.

Keep Bugs Out

  • Don't buy more grain products than you can use in a short time.

  • Look at food from each food package under a bright light.

  • Get rid of packages that have insect webs or insect pieces.

  • Place the good food in air tight glass, plastic or metal containers, or in the refrigerator.

  • Do not buy opened or crushed packages. They may already have insects or be easy for insects to get in.

  • Clean up any spills in cabinets right away.

  • Clean food storage areas well, at least once a year.
Getting rid of pests is not hard, but it does take time. You must also take care not to bring new pests into your home.

Prepared by Barbara Dahl, Consumer and Family Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

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