Along with lilac blooms and sunny days, the arrival of spring often means an annual invasion of crawling and flying insects. Many types of common household pests become more active in warm weather and begin to infiltrate homes and buildings, usually in search of food or water. If you find yourself suddenly having to deal with winged or crawling pests in your pantry, you can take comfort in knowing that your spice cabinet may already contain an effective, non-toxic solution for your pantry pest problem.
Pantry Moths and Beetles
Many types of pantry moths and beetles find their way into our homes inside the bags and boxes of grain, flour, pasta and boxed or bagged convenience foods that you purchase at the grocery store. If even a few live insects, eggs or larva are present in these foods, an actual infestation can become a reality in home food storage areas within just a few weeks. Signs of infestation to watch for include:
- minute holes appearing in bags or boxes of food
- the appearance of a light colored or reddish brown dust or residue on and around the packages of stored food
- the appearance of tiny insects, dead or alive, in the pantry area
- the appearance of worms, insect parts or unusual dark specks in foods like cereal, cornmeal and flour
- whole grains or legumes that appear to have been hollowed out from the inside or partially consumed
- the appearance of a fine, cobweb-like material on the surfaces of stored foods, as well as on the packaging or on the walls and shelves of the food storage area
Because many of the foods that are prone to insect infestation are routinely shipped across the country or even around the globe, you may find yourself dealing with an infestation of one of many different types of moths or beetles. However, the Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella) and the confused flour beetle (Tribolium spp) are two of the most common ones found in homes, grocery stores, warehouses and grain milling or storage areas in the United States today.
Giving Pantry Pests the Boot
The first step to ridding your home of a pantry moth or beetle infestation is to remove all infested food products and immediately place them into your outdoor compost area or seal them tightly into garbage bags and dispose of them in an outdoor garbage receptacle. Before restocking with fresh packages of these foods, clean your pantry thoroughly to ensure that no adults, larva or eggs are left alive.
The Spice Factor
Seal all new supplies of flour, grains and other foods in air-tight glass or plastic containers, instead of the original packaging. When preparing the foods for storage in these containers, place a couple of bay leaves from your spice cabinet in the top of each container. The pungent scent of the bay leaves will safely repel the insects, without affecting the taste of the food. For even more repellent power, scatter a few bay leaves directly on the pantry shelves or inside food storage cupboards and bins.
You can also use bay leaves to make a safe, non-toxic insect repellent spray. To do this, make a tea by heating one quart of water to boiling in a ceramic or stainless steel saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in approximately 20 bay leaves, and then let them steep for several hours. Then remove the bay leaves and place the solution into a spray bottle. To use, mist the solution lightly on surfaces where food is stored each week as part of your cleaning routine.
What to do About Major Infestations
If you find that you are dealing with a persistent or very large infestation, eradicating the problem will probably require the assistance of a trusted pest control company. They can help you identify the particular type of pantry moth or beetle you are dealing with, as well as check your home for other types of insect infestations.