Pantry moths may seem harmless, but they are not! And we are no stranger to them in the Lowcountry. Pantry moths are troublesome, hard-to-control pests that chew through food packaging and weave webs in your food items. Have you ever brought a bag of rice home from the store and opened it to find what looked like a small insect? That most likely was a pantry moth. The truly bad news about these pests is that they can be very difficult to eradicate, especially if they have completed their life cycle and dispersed throughout your pantry. So what should you do if you have pantry moths in your home? We will get to that. But first, let us discuss what pantry moths are, what attracts them, and what makes them harmful.
Pantry Moths: What are they?
The Pantry moth (P. inerpentella) is one of the several insects known to feed on stored grains and other dried food. They are known by several common names including pantry moth, Indian meal moth, flour moth, weevil moth, and grain moth. This meal moth is very common in the United States, and they stand out from other moths due to their love for stored foods typically found in the cupboard or pantry. Do you now see where they get their common name?
The adult pantry moth is pretty small, measuring only ¼ to 3/8 inch in length with a wingspan of ½ to ¾ inch. Their small size makes them easy to overlook in your kitchen until your storage space is infested by the insects. Pantry moths are grey, brown and tan in color and these pests will literally feed on almost any dry food (include your pet food!). They are known to cause terrible damage to food, spoiling it as it becomes invaded by their larvae.
Pantry Moths: What attracts them?
The easy answer is pantry items. They are most attracted to items like flour, pasta, cereal, grains, bread, spices, and other dried, processed snacks. Although pantry moths are known to enter your home through doors and windows or openings around vents and cables, they almost always gain entry through purchased dry food items that were contaminated at the food processing or packaging plant.
Once pantry moths have made their way into your home, they can easily spread if the affected products are stored in cardboard or thin plastic containers. The larvae are able to eat through these materials and spread to other containers. It is important to note that pantry moths require warm temperatures to breed and thrive. If you do not transfer dry food goods to airtight containers, consider storing them in the freezer to kill or prevent any insects from infiltrating your food.
Pantry Moths: What makes them harmful?
There is good news and bad news surrounding pantry moths:
- Good news: they are not harmful to people or pets!
- Bad news: they are extremely damaging to your pantry food, leading to a lot of contamination and waste.
Pantry moths cause no physical harm to people or pets; they do not bite or sting or cause any seriously health risks. However they contaminate your food and when this occurs all affected food should be immediately discarded. Pantry moths are the definition of nuisance pests!
In addition to contaminating your food and causing unnecessary waste, recovering from an infestation can be very time-consuming and expensive. Carefully inspect all food packaging before purchasing it at your local market and once purchased, store dry good in airtight, glass/hard plastic/tin containers.
3 Ways to get Rid of Pantry Moths
Getting rid of a pantry moth infestation is not hard, but it is very time-consuming and costly. Keep in mind that because these nuisance pests are in food storage areas, the use of pesticides is not an option.
Remove, Inspect, Discard
The first step in fighting a pantry moth infestation is to inspect all food in your pantry. Check for:
- Webs – these may belong to moths and not spiders.
- Larvae – in and on food packaging.
Although grain-based products such as flour, pasta, baking mixes, and cereal are pantry moth favorites (along with sweets & nuts), do not limit your inspection to these pantry items. Larvae may be tucked into the edges of cans, on spice jars, or even on unopened packages! If you have pets, it is important to check their food too as it is very desirable to pantry moths.
Discard all infested foods that you find and if you find larvae on the outside of cans, wipe them down with undiluted vinegar. This will kill the larvae quickly. Dispose of infested items in your outdoor trash can. Do not discard of them in your kitchen trash can as this will do nothing but spread the problem!
Change Storage Methods
An easy way to kill pantry moths is cold temperatures! A surefire way to kill current pantry moths and prevent future breeding is to store as many grain and nut products as you can in your fridge or freezer. Keeping these food items out of your pantry will in turn keep pantry moths out. Another suggestion is to store new groceries in a different spot or at least a good distance from your pantry or dry goods cupboard. Both of these can be temporary solutions or permanent strategies, depending on the amount of space you have in cold storage appliances. At a minimum, do this until you have had a chance to monitor the affected pantry to ensure the problem is completely eliminated.
A permanent solution to prevent pantry moths from breeding is to transfer your grains and other dry food products in to mason jars, tins, or other air tight-sealing containers. By doing this, if you inadvertently bring contaminated food home from the market that contains larvae, the moths will not be able to eat through the jar when they hatch. Because of this you will only have that one single jar of food contaminated that will need to be disposed of. This solution is both good for your family and good for the environment!
By everything, we mean absolutely everything! Give your pantry or dry goods storage cupboard the most thorough cleaning of our life! Use the following cleaning checklist:
- Shelf liners: Pull out all of them and either wash or replace.
- Vacuum the shelves, paying special attention to the corners, undersides, shelf brackets, and mounting hardware.
- Vacuum the walls of the pantry/cupboard, baseboards, trim, floor, ceiling, and door (including the inside edge, hinges and knob).
- Wipe down all pantry shelves with hot soapy water or vinegar
- Mop the floor
When you are finished with this intense clean up, remove the vacuum bag outside and dispose of it in your outside trashcan. If you use a bagless vacuum or dust buster, wash out the dust compartment thoroughly so that you do not harbor moth larvae inside the filter.