Back in December, this column talked about doing our best to prevent an outbreak of any one of several kinds of pantry pests in the home.
Some of what was shared included sealing bulk amounts of dry pet foods, including the birdseed used all winter for outdoor feathered friends, and limiting, whenever possible, the amount of flour for baking during the holidays.
Even with the best attempts, occasionally these pantry pests show up anyway. Identification is a good place to start and, from there, understanding the pest’s life cycle guides us through the removal process.
The most common pantry pests are a moth and a couple kinds of grain beetles. One is easier to spot than the others. The Indian meal moth adult will fly around the pantry or cupboard and circle light fixtures at night, while the beetles do not. The beetles do not stray away from their food source.
Both the moth and the beetles have a complete life cycle: adult, egg, larva (worm) and pupa (cocoon). This plays into your removal and management of these pantry pests. Typically, these pantry pests establish themselves when unused grain products linger in the pantry. The flour used for baking cookies and pies makes its way to the rear of the shelf and there it stays, or that big bag of birdseed sits too long before it gets used.
Once found, a very thorough cleaning of the pantry to remove any infected products is the first step. This is going to be any foodstuff containing flour, regardless of being highly processed or not. Examples include oatmeal, cake and pancake mixes, pasta products and any breakfast cereals. Literally anything that contains flour as an ingredient. All those go in the garbage.
The next step is cleaning the pantry shelves, cracks and crevices. Use the vacuum hose to get into every crack and crevice. Those Indian meal moth larvae crawl away and pupate away from what they eat. Do not forget to vacuum the ceiling area in the pantry, too. Wait to put fresh shelf paper down until you know the pests are completely gone.
Those foodstuffs that are left need to go in tight-sealing containers in case they were contaminated with eggs that had not hatched when they were inspected. If later you find a product with a problem, you are only throwing out that individual product and do not have to inspect the entire pantry again. You also can place unused flour in the refrigerator or freezer until used up.
Be vigilant over the next four to six weeks looking for the flying Indian meal moth, their larvae and the small grain beetles in the remaining products. It is not uncommon to see the moths, but without being able to find a food source to lay their eggs, you will have broken the life cycle. In the future, buy flour-containing products in a quantity that will be used in a month, not long enough for another outbreak to occur.
While it is winter, you can store the big bags of pet food and birdseed in the unheated garage and feed the pets and birds from there. Feed the birds this spring until the bag is empty. Placing the pet food in a tight-sealing tub of your choice is a good idea too, especially during the summer months.
• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Get more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup.