SO YOU HAVE PANTRY MOTHS
If you are reading this, it is likely because your kitchen and peace of mind have been invaded with a tiny flying nemesis known as the Pantry Moth. By the time you have noticed them, chances are they have already set up shop in your pantry and in your food. If you see one, there are plenty more that you haven’t seen. The good news is that they aren’t poisonous or disease-ridden. Gross as it is, if you have accidentally eaten one, it won’t hurt you. The bad news, however, is that they are notoriously difficult to get rid of.
SOME PANTRY MOTH FACTS
Often called the “flour moth”, the Indian- meal Moth is light brown in color and usually about 8-10 mm in length. They lay eggs and spin silky webs and cocoons where the worms or caterpillars, called waxworms, spend some time until they hatch. The moth larvae are off-white with brown heads. The entire life cycle of this species may take 30 to 300 days. Female moths lay between 60 and 400 eggs on a food surface, which are ordinarily smaller than 0.5 mm and not sticky. The eggs hatch in 2 to 14 days. The larval stage lasts from 2 to 41 weeks, depending on the temperature. They are more active in the summer.
HOW THEY GOT IN
The pantry moth is actually very common. It is likely that the eggs were already in something you bought and have stored long enough for the eggs to mature. There is almost no way to completely avoid buying grains and food products that contain them, but obviously if you see the moths flying around your favorite grocery store, you might want to shop someplace else for awhile. Items you buy in the “bulk” section are a somewhat higher risk, and organic foods are somewhat more likely to contain them as they are not usually bleached and sprayed with chemicals. Pet food and bird seed are often likely culprits as well.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Indian-meal moth larvae can infest a wide range of dry foodstuffs such as flour, cereal, bread, pasta, rice, spices or dried fruits and nut. Honestly, though, these things can literally worm their way into just about anything. I have found them in such strange places as in a Pepto Bismol bottle and at the bottom of drink mix containers. They also can seemingly get through glass and plastic containers, although often this is because the food inside already contained eggs which later hatched. They really can crawl into even the tightest surfaces, though, and any container with a screw top can allow them to crawl up the ridges and into the food inside. They can also eat through plastic bags and cardboard boxes. So once you have seen them, no food in your pantry can be assumed safe. They only need a miniscule spec or crumb of food to survive on.
The worms also find other non-food sources for which to spin their cocoon to pupate (ew!), like in corners, crevices in the wood, or the underside of canned goods and the inside of container lids. Look for not only the adult moth, but also any silky webbing, food particles clumped together, or little “dust balls” waiting to hatch. Once they start reproducing, they can travel to other areas of the home and start the process all over again.
STEPS TO GET RID OF THEM
Now that you are thoroughly disgusted and understand the enemy, it’s time to get started. There is a lot of work to do, and sadly, there’s no shortcut. This is war. You need to begin by removing every item from your pantry. You will be tempted to avoid this step, but it is crucial. Next, throw out pretty much everything. If you can’t bring yourself to toss hundreds of dollars of food into the trash, there are some alternatives, but be warned, it might not get rid of the problem and you could end up having to toss everything a few weeks later anyways.
First, you can transfer any items that don’t seem affected into the freezer. None of the stages of the organism (eggs, larvae, adults) is very temperature-tolerant and all can be killed by a week of freezing or by brief heating in a microwave or conventional oven when such treatment is practical. Just make sure that your freezer is set to its coldest temperature or the little buggers will merely hibernate.
Next, if you want to keep some items like canned goods and spices, you must inspect each one and then wash them in hot soapy water. Check everything, like inside the spice bottle lids and behind the canned good labels. Do this for every single thing that will be returning to your cupboard. Nothing is safe. Check baskets, shelf liners, cookbooks and recipe boxes. Trust me, you only want to do this once, so do it right.
Now you need to clean the pantry like you have never cleaned before. Cancel your plans for the rest of the weekend. Remove any loose shelf liner, and wash down ALL surfaces with hot soapy water or Aunt Norma’s Pantry Moth Spray. The benefit of using the spray is that you can do two steps in one and the results will last longer. The spray contains soaping agents as well as essential oils and other moth and insect repellents that will not only kill the eggs and larvae but deter the adult moths from returning to lay more eggs and start the whole process over again.
If using the spray, make sure to liberally coat all areas. Use the far-reaching trigger to get into areas like door hinges (a favorite place for moths to cocoon), ceilings, holes, corners and spaces or gaps where the panels don’t completely meet. It is best to wear gloves and a mask for this. Keep a sponge and a bucket of hot water nearby, and wash down all surfaces. Allow to dry before returning any food to the pantry.
At this stage, hopefully you have killed all the existing eggs and larvae, but you are probably going to still see some adult moths flying around over thenext few days to weeks. They bugged out when the cleaning started or were hiding in another part of the home. They won’t want to return to the pantry. After all, there’s no food for them anymore and they HATE the smell that the spray has left behind, but they are desperately looking for a place to mate and lay eggs.
Collect your family members and anyone living in the house and instruct them to hunt and kill any adult moths they see. If you have issues about bug-killing or karma, you’re going to need to get over it…quickly. You have a small window of opportunity to kill these remaining menaces or you will be back to square one before you know it. If you need some motivation, keep in mind that these creatures are not nice. They are actually carnivorous and will even eat each other. They also will try to attack you when you are swatting them. Don’t be fooled, they are not cute and they are not your friends.
You can also discourage re-infestation by leaving Pantry Moth essential oil diffusers in the corners of your cabinet or by frequently touching up with the spray. The moths hate this stuff. Keep all foods in airtight, preferably glass, containers, and store whatever you can in the freezer. You can set out some Pantry Moth Traps to kill any adults that you either missed or any that have hatched since you cleaned. This is a pheromone trap that lures the males and can be a good alternative to spending all of your free time moth-hunting. Good luck!