Loaves and Dishes

Wendi Spraker

I just tried to kill a bug with hairspray. I didn’t kill it, but its hair looks outstanding. Bugs, does anyone like them? Personally, I love bugs – I love bugs outside. Not in my house. I bet you are the same as me!

A week ago or so, I skipped on over to one of my local grocery stores. Before you ask, I’m not telling you which one. It could have been any of them. To my surprise, I saw a dead moth on the flour shelf. As I moved a bag of flour out of the way, I discovered a whole flock of moths. They fluttered for a minute and then settled on various flour sacks.

Let me say, before I go any further. I immediately reported this problem to the store manager and the manager immediately took a grocery cart to the flour section and removed the flour from the shelves. I do not know what further remedies may have been taken after that time.

These are pantry moths. They are insidious. Once you have them in your house, they are very hard to get rid of and they will infect any food they can find including small food spills on the shelves of your pantry or kitchen cabinets. The best way to avoid pantry moths is prevention, but if you already have them, I have some solutions for you. If you have seen even one in your home, you have a problem.

Pantry moths are fairly small. The newly hatched moths are about as big around as a pencil eraser when their wings are spread. The full grown moths are about the size of your thumbnail when their wings are spread. When folded up and resting, they look like a light brown triangle or a stick about ½ inch long.

Pantry moths fly in a nonsensical pattern flying up and down or in big loops. This makes it difficult to kill one.

Like butterflies and other moths, pantry moths live a life cycle that includes an egg stage, a worm/caterpillar stage and a moth stage. Most of their life cycle is lived as an egg or worm in food stuffs. They are particularly fond of flour, cornmeal, pastas, etc.

You might be wondering where they live. They like to live in and on the kitchen cabinets. They can get down in the cracks in the cabinet and hang out and have their babies there too. You may notice the little spider web like strings they leave on things.

You might also be wondering how a pantry moth would come into your home. They do not fly in from outside. Nope. You probably carried it in yourself, with your groceries.

The pantry moth that comes home with you might actually start as an egg in the flour you bought. It will turn into a small whitish colored worm. Eventually, like a caterpillar they will make a cocoon. After a time, usually about 30 days, the cocoon will open and the moth will emerge. It will delight in flying around your kitchen and into your face.

I wish getting rid of them was as easy as saying, “Just call an exterminator”. It isn’t. The exterminator I talked to said that because the life cycle is lived out in foodstuffs, there isn’t anything that they can spray to kill the little worms/caterpillars or even the moths.

He said that the information outlined below is the only way to get rid of them.

You might not want to take all of these steps because it is a huge overwhelming job. However, doing this once is better than doing it over and over because you didn’t get rid of all of them all right away the first time.

Remove everything from your kitchen cabinets. Throw away any open box of flour, baking mix, spices, cookies, bread, breading mix, corn meal, etc. (I know, this is expensive and will likely make you cry). The only exception is if it is still sealed from the store – with the exception of flour – if it is flour, just toss it. Even toss it out if you have it in an alternative container with a sealable lid. You can wash the container and keep it.

Use the hose on your vacuum to vacuum every nook and cranny of every cabinet. Every one. Don’t miss a single crevice. Make sure the vacuum the little holes that hold the shelf brackets. If you have liner paper in your cabinets, toss it.

Clean out your vacuum. Throw the bag away and clean out the suction container.

Use a 1:10 bleach solution (using hot water) or use vinegar and wash every surface of every cabinet in your kitchen. Wash the undersides too. Wash the backs and fronts of the cabinet doors. Wash the back walls. Make sure to use good ventilation.

If you have raisers and racks in your cabinets for holding things, remove them and wash them well. Put them in the dishwasher if you can. If you use containers to keep your opened items in, wash those as well. Basically, if it has been in the cabinet, wash it.

Dry everything very well before putting it back in the cabinet.

If you keep bird seed for a pet bird in the house, throw it out. When you buy more to feed your bird – keep it in the freezer. Clean your birdcage as described above for cabinets.

If the birdseed is for the outside wild birds, just keep it somewhere outside and get whatever seed you have in your house outside. Clean the container that it has been kept in very well.

Take the trash outside as soon as you have finished throwing things out.

Once you have followed these steps, you should be free from them. However, you will need to be vigilant to make sure that you don’t get them again. If you see more – repeat the above steps.

That said, prevention is the best cure.

To help prevent moths in your home, start by checking the store for moths. When purchasing any type of flour/cornmeal/etc, check the shelves at the store. Look towards the back of the shelf for flying moths, dead moths and moths resting on the underside of the shelf above. Check several shelves. You might be afraid that you will look like some kind of weirdo moving bags of flour around – but trust me – it’s better to feel like a weirdo than to battle these awful moths.

If you find any evidence of moths, just walk away. Go to another store to buy your flour. Believe me, it is well worth your effort to avoid these buggers.

Buy the more popular brand of flour – it moves off of the shelves quicker and will be less likely to be infested.

When you get the flour home, put it in the freezer for at least 5 days. Keep it in the freezer as its permanent place if you can. Same goes for corn meal or anything like that. I have started putting anything that I bake with in the freezer for at least 5 days.

You might think these measures are extreme. Maybe they are. But you want to get rid of them, right? Well then, you have to get rid of them.

If you are interested in learning more about pantry moths or about seeing photos, please visit my website at www.loavesanddishes.net. As always, feel free to drop me a line on my email at wendi@loavesanddishes.net I would love to chat with you about this and more!


Wendi Spraker