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Extension > Food > Food Safety > Preserving and Preparing > Storage > Insect Pests of Stored Foods

Storage

Insect Pests of Stored Foods

By Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

Revised 2014 by author.

English | Spanish

It is a very common problem for insects to get into dried food that is stored in the home. These insects are often called "pantry pests." They ruin more food than they eat, since most people will not eat food once they find insects in it. Pantry pests are often found when they leave the food they have invaded to crawl or fly around the home. They often collect in pots, pans, or dishes, or on windowsills. Fortunately, these kinds of insects do not bite or sting people or pets. They do not damage the home structure or eat wood.

What do these insects eat?

These insects eat almost any kind of dried food. Here are some examples:

Grains

  • flour
  • cake mix
  • cornmeal
  • rice
  • spaghetti
  • crackers
  • cookies

Seeds

  • dried beans
  • popcorn
  • ornamental corn and seed
  • garden seeds
  • bird seed

Other

  • spices
  • powdered milk
  • chocolate
  • dried plant displays
  • potpourri
  • rodent baits
  • dry pet food

Where do these insects come from?

A stored food product can become infested anywhere during the process from production until it arrives in your home. However, stored food is most likely to become infested in stores or in homes. Though insects can get into food of any age, the longer it is stored, the more likely it is that insects will get in it.

Pantry pests are most likely to appear in opened packages of food. But they can break through unopened paper, thin cardboard, plastic, foil, or cellophane. Once they are in your food, these insects can begin to multiply and spread to other dried food. These insects may also begin to feed on bits of food in the corners, cracks, or crevices of your cupboard.

How can I keep insects from getting into my dried food?

  1. Buy dried food in small quantities so it does not sit on the shelf too long.
  2. Look carefully before you buy food in packages or bulk quantity. Make sure packages are sealed and that there are no holes in the packaging or wrapping. Do not buy any food past the freshness date stamped on the package.
  3. Keep food, especially food that takes longer to use, in tightly closed glass, metal, or heavy plastic containers with tight lids.
  4. You can also refrigerate any food that is likely to get insects in it.
  5. Wipe up crumbs and spilled food to keep food storage areas clean.

If I find insects in my food, how do I get them out?

  1. Throw away all food that has insects in it.
  2. Empty and thoroughly clean cabinets, especially cracks and corners, with a vacuum cleaner.
  3. As a precaution, store susceptible food in glass, metal, or heavy plastic containers with tight lids or in the refrigerator or freezer.

Please note that these methods will not work to get insects out

  1. Leaving bay leaves or sticks of spearmint gum in your cupboards. These will not keep insects away.
  2. Using insecticide sprays in cupboards. Spraying insects that you see crawling on counters or in cupboards does not prevent more from coming from infested food. You cannot spray food that has insects in it because you will poison the food. Only throwing away food that is infested will work.
  3. Washing cupboards with detergent, bleach, ammonia, or disinfectants. You must throw out infested food to get rid of the insects.
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