Agri Leader

Watch out for pantry pests

Florida is home to a variety of pests, both indoors and out. While some pests are easy to control, others are harder to locate and eradicate.

Pantry pests are common in Florida and this is the time of year many people find them lurking inside their cupboards and on countertops. Here are a few tips if you find these tiny insects inside your home.

No one wants to have an indoor pest problem, especially those that live in the kitchen around food. Pantry pests are typically found in areas where dried food and grain are stored. Since our winter temperatures are typically mild, these pests can have many generations every year. The result can be hundreds of tiny bugs crawling in your oatmeal, cereal and flour.

The University of Florida, IFAS Extension, lists the most common pantry pests in our area as drug store beetles, cigarette beetles, granary beetles, saw-tooth grain beetles, grain moths, spider beetles, mealworms, flat-grain beetles, bean weevils, sweet potato weevils, flour moths and warehouse beetles. These pests generally attack food in a similar fashion and the control methods are the same for most pantry pest species.

So how do Florida homeowners end up with pantry pests? Most likely they came into your home inside packages of food which were infested at the grocery store or warehouse. You might see tiny moths flying near lights inside your home at night or they may be crawling on containers of food in your pantry.

When searching for signs of infestations, look inside your cabinets, especially around the edges and in the corners. Look through packages of food for webbing or maggots, even if the package has never been opened. Tiny pantry pests can invade even sealed foods.

Crackers, rice, grains, cereals and flour are favorite places for these types of insects. Pet food, spices, bird seed and powdered milk may also be a food source for pantry pests. Even wreaths or flower arrangements made with tiny bits of dried fruit and flowers can be infested. Spilled food behind your microwave or inside your pantry will also draw insects.

Getting rid of pantry pests can be a time consuming and costly process. However, it must be done to prevent a more serious infestation. You should remove all infested food items first, including pet food. If there is any doubt, throw it out.

Once this is done, you should remove all shelf liners and wipe the surfaces with warm, soapy water so no food bits are left. Meal moth larvae and other insects can hide in tiny cracks and crevices, so be sure to vacuum the area thoroughly. Tiny pin holes, inside wire shelves and the edges of walls and baseboards should be cleaned and vacuumed, as well.

There are aerosol sprays that are designed to kill pantry pests, but these should be used with care anywhere you store food. Allow any area treated with an aerosol insecticide to dry thoroughly before placing food back on the shelves or inside cupboards. In addition to food items, you may want to throw away old books and magazines to keep silverfish at bay.

An infestation of these types of food pests is common and not a reflection of the cleanliness of your home. Most pantry pests are brought into homes in foods that were infested prior to purchase.

Heavy infestations may be difficult to control and may require a professional exterminator. Some infestations require multiple treatments throughout the year for continued control. However, most residential household infestations can be controlled with regular monitoring of stored foods and inspection of packaged foods before placing them inside your pantry.