baking pies in the kitchen

Keep pantry pests out of your holiday baking

The holiday season has arrived, and with it – a lot of festive baking. To avoid serving freshly baked treats sprinkled with bugs to your family and friends, take a moment to check your baking supplies for signs of bugs. Even new, unused bags of flour, sugar, baking soda, and other products purchased from the store may contain pantry pests. 

In this article, you’ll discover what to look for, how to avoid a pantry pest infestation, and what you can do to preserve ingredients if you happen to find bugs in it.

What are pantry pests?

Pantry pests, which include red flour beetles, Indian meal moths, and merchant grain beetles, like to infest almost all baking ingredients. Some of their favorites are flour, dried fruits, nuts, and chocolates – all staples for holiday baking. Some pantry pests also target cake mixes, grains, seeds, pet food, and candy.

Life cycle of pantry pests

All four growth stages (egg, larva, pupa, and adult) of a pantry pest’s development may be present in food. Both adults and larvae are capable of chewing through stored food packages, and depending on the species, you may notice small holes in the packaging. Otherwise, pests may crawl in through seams, or other packaging imperfections, to lay their eggs.

For example, very young larvae of the more common pantry pests, such as Indian meal moths, confused flour beetles, and sawtoothed grain beetles only require a gap of .01 millimeters, or .004 inches, to get through. Once they’ve hatched, the larvae will begin to feed on the product where they were laid, which is when the most damage occurs.

women baking together

Common pantry pests identified

The Indian meal moth is the most common pantry pest found in homes. Often seen flying around your kitchen, it is easily recognized by its two-toned forewings (tan on the front third and reddish-copper on the back two-thirds). If disturbed, they will fly in a very irregular zigzag pattern. Indian meal moth larvae feed upon a wide variety of foods, including seasonal favorites like chocolate, dried fruit, crackers, nuts, seeds, cereal, and just about any other dried goods served during the holidays. One of the biggest giveaways that the activity is present is finding loose, silk webbing in package seams and in cracks and crevices.

Sawtoothed and merchant grain beetles are tiny brown beetles that have saw-like projections on either side of the thorax. They tend to feed on fine particles of milled grain products. These pests can become a menace, feeding upon a variety of ingredients, such as dried fruits, sugar, chocolate, nuts, and seeds. Their small size allows them to squeeze into tight crevices where they can remain undetected and easily access the goods in your pantry.

Red and confused beetles, part of the flour beetle family, are frequent scavengers of flour and grain meals, a common ingredient used in making seasonal cakes, breads, and cookies. These reddish-brown beetles also feed on spices, dried fruits, and cereal products. With the ability to fly, confused flour beetles can easily spread their infestation.

Where do pantry pests come from?

While pantry pests can enter a home through cracks and crevices like other pests, it is much more likely that the original infestation occurred at a food processing plant, storage facility, or grocery store. Because of this, inspecting baking ingredients before storing them is extremely important. Additionally, because a few eggs can be hard to catch, products that aren’t used frequently should still be inspected on a regular basis.

baking ingredients

What can I do about pantry pests?

Pantry pests can infest an area in a very short period of time, which means they can become a major nuisance overnight. Here are some ways to avoid having your holiday baking season ruined by these pests.

Before baking

  • Plan ahead. Store your ingredients in air-tight canisters or containers. Other non-baking items that are at risk, such as birdseed, dry pet food, and breakfast cereals, should also be stored in airtight containers. Containers made out of corrugated paperboard, paper, or thin plastic provide limited protection against pantry pests.
  • Inspect all the ingredients you will be using before you buy. Signs of infestation include visible pests, webbing, and damaged packaging.
  • Check all expiration dates on ingredients before adding them to a recipe.

After baking

  • Store baked goods in glass, metal, or plastic containers with air-tight lids.
  • A small amount of food can become infested. Be sure to clean counters, floors, pantry shelves, cabinets, and sinks after you use ingredients.
  • Don’t let food crumbs or dust accumulate in cracks or under appliances.
  • Dispose of any garbage in a timely manner.
  • While your baking ingredients are out of the pantry, take some time to vacuum and wipe down the shelves with soap and water.

If there is any sign of an infestation in your pantry, cabinets, or anywhere else in your home, Ehrlich Pest Control can help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us so you can enjoy a pest-free holiday season.

Oleg Latyshev, SHRM-CP, ACE

Technical Service Manager

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