How to Deal with Pantry Moths Really

If pantry moths were this big they'd be meat, but they are only a half inch long

If pantry moths were this big they’d be meat, but they are only a half inch long

I saw this headline on Yahoo this morning and couldn’t help but find out what this expert, Sarah Littleton of bobvila.com, has to say: How To: Get Rid of Pantry Moths.

Having read this, I think the most practical advice comes after the article, in the Comments section, because there people are talking about the most common source of pantry moths: leftover bird seed. We had that problem here a few years ago, and when we trashed the bird seed that was summering over in the garage, we got the moths under control.

So if you have a problem with pantry moths, don’t panic, just read on. You actually don’t need to get rid of all your food, take your shelves down, and turn your kitchen and pantry into a bugicidal wasteland.

What are pantry moths? Tiny little gray moths about a half inch long. At night you’ll see them fluttering through other parts of your house, if you have an infestation somewhere. They do very little harm and aren’t greedy, but they turn a sack of flour into billions of tiny little gray moths if you let them prosper. I always vote for getting rid of them. Pantry moths eat lots more than wheat flour. They’ll infest grains of all kinds, flour of all kinds, dry beans, dry tofu products, dry pasta — nearly everything you like to eat that can be stored on a shelf, they’ll love to eat too. Even herbs and spices can be a meal for pantry moths and their larvae.

Note! I’ve included some moth traps here! but let me explain. These will not eliminate moths in your pantry, despite claims by the manufacturers. They are just sticky traps with pheromone scents, so they lure adult moths to their horrible starving deaths. Lots of adult moths just live and die inside the infected container and the colony will continue because of the ones that never left home. Moth traps will tell you if you have a problem (you see moths stuck in the traps), but they won’t fix it. They could even pull moths in from outside, because they smell really sexy to moths.

You will always notice pantry moths flying about long before they’ve done much damage to your food. If you’re a bugaphobe and can’t stand the thought of eating perfectly good beans that had a grub in the package, then you can do the bobvila.com method and trash everything in your kitchen just to be sure. I see a few moths flying around at night and I go looking for the source. Usually I can save the food and get rid of the moths in a very simple way.

Pantry moths can’t tolerate freezing temperatures. Possibly eggs can survive, otherwise there would be no more pantry moths, but larvae and adults die. If you find a bag of beans that’s infested, just put it in the freezer for a few days and then sort it out. Remove any webs and dead bugs, the rest of the beans are fine. I would leave the bag in there until I used it, just to be sure, but I’ve successfully transferred some frozen bags back to dry storage without problems.

I can’t think of a single occasion when I had to strip shelves out of the kitchen and scrub everything down to get rid of moths. Moths will get into jars sometimes, if you don’t put the lids on tightly, and they can drill holes through plastic bags to lay eggs inside unopened bags of rice or beans. If you store these things in canning jars and snug the lids down, the moths can’t get in, but if you leave the food in the plastic bags they came in, that’s not a good solution for long-term storage.

To keep moths away from flour, or out of cabinets in general, scatter bay leaves on the shelves and put bay leaves in any containers that aren’t tightly sealed, such as flour bins. Bay leaves work, my mother always used them in her flour bins and even though you’d think that the moths would adapt and learn to live with bay leaves, they don’t seem to do that. I can’t vouch for other types of aromatic solutions but they might work. I haven’t needed other solutions, because bay leaves do work. I’ve worked with cedar a lot, and I don’t recommend that either as a preventive for pantry moths or closet moths, even though cedar pomanders and wood shavings made a lot of money for me when I was still in the business. Cedar smells good for awhile but the aromatics quickly fade. The reason cedar chests protect clothing against moths is that cedar is very stable and a good cabinetmaker can build a cedar chest so tight that moths can’t get into it. None of my elder Ozark neighbors ever considered cedar a good solution for pantry moths. My old dog, Chopper, spoke highly of cedar shavings as a dog bed and never ever had fleas despite not wearing a flea collar, but he had a new source of fresh cedar shavings to slumber on daily. Always grumbled if I were working with oak, dogs prefer cedar.

To save infested food, just sort it out. My mother always kept a flour sifter in the flour bin, and used it every time she baked cakes or bread. I always wondered why, because when I helped her do this I never found any lumps in the flour. We did sometimes come up with a few larvae or some webs, which I considered kind of normal to Ozark cuisine but which my mother couldn’t handle at all. Once she found a cabbage worm in the garden broccoli on her plate and a quick dash to the sink and some energetic vomiting followed. But, if there’s a few tiny pantry moth eggs in the mix, no one will ever know. It’s approved by the USDA. My Uncle Lewis never worried about such things, just ate them. He had some wonderful cherry trees in his front yard and we’d help him pick them to can every year, and he wouldn’t make us sort out the ones with the worms sticking out the sides. He said, never mind that, the worm is just full of cherry. Bug cuisine is all the rage now and probably we shouldn’t even sort out the pantry moths, they’re just advanced protein.

Other solutions to this leak through in some of the old Ozark stories. In the country stores in the old days, where flour was sold from open bins, storekeepers let their chickens roost on the rim of the flour barrels at night. Any moths or worms got picked out by the chickens. You just had to be careful that the chickens were facing into the barrel when they went to sleep. Last chore for the night was turn the chickens on the flour barrel. I’ll let you imagine why.

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