When you find tiny, dark-colored bugs in rice, pasta and other milled or whole-grain products in the cupboard, it's time to clean it all out and start fresh. These pests arrive in infested bags of flour, rice, pasta, birdseed and other dry goods. To eliminate weevils and other pests, discard all contaminated food items and clean thoroughly before repackaging your food in tightly sealed plastic, glass or metal storage containers.
Types of Weevils and Other Pests
While there are many weevil species, you're most likely to find the rice (Sitophilus oryza), granary (Sitophilus granarius) or maize (Sitophilus zeamais) weevils in your pantry. Ranging in size from 1/8 to 1/5 inch long, these tiny snout beetles chew into grain seeds and lay their eggs, one per grain. The wormlike larvae, or grubs, develop inside the kernels and then gnaw their way out as adult weevils.
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Bugs in flour, cereals, pasta and other dry goods are often 1/8- to 3/16-inch-long reddish beetles that are also called weevils or flour weevils. These "weevils" are actually red flour beetles (Tribolium castaneum) or confused flour beetles (Tribolium confusum). They are found mainly in milled and processed products. They are not able to penetrate the hard outer surface of rice and corn.
The third type of pest found in your flour, cereal or dog food is the pantry moth (Plodia interpunctella). Also known as the weevil moth and Indian meal moth, these prolific 1/2- to 5/8-inch-long moths lay up to 400 eggs at a time. The larvae feed on your dried goods for several weeks, spin cocoons and eventually emerge as adult moths.
Cleaning the Pantry
While technically these pests are not toxic, the molted skins, feces, webbing and carcasses can change the flavor of the infested foods, making them less than palatable to humans. The moisture produced by the pests can also result in moldy food. Discard all contaminated items, whether it be dry pasta, flour, rice or pet food. Weevils can chew through paper and plastic; look for webbing and/or tiny holes in the packaging.
Clear out everything on the shelves. Vacuum the entire cabinet or pantry if possible and then wipe the shelves with hot, soapy water. Be sure to thoroughly clean every crack and crevice on, behind and under the shelves. Also wipe the outside of any existing storage containers and canned goods.
Wipe everything a second time using white vinegar or spray everything with an orange peel product and allow everthing to air dry. While you can use an insecticidal spray in severe infestations, usually a thorough cleaning eliminates the bugs without risking pesticide exposure.
Preventing Bugs in the Pantry
To prevent new infestations, inspect packages to ensure that they are still tightly sealed. Vigilance will help keep pests out of your pantry.
When you get home from the store, put flour, rice, pasta and other dry goods in the freezer for four or five days. After removing it from the freezer, take the food out of the original packaging and place it in heavy plastic, glass or metal storage containers with tight-fitting lids. Put all the old packaging in the trash outside.
In addition to adding storage containers to your cabinets and/or pantry, put sweet and oil products in large, resealable bags. Keep shelves, countertops and floors scrupulously clean to discourage weevils, pantry moths, ants and other pests. At the first sign of a new infestation, clean thoroughly to prevent the spread of bugs to pasta, beans, pet food and other items.