IIf you see cobweb-like filaments on starchy pantry items such as rice, flour, oats, or sugar, or bits of dried powder on shelves and holes in food packages, you could be facing an invasion from insects such as moths. or weevils.
Among them, you may see white moth caterpillars, which bear an alarming resemblance to worms but are a different species, or grain weevils, which entomologist and food scientist Skye Blackburn describes as “a small beetle with a large long ‘nose’, kind of like Gonzo from the muppets. “
Beetle larvae are found inside whole grains, so you won’t detect them until you see the adults at the bottom of the package. That applies to Sitophilus oryzae, the “rice weevil,” for example, says associate professor Rob Emery of Murdoch University.
“It uses its snout to pierce the grain, turns around and lays eggs in the opening and seals the hole,” he says. “The egg hatches into a larva, then generally remains within the kernel until it becomes a chrysalis.”
‘It’s all extra protein’
Usually, people first notice an infestation when they see moths flying around the pantry or black weevils in stored food. Some species of weevils even fly. This requires immediate and thorough action, but will not harm you.
“It doesn’t hurt if you eat them and it’s all extra protein,” says Blackburn. “Anyway, the average person will eat about a quarter kilogram of insects in their diet every year!”
In fact, many cultures regularly eat insects such as crickets and beetles, and there is a growing trend to cultivate them as a sustainable source of protein; Blackburn has even launched a edible insect business.
Typically, three types of insects enter pantries, according to Professor Ari Hoffmann of the University of Melbourne: grain weevils (primarily of the genus Sitophilus), meal beetles (Tribolium), and meal moth larvae ( Ephestia or Plodia).
There are a myriad of species within these genera. The cigarette beetle Lasioderma serricorne, for example, loves chili and other hot spices, according to Emery.
“I stayed at a friend’s beach house and sprinkled chili powder on my pizza,” he says. “The flakes looked a bit weird, so I opened the container and the chili powder had been completely consumed by the beetles, who then ate each other, leaving only the red wing caps. [elytra] behind.”
Recently, a Perth-based TikToker made a similar discovery in your cayenne pepper.
‘The problem is easily solved’
Eggs or larvae are usually present on the inside or outside of store bought food packages. Once in your pantry, they can spread quickly, but don’t panic.
“The problem is easily solved and does not require the application of a chemical pesticide,” says Hoffmann. “All signs of life! And of course insects are interesting in their own right. ”
If you find a few moths, he adds, you could even take photos with a macro lens and admire the patterns on their wings.
For those who prefer to keep insects out of their food, there are several courses of action. If you already have an infestation, it’s time for a deep pantry clean. Inspect all your food for signs of insects. Note that you can also find moth larvae in dried fruit, walnuts, seeds, chocolate, and dry dog food.
If you want to preserve infested food, you can heat it in the oven to kill the insects, Hoffman says. Home economics website The Spruce recommends roast it at 60 ° C for at least 15 minutes.
Putting the products in the freezer for 48 hours will also kill any eggs, larvae or adults, Blackburn says, and you can choose the insects, if you prefer, or just eat them. To prevent them from coming back, it is a good idea to vacuum the pantry and carefully clean all the food items and shelves, both the top and the bottom.
‘Look, buy, store, cook‘
To avoid future infestations, it is better to put everything in sealable jars – plastic bags are not a barrier to industrious insects. This is a great opportunity to organize your pantry and see what you have in stock, says Annika Stott, sustainability strategist for OzHarvest.
When buying dry goods, check the seals and the bottom of the bags for evidence of pests such as straps, dry debris such as dust, or small holes. When you unpack food at home, put the food in airtight containers.
Many people claim that repellants, such as various dried herbs, can help keep insects away. Hoffmann says he’s not sure how effective they are, but Blackburn swears it. “Bay leaves are definitely a winner for me,” he says, “and it’s what I use in my cupboards at home.”
It’s also wise not to overstock and store food – the longer it stays in the pantry, the more likely it will attract and breed hungry insects. That also raises the problem of food waste, as Blackburn says: “Our farmers work hard to give us food.”
On that note, the OzHarvest Team has tips to avoid wasting precious foods. Stott says her “look, shop, store, cook mantra is an easy way to learn simple habits to help prevent household food waste and keep pesky pests out of your food.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism