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It can be an easy thing to dismiss: opening a kitchen cabinet or pantry door, and seeing a moth fly out. Surely the insect simply became trapped inside, right? Well, maybe not. Spotting any moths where food is stored can signal an infestation of pantry moths, which lay eggs in grains, cereal, flour and an array of other dry goods.

A pantry moth infestation can be a serious problem for you and your family, given that they can chew through cardboard packaging, and a single female can lay up to 600 eggs. Discovering them also raises the prospect that you’ve been eating their larvae, waste material or molted skin—which isn’t known to transmit any diseases, but it’s plenty unsettling nonetheless.

Although moths can enter the home through open doors and windows, the most common route to infestation involves the near-invisible eggs that have been laid on food packing being brought into the house. The eggs hatch into larvae that develop into Indian meal moths (the most common type of pantry moth). Even seeing a moth near the kitchen light can be reason enough to open the cabinets and check what’s inside.

How do I tell if I have pantry moths?

Discovering pantry moths requires immediate action, given their reproduction rate—wait too long, and they’ll spread throughout the kitchen. Often they’re found too late, given that the eggs are very tough to spot and the larvae can easily blend in with rice, grain, or other types of dry goods. Keep these tips in mind to help tell if you have pantry moths in your home.

  1. Watch for webbing—Silky webs spun by pantry month larvae can often be found inside of cabinets or food containers.
  2. Check the smell—The secretions left behind by pantry moth larvae can sometimes cause food particles to clump together, resulting in an unpleasant odor.
  3. Look for caterpillars—The sight of a cream-colored caterpillar, found either on the outside of a package or inside the food itself, is a telltale sign of infestation.
  4. Be wary of adult moths—Just the presence of an adult moth near kitchen cabinets is enough to raise alarms, especially if they’re reddish brown or grey and under an inch in length. How do I get rid of pantry moths?

Pantry moths can be tough to root out, typically requiring the help of a pest control professional. Mothballs, which use gases within a confined space to eradicate moths that feed on clothing, should never be used around food. Likewise, use of pesticides in the kitchen is best left to a professional. To begin the process of getting rid of pantry moths, follow these steps:

  1. Empty the pantry—Take everything out of the affected pantry or cabinet, check the food items within for larvae and discard anything that isn’t sealed airtight. And don’t just toss the infested food containers in the garbage can—get them out of the house completely.
  2. Clean up—Start the cleaning process by vacuuming the pantry thoroughly, making sure to hit every nook, cranny and crevice where an egg might be hiding. If possible, remove the shelves. Like the infested food items, get the vacuum bag out of the house. And then scrub everything down with a solution of vinegar and water.
  3. Be thorough—Have we mentioned the eggs are small? Leave any behind, and the moths will be back. Use a flashlight to inspect the inside of cabinets, replace or discard any torn or worn shelf paper, and consider sealing any cracks or holes in the cabinet itself.
  4. Be patient—Don’t restock the cabinet immediately. Wait a week or two to check for any signs of a repeat infestation before placing food back in the cabinet. And this time, consider placing everything in sealed containers.

How do I prevent future infestations?

Although the presence of pantry moths can be a shock to any homeowner, they’re not necessarily a sign of a dirty or unhygienic house. Given that their eggs are typically carried into the kitchen on packaging from the grocery store, prevention begins with paying close attention to the boxes and bags that your cereal, rice and other dry goods are stored in on the grocery store shelf.

At home, other tactics can be used to keep pantry moths at bay. Keep dry goods in sealed containers with tight-fitting lids. Consider placing bay leaves, peppermint leaves, or cedar chips—natural moth repellants—in the cabinet with your food. And be aware: Inspect cabinets regularly, and be ready to act at the first sign that something might be amiss behind your pantry door.

Having your home checked regularly as part of a pest prevention program can help ensure that pantry moths and other pests don’t become a problem. Avoiding an infestation of pantry moths begins with proactive inspection and regular treatment.

To learn more about treating pantry moths in the home, or about a general pest prevention system, call A-1 Able Pest Doctors at 800-737-8189.

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