Pantry moths, food moths, Indian meal moth, whichever name they go by in your place – you don’t want them. At all. Ever.
We recently had an infestation and that kept me super busy for more than 4 weeks. There was nothing I could do about it, since my housemates just never had them and were taking them lightly, my suggestions to put everything in airtight containers…
They seem to be gone now and my housemates now use my beloved Moccona jars…
You can’t really avoid getting them
However, it is not necessarily your storage and cleaning choices that bring them. They come with flour, nuts, spices or anything the moths like to lay their eggs in, teeny-tiny eggs, about 0.5 mm in size, impossible to spot, with prepacked or loose food that you bought and then they are at home. Nothing to be ashamed about and it can happen to nearly anyone at any time. Hence, it’s best to be prepared and act before you’ve ever seen some.
The Effort to get Rid of them
To give you an idea about the effort involved to get rid of them, I’ll tell you about the two infestations I got rid off – entirely, which some people have problems with:
The first time I was taken by total surprise and I was totally unsuspicious of the characteristic moths, thinking they came in from the garden through the window. But they accumulated in the kitchen corner and they did not go, however often I vacuumed the dozens of moths up. I ended up throwing out way over 100 Euros worth of food (a super-fortune as a student) and cleaning my kitchen niche in my student-studio for 3 days. Wikip
That’s a lot, considering the kitchen was about 1.3 m long and a mere 2.3 m wide, including the fridge, sink, stove, oven and pantry. There were little eggs, larvae and moths in every corner, baking mold, empty plastic container, closed screwtop-lids (up to the very edge), and anywhere you could imagine. I scrubbed the kitchen and all its contents down with a mix of hot water, dishwashing liquid and vinegar. Then I bought large airtight containers for all foods, including spaghetti, rice, pasta, flour, dried fruit, chocolate, coffee, herbs, spices, teas, cocoa and so on and so on and I used 6 pheromone traps over the next 4 months and vacuumed the adult moths up for about 3 weeks every day, several times a day. The eggs can take up to 10 months to hatch (if its cold and dry). Up until way past that time, you cannot be entirely sure to have gotten rid of them. So up until today, I keep EVERYTHING in airtight containers. Like EVERYTHING.
The second time happened because I’m in a share house and my housemates never had them before. I suggested keeping EVERYTHING in airtight containers, especially anything that is not fresh, but they probably thought I was a bit weird. Until the day they came. They have learned. Unfortunately I was the main person cleaning, since when I noticed my housemates were out for 2 weeks, but you got to do something immediately. It took me alone 2 weeks and then an additonal 2 weeks with 2 people with several hours of work per day, some of them full days, to clean the kitchen. Mind you, this kitchen had a normal size. As I said beforehand – YOU DON’T WANT THEM.
Don’t allow them to live with you
Be proactive. Really. Just be. Make your home very uncosy for these bugs. (As a benefit, a lot of other bugs won’t like this just the same).
First, put all your dry-ish foods into containers that are out of thick material AND airtight. I personally prefer mostly glass jars with rubber seals. This will not only protect food to be infested by incoming bugs, but also prevent bugs from leaving the container you put them in when you bought new food and keep them contained. Then, if they are in a container, it’s easy to throw them out and they actually may not survive in the container well either. It’s airtight after all.
I particularly like Moccona jars and they come in sizes from 50 g of coffee up to 400 g and that is quite big, JUST fitting 1 kg of flour.
But they don’t come in big enough for spaghetti and fettucini, but for these, I just take really tall glass jars with rubber seals. For these I have raided the second hand shops, but they are also available at some 2 Dollar shops, IKEA as well as upmarket places.
There are Korken and Burken jars at IKEA, of which I am rather fond as well. Vintage is in, so you may find some jars even in super-hip modern kitchen accessories shops, there are modern versions as well. Look at the seal quality, an airtight seal that does not seal is of absolutely no use. I don’t trust cork seals, since they are porous and don’t seal smoothly. I have some large thick plastic containers with rubber seals as well, in which I keep herbs and spices that don’t have airtight containers or are in plastic bags. The glass helps me identify what’s in it, often without labels and it actually looks quite pretty!
I have never seen any food moths in any of my containers, despite a heavy infestation in the neighbouring pantry shelves, so they must be doing a good job.
Avoiding mold in your airtight jars and containers:
I found especially here in Canberra, Australia, where the buildings generally have poor insulation which then in turn means the room temperatures often aren’t consistent throughout the year, some food items get moldy in airtight storage, due to the shifting dewpoint and therefore moisture in the airspace available for microbes. I have found a simple solution which has so far worked for every item, including tea, mushrooms and icing sugar. The latter does not get moldy, but draws moisture and lumps and this is the key: RICE. I bought several Kinder Surprise (what a great excuse) and then filled the yellow plastic egg ‘yolk’ containers to the brim with rice. Rice is hygroscopic, meaning it takes up a lot of moisture from its environment, even more than salt. I just add these yellow blobs to the jars which I suspect to have trouble with moisture balance.
Info on these moths and how to get rid of them
There is plenty of good information on how they look like, what they eat and how to get rid of them, for example on Wikipedia. If you don’t know what you’re dealing with yet it is a little harder, but you can get there. It helps to read a couple of pages like Wikihow – ‘How to get rid of pantry moths‘ to get the general gist and know about details.
The main problem is that, depending on moisture and temperature as well as food availability, the larvae can crawl up to 400 m in each direction, the moths smell food wherever it is hiding, the eggs are tiny and can’t be spotted, the food is unhealthy after being infested and they can take up to 10 months (according to some pages) to fully develop.
Follow the instructions, but I find the keypoints are:
- Get rid of all food that they like. Not only what is infested (unless it actually is in super-airtight, thick-walled containers – then it is highly unlikely to be infested).
- CLEAN like someone with a highly contagious disease has coughed into every single corner and item of your kitchen. Take things apart, heat, bake, freeze, microwave whatever is appropriate for the item. EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM. ENTIRELY. REALLY.
- Spray insect spray into corners you cannot reach by the life of you. It won’t kill them, at all, it just slows them down a little, make them less likely to breed, but it’s worth trying.
- Put EVERYTHING (of even their remotest parts of the food range) in airtight containers – EVERYTHING. ANY time.
- Keep things in airtight containers forever after, but at least half a year or so (better 10 months, just to be safe).
Apparently, most people have trouble getting rid of them. I’ve succeeded once, for the second time it also looks like it. We haven’t seen any larvae, moths or any other signs of them for several weeks now.
You may be less lucky, if your close (in the same house) neighbours have theml and just don’t follow the ‘rules’ or don’t care to have them. Other than such exceptions, I believe it is possible to get rid of them. It’s just really really painful, thus try not to have them spread around in your place in the first place!