Bugs are opportunists — let them infest your place, and they will. Pantry infestations are common, especially spice beetles and pantry moths, because consumers invite bugs in. It's unintended, sure, but it's commonplace, thanks to warehouse stores, bulk-food shops, and international shipping. How fast you can end an infestation depends on how quickly you act and whether you change how you store food.
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Stop future infestations before they can start by storing all dry goods in airtight containers as soon as you bring them home. Most spice quantities are perfect for storing in 4-ounce canning jars, which are airtight to keep bugs out and flavor in, while being easily stackable in any drawer or cupboard.
Where Do Bugs Come From?
Flour and spices always have bug problems. Bugs give you heebie-jeebies, but humans need bugs for survival. Just not in pantries! Culprits can include dozens of species of weevils, moths, and beetles.
Bugs will never be completely eliminated from the food supply, so food needs proper storage at home. Unfortunately, what constitutes "safe, proper food storage" is usually a lesson learned via infestations and resulting food waste.
Bulk food shops are a big contributor to infestations. You can shop there, but freeze dry goods for a minimum of 24 hours before transferring them into your pantry — just long enough to kill eggs. And store goods in air-tight glass jars to keep any future outbreaks contained.
Act Quickly to Contain Infestations
Don't let infestations grow. The minute you spot pests, be ready to act. Spice beetles are tiny black beetles that wander the cupboard, walls, or even live in your spices. If you've found black and brown specks in spices, they're likely spice beetles.
They're not dangerous or dirty creatures, but their numbers grow quickly if left alone. There's no getting around it — you need to clean out the entire pantry.
If money's tight, you can try to save infested spices and herbs by freezing them for 24 to 48 hours, but it's wiser to dispose of infested products, since they'll have bug corpses and waste — which won't harm you, but it may not be the protein source you seek.
Things You'll Need
How To Get Rid of Pantry Bugs
The good news: You don't need special products or equipment for eradicating these bugs. That's the good part — because you will have to buy new pantry products and sealable storage jars. There are no shortcuts if you want the bugs gone for good. Everything needs to come out of your pantry cupboards — all the cupboards.
You'll need to throw out all infested packages of opened foods. The problem is, you may not know if a product is infested, because larvae and eggs can be too small to spot.
Step 1: Remove Everything From the Cupboards
Separate all sealed, unopened products from any open plastic or paper packaging. Spice beetles infest anything from flour and tea to spices and chilis, and anything open is potentially infested.
Step 2: Inspect and Discard Products as Needed
Put all open, infested products into a plastic garbage bag. Contain the infestation with the trash bags for now, and save recycling-sorting for outdoors. Presume that anything open is infested, or you may have critters hatching in batches for some time to come.
Step 3: Deep Clean the Cupboard
Vacuum the cupboards to remove exoskeletons and bug excrement you'd really rather not think about. Then, clean the cupboards thoroughly with soapy water or your preferred household cleaners. Once the shelves and walls dry, disinfect them with some chlorine bleach diluted in water. Allow to fully dry.
Step 4: Return Noninfested Products to the Cupboard
Everything you've deemed safe can go back in the cupboard. Wipe everything down and put it back in an organized manner. Keeping like products in easily removed containers and trays will make it easier to stay on top of cleaning, which should be done regularly for a few weeks. This will help you monitor the situation. You'll see more bugs, almost guaranteed, but numbers should dwindle quickly if you successfully removed all open food sources.
Avoid Future Infestations
Glass jars are your best food-storage friends. Plastic containers work too, but only if air-tight with clamping or twist-top jars. Zipper plastic bags are never adequate for bug control. Transfer everything in cardboard or bags — even boxes of cereal —to sealable glass containers, and recycle packaging outdoors ASAP. Check dollar stores for containers. The upside to organizing your pantry and investing in containers for everything is that future infestations will be easier to find and won't require throwing out much.
Last, keep some bay leaf around — bugs hate the smell, so sticking a bay leaf in your flour or taping a few inside your spice cupboards may help repel them.