Food Shopping? Guess what else you bought?

When people think of insect problems around the home, in most cases they think of infestations entering from out of doors.  As a point of fact, they normally do.  However, on occasion you can encounter insect infestations that originate from products that were purchased during your everyday shopping.

Stored Product Pests can be introduced into your household by simply buying an infested box of crackers or cereal.  In most cases, however, the most common culprits are pet foods and wild bird seeds.  These products are warehoused for periods of time, giving ample opportunity for the infestation to spread to previously unaffected materials.  Once the insects (or the immature life cycles – egg, larvae, and pupae) are introduced, it is only a matter of time before they start to migrate to other food products and begin reproducing.  In general, the greater the number of insects seen, the older the infestation.  Often the initial source is partially used boxes or bags of products that have been forgotten in the back of pantries and shelves.  The infestation spreads as the active adults search for new food sources.  A thorough search is needed to locate all infested items.  If they are not found in pantries or cupboards, then begin to look at such things as decorative items or natural wall hangings.  It is not unusual for an infestation to begin by having mice or other rodents collect and cache pet food in some hidden area, such as in furniture, behind walls, under cabinets, etc., which then becomes infested and moves to your pantry.  The problem can be eliminated from the pantry area, but unless the original infestation is located and removed, the problem will usually persist until the food has completely degraded.

There are many types of Stored Product Pests, from moths in their various life cycles, to beetles and weevils.  While their life spans may differ, their ability to seek out foods is astounding.  These pests can consume a vast array of organic items, such as grains, nuts, cereals, organic fibers, dried flowers, animal hairs and leathers, and other products that may seem inedible.

As a homeowner, the best way to prevent, or at least minimize your chances of introducing this pest is to be diligent when shopping.   In some cases, the pests are easily identified in the product’s container.  For instance, the Indian Meal Moth, in its larval state, can chew through plastic coverings and enter other bags of grain.  If inspected, the small holes in the plastic wrap can be seen, along with silky tendrils spun by the moth larvae.  In other instances, certain weevils and beetles will burrow holes in nuts and grains, which can be seen through the packaging.  It should be understood that as unsavory as it sounds, there is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of having an occasional pest in your food.  In fact, food safety regulations specify a certain number of these pests are allowed during manufacturing and packaging, and they are deemed as safe to consume in small numbers…..

Control for these pests usually requires a many pronged approach.  After purchasing pet food or bird seed, they should be stored in sealed containers outside of living areas when possible. After inspection of other purchased goods, if you consistently see evidence of these insects, you must then inspect all grain and nut products in your kitchen and pantry.  If any food products are found to be infested, the material should be discarded (outside, not in the kitchen re-use container).  Any potential foods that appear unaffected should be placed in Tupperware or other sealed containers.  That way, if a problem appears, it will be contained in the sealed container.  In some cases, when finding insects, yet not finding an active feeding site, it is advisable to place pheromone monitors in various areas to locate infested zones.  All shelving needs to be vacuumed and wiped down prior to returning the stored food to its proper place.  Remember, they are small insects and do not require vast quantities of food.  Since the shelves are empty, this is a good time to treat cracks and crevices in the kitchen/pantry area with a good residual insecticide to prevent any potential insect migration to other areas.  This last part of the control effort should be completed by a licensed professional.  Proper placement of pesticides is critical in food storage areas, and certain laws must be followed for the safe use in those critical places.

Remember, good sanitation and proper storage practices are keys to preventing future problems.  Place products from cardboard, paper or plastic containers into jars or other containers that can be sealed tightly.  Decorative items such as Indian corn, dried flower arrangements or bird feed can be treated with heat (155 degrees F. for @20 minutes) or freezing (0 degrees F. for @ 4 days).

Lastly, during the holiday season, be aware of your decorations that have been left throughout the year in attics and storage areas.  They are an open invitation for insects and rodents to consume and be transported into the living areas of your home.  Enjoy the Holidays!!!!

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