Moths Invaded Our Pantry…Bugs Like Real Food, Too!

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I briefly shared this on Facebook a couple weeks ago, but in case you missed it here’s the deal. Moths moved into our pantry and it was not pretty. Bugs in general kind of give me the “heebie jeebies” so I thought the whole thing was quite disturbing actually. And as we were clearing house and tossing out just about every non-perishable food item we owned I said to my husband, ”This is happening because we eat real food isn’t it?” Those moths were all up on our raw nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and other whole foods. They did eventually invade some non-food items as well, but let’s face it…for the most part bugs are after the same nutrients we are!

Before and after pantry moths: 100 Days of Real Food

It Starts with Just One

So this is how it happened. One day – longer ago than I’d like to admit – I opened our pantry and one moth flew out. I didn’t think much of it (mistake #1). Who doesn’t deal with a pesky housefly or fruit fly on occasion? I thought this was one and the same. As time went on I noticed that this “moth flying out of the pantry” business was happening more frequently than it probably should. Then (thank goodness for social media) I saw another Facebook page mention they had unexplained moths in their pantry as well. The commenters shared that moths can move in and camp out, and in some cases you’ll need to get rid of everything. Yes, they were speaking of the items we were currently cooking with and eating…yikes!

So I tried to walk and not run straight to our pantry to start investigating. The first thing I found was a bag of unopened almonds that was getting more action (i.e. different moth lifecycle stages) than I care to disclose. I would have taken a picture, but I was so grossed out I could barely even look straight at it with my own eyes. Plus I was overwhelmed with the need to purge it immediately…after some screaming of course! That’s when my husband got involved. He started inspecting our “nut basket” and basically did a thorough clean out of just those items and we moved on (mistake #2)…eeeek!

The Clean Out

Moth inside plastic sesame seed container with screw top lid

After that my husband put some handy dandy non-toxic traps up in the pantry just to be sure we were in the clear. But, oh it wasn’t pretty. The trap was racking up those bad boys (a dozen or so in a week’s time) so we knew there was still trouble. That’s when we decided to clean out every single item we owned. As you can imagine this was an all day super fun process. And what we found was infestation beyond the nut basket. Yep they had made nice little homes in sunflower seeds, raisins, muffin liners, and even the plastic brackets holding up our shelves. I learned that quite a lot of our Facebook followers had been through this before, and I appreciate them encouraging us to inspect EVERYTHING. And rather than leafing through 200 4-ply napkins we chose to get rid of everything. The thing is if we were to miss something we could possibly have to go through all of this again! So my philosophy was better safe than sorry…

Once the pantry was completely empty we cleaned, cleaned, and cleaned even more including spraying the wall corners and shelf brackets with vinegar and vacuuming off the tops of cookbooks. One good thing is that most of our flours/grains are stored in the freezer and our herbs/spices are kept in a drawer away from the pantry. It would have been even worse if we lost all of those items as well. Then the next thing we did was buy truly air-tight glass containers from Sur La Table (both the reasonably priced Fido and the more expensive but wider mouthed Le Parfait varieties). We owned quite a few plastic containers (seen in “before” picture above) that were advertised as “air tight,” but guess what I found inside one of them…yep! A moth pupa case, to be specific. So we got rid of those as well. And we got rid of the brown baskets (that we were storing containers of nuts and seeds in) realizing there were too many little crevices and that all surfaces needed to be wipeable for easy cleaning and inspecting!

So what started as a single moth flying out of our pantry ended up being a very disruptive and expensive problem. Fingers crossed they don’t come back (many have told me they thought they were in the clear then a month later…surprise!). And I guess if I were to look on the bright side of all of this I’d have to say my pantry is looking much better and more organized than it used to be. We got the white bucket containers from Ikea and all the air-tight glass jars from Sur La Table (the can also be ordered from Amazon). It will be a while before we can/will fully stock everything again with all the food we lost though…baby steps. :)

How to Avoid Moths in Your Pantry (Prevention is Key)!

So now here’s a little more of a “technical” explanation from my husband on what to look for and how to ensure your pantry stays moth-free! …

Lisa thinks I’m an expert on all things mechanical, electrical, chemical, biological…well, just about anything ending in ‘al’ it seems! I’ll neither confirm nor deny that, but I will say entomology is not my strong suit. Regardless, I did learn a lot through our ordeal that I’d like to share with you. Please read on even if you think you have no signs of moths in your household, as prevention is the best approach!

First up – where did the moths come from? It’s technically possible they flew in through an open back door, but the much more likely scenario is that they entered the house through some infected dry goods purchased from the grocery store. By infected I mean the product, likely nuts or dried fruit, contained moth eggs, larvae, or both. Once in the confines of our home the moths hatched and made sweet moth love, resulting in more moths, eggs, and larvae – in our food. Now I’ve actually eaten silk and bamboo worms in Thailand on purpose, so this didn’t gross me out that much. But it did NOT bode well with Lisa, at all.

Who Knew Home Cooks Would Need to Understand the Moth Life Cycle?

Picture provided by Safer® Brand

So let’s talk about the moth life cycle, which you need to understand if you ever hope to rid yourself of these pests or prevent them from setting up shop in your pantry in the first place. The duration of the cycle varies depending on conditions, but five generations per year is typical and the whole cycle can take as little as a month. Adult females lay around 100 to 400 eggs on or near food, and 2-14 days later the larvae hatch out and begin feeding. When mature, the larvae seek out a happy place by crawling with their little legs (usually to wall/ceiling junctions or other crevices) and transform into light-brown pupae, often within silk webbing. They remain stationary in this stage for 2-3 weeks as they go through metamorphosis, and then the adult moth emerges. Since adults don’t feed (their only purpose is to mate), they only live for 1-2 weeks.

Whether you think you have moths or not, you need to get a pheromone trap (non-toxic) and put it in your pantry ASAP. The adult males are lured into the trap by pheromone bait (mimicking the allure of a female) where they get stuck in the glue and die. Even if you don’t think you have a problem, this can be your canary in the coalmine. You can buy two traps for about $9 on Amazon (my local big box stores were out), and once opened they last for about 3 months. I plan on having one in our pantry at all times now. Trust me, $18 a year is nothing compared to the costs of lost productivity and wasted food associated with clearing out these pests. It really is a pain.

But you can’t just kill adult moths and think you’re good. By the time you notice them, you may have multiple generations in play at different points in the life cycle. You’ve got to break the cycle to rid yourself of the pests. And adults can fly all over the house, so your problem could spread to other areas.

If You Have Pantry Moths Here’s What You Have to Do, Step by Step:

  1. Put a pheromone trap (pictured) in your pantry immediately.

    Pheromone Trap (Non-Toxic)

  2. Pull EVERYTHING out of your pantry and any other food storage areas in your kitchen.
  3. Anything that is not sealed in a can, glass jar, or other airtight, hard container (they can chew through plastic bags and cardboard containers) needs to be thrown away (outside!). Wipe clean all sides of the cans and air-tight containers. If you keep an electric broom in your pantry like we do, empty the refuse tray and clean it.
  4. Inspect and clean or throw out anything else even if it’s not food (we seriously had bugs that had eaten through an unopened plastic bag to lay eggs on plastic cupcake stencils!). I know it seems wasteful, but you might end up doing it all over again otherwise. Note: Don’t just move items to a different location until you have time to inspect them because the moths could find a home in that new spot, too!
  5. Thoroughly clean your empty pantry, paying special attention to crevices. Moths can lay eggs in shelf brackets, wall corners, and even on the top of cookbooks. Be sure to wipe all surfaces several times.
  6. If you don’t have them already, purchase air-tight storage containers for your dry food, such as these jars. We will most likely never again keep a box of crackers or pasta or rice in our pantry without transferring it to an air-tight container first.

Since your infestation probably came from package goods, it is imperative that you put new dry goods (including dried fruit) into airtight containers as soon as you get home from shopping. Edit: Some readers have suggested placing dry goods from the store in the freezer to kill eggs/larvae before placing them in the pantry (in sealed containers of course!) I’ve read here that this works but 4-7 days in the freezer is required. Thanks readers for the tip! This means put your bag of rice in a jar, even if the bag is unopened (remember they can eat through plastic bags and cardboard). If you bring in any contaminated food, it will at least be confined to the container, and if you use clear jars you can observe the food before opening the jars. This also serves to seal away food sources, so if you do have some larvae hatch, they’ll starve and the life cycle will be broken. Don’t mess around with these moths. Good luck!

Our Sponsor: Tattler Reusable Canning Lids

Before we go we want to make sure you know about our sponsor Tattler and their reusable canning lids. One thing we didn’t have to dispose of during our moth crisis was all of our home canned foods in sealed glass jars…whew! When it comes to canning, most lids can only be processed one time and then have to be disposed of (or used for something else). The Tattler lids can be used over and over again though…and they are BPA-free! Get 5% off your order with coupon code “100Days”.




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136 comments to Moths Invaded Our Pantry…Bugs Like Real Food, Too!

  • Terri

    Not moths, but recently had a total infestation of little black fruit flies. On the advice of a friend I put all fruit in the refrigerator. I made fly traps by making a cone from construction paper with a small opening at the pointy end and putting that into a jar. Before I taped the cone on top I put covered the bottom of the jar with apple cider vinegar and a couple drops of dishwashing liquid. In the morning there were 50-60 dead flies in the vinegar. Still the bugs in the air though. So I reset the 1st jar and added a second on the other side of the kitchen. Then I found more in the laundry room (where the trash can is and I suspect someone threw away some fruit), so I made a third and left it in there. We have been dumping all 3 jars every morning for a week and although we still see an occasional one in the air, they are definitely decreasing in number. (and I continue to find more in each jar every morning – even when I think they’re all gone). So I’ll continue until I don’t see a single one flying around my house.

  • Thank you for the inspiration! I saw a moth here and there and said, “Eh.” But after reading this, I scoured our pantry. I used some tea tree oil solution my mom got me, and I think it did the trick! It definitely could have been a lot worse, that’s for sure.

  • [...] Originally Posted by freddieflounder101 Okay, experts….you all clearly know what you are talking about. MOTHS! Any ideas? We've used the traps, we've emptied out the entire pantry, scrubbed it, and re-stocked, they keep coming back. They're DISGUSTING. I keep things sealed in ziploc bags & airtight containers, we know they love boxes with glue on them so we keep those out of the cupboard or in bags, but they keep returning and multiplying. HELP! Please? This is a pretty good post on Moths in the pantry. Moths Invaded Our Pantry [...]

  • Amy K.

    I would like to buy some hermetically-sealed glass jars to keep my pasta in, but I’m having trouble figuring out what size jar would be tall enough for spaghetti and lasagna noodles (they would need to be about 11 inches tall, I’m guessing). Can you help me with that by any chance? If you’re not using glass jars for these long noodles yourself, may I ask you what you use to store them? Thank you for your time!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Amy. I use tall mason jars for many things including dry pasta storage. They work great, are inexpensive and hearty (which is convenient when you have a 7 year that tends to drop things), and are widely available. Hope that helps. ~Amy

  • Marie

    Do you continue to store honey in the pantry? If so, do the air tight containers work well for that?

  • Marie

    So we have a moth problem we are dealing with. So glad I had read this post. I’m curious about the boney, but a bigger question is…what do I do about the appliances that were in the pantry? Like the food processor motor. Should I worry about them having bugs?

  • amber

    the link for the ikea bins goes straight to the general kitchen page. do you happen to have the name of the bins? thanks so much!

  • Darcie

    I’ve been in denial about this for too long, I knew you had written this a long time ago and finally just read it. Thanks for the information, I was taking for granted that the sealed product was ok, but obviously not the case. Time for a good cleaning – the Sur La Table link goes to the generic homepage, can you recommend a specific type of air-tight glass jar (besides a canning jar) Thank you so much!

  • Andrea Sullivan

    So I got them too! I cleaned and inspected everything! Pantry is still empty. Things that I was able to save are in air tight plastic pins out on my screened in porch. It’s like we’re camping. I bought the traps and they came yesterday. I’m doing research now on the air-tight containers. Finding the ones you bought seem to be really good. I’m not to worried about cost, since the amount of food I throw away, this is an investment!!! Anyway, wanted to see if you bought any of the square jars that Sur La table sells? Also, sorry, but my kids still eat “junk” food. Cereal, goldfish, pretzels. Wondering what sizes to buy? and what are your thoughts on Ball jars if they have the good rubber liners? Thanks so much!!

  • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Andrea. Lisa has the round jars from Sur La Table. The large Ball jars are a great value and if you can find them with rubber seals they will work well for cereals, snacks, pastas and such. My pantry is full of various sizes of Ball jars. :) ~Amy

  • Cheri

    We had moths several years ago and it totally freaked me out. I threw away so much food in boxes and bags with twist ties. Now everything goes in air-tight containers, mostly glass jars with screw lids, or some plastic ones with tight seals. I check containers by filling with water then turning upside down and shaking. If it leaks at all, I don’t use it. Since going Paleo last January I have no pasta, rice, or grains in my pantry, so there’s less for the bugs to eat. I do need to keep checking pantry-stored produce though (i.e. potatoes, tomatoes) to keep away the fruit flies.

  • moths were never a problem but oryzaephilus surinamensis (sawtoothed grain beetle) once was. major eww! found out they (there were dozens, if not more!) came in a bag of rice. needles to say, after that i’ve placed all dry goods in glass containers, they do take up more space but there are no nasty bugs in my pantry 😊

  • Isabell

    We had these nasty moths a few times and tried really everything. They happened to be just everywhere, in the air tight containers, in sealed plastic bags, tea bags,…
    At one stage we got rid of ALL the food we had in our house, which made me really sad. But I thought it was the only thing to do.
    Just after this we found out what was causing this problem. Not our food was infected, it was the pet food. My children have a guinea pig and a rabbit. That’s where it all started. So I look through the pet food in the store, I actually opened every single box. And these nasty moths were in all of them.
    So now our pets basically get what we eat, vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds.

  • Sara

    I store grains in canning jars of all sizes. I have two adapters that allow me to use my FoodSaver to vacuum pack items in canning jars. I use these for salad greens as well. It is astonishing how much longer they last. I am afraid that moths and larvae could live in the folds of cardboard packaging so I promptly repackage everything. What a pain… but better than the alternative.

  • Aileen

    So do traditional mason jars work well for this then? Or do I need to get the silicone seals?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there. The containers that Lisa bought have the seal. I use regular large mason jars but I’ve not had a moth problem to contend with. ~Amy

  • Cynthia

    Looks like you also replaced your plastic toaster oven with a stainless steel one.

  • Sharon

    Been there and done that! Not fun or pretty, but less gross than having a mouse chewing on everything (and leaving droppings). We got both problems taken care of, but lost a lot of food in the process and so I work hard to keep everything sealed up and clean in there, even my cake pans are stored in plastic bags so I know they are completely clean and ready to use!

    Thanks for posting about things that we often don’t discuss…

  • Kathy

    Thank you so much for talking about the moths!! I have gotten these multiple times and cant seem to get rid of them. Now I will with these great traps!! Love the containers too! By the way, my kids love your mac-n-cheese!

  • Karen

    We’ve been thru moth infestations also. CHECK THE PET FOOD! Now we store the bulk food in the freezer and keep a small container of it by the pet cage. They really like nuts and seeds.

  • Carli

    I’m curious as to how to deal with pantry produce, ie potatoes and onions. Thanks!

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