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Pantry Moths

larva and moth, photo credit, respectively: Tim Gibb, Purdue Entomology, Texas A&M Urban Entomology

Pantry moths lay their eggs on stored food and grains. Finding an adult moth may be a sign that there are infested items somewhere in the home. Adult females can lay hundreds of eggs directly on or near potential food sources, and the damage is done by the larvae (tiny caterpillars). Larvae can chew through plastic bags and thin cardboard, so even unopened packages may become infested.

They attack a wide range of products, including cereal, grains, beans, nuts, flour, dried fruit, birdseed, dry animal food, spices, chocolate, and candies. Indian meal moth is the most common pantry moth, but properly identifying your pest will help you target your efforts. Consider contacting your local Cooperative Extension Service for help identifying a pest.

Mothballs should not be used around food or food preparation areas. Mothballs are only allowed to be used in airtight containers. Gasses build up to kill insects that feed on natural fibers. Those gasses may pose a risk to people or pets if used improperly.

Prevention tips:

  • Use older food products first and store all bulk foods in thickly walled glass or plastic containers.
  • Clean up all spills, including flour and sugar. Larvae can survive on small amounts of food under cabinets and in corners.
  • Transfer bulk items from plastic bags to sturdy glass or plastic containers. Pantry moth larvae can chew through plastic and Ziploc bags to access food.

Control tips:

  • Identify, remove, and dispose of all infested food items. Larvae spin a web as they move and leave behind silken threads; signs of webbing or clumped grains or flour may be a sign insects are present.
  • Take the interior bags out of boxes, roll them around looking for clumps or webbing. Check the corners of boxes and creases of bags.
  • Remember to inspect all cereal, grains, beans, nuts, flour, dried fruit, birdseed, dry animal food, spices, tea, chocolate, and candies.
  • After removing all infested items, consider storing the remaining items in a large plastic tote to monitor for any eggs or larvae you may have missed.
  • Use a vacuum with a crevice attachment to clean out all corners of the pantry. Wash the surfaces with warm water and soap to remove any remaining spilled food, eggs, or cocoons.
  • Food items may be placed in a freezer for a week to kill any eggs or larvae that may be present.
  • Larvae can travel far from food sources in order to pupate, which could create a potential for re-infestation if food is still accessible.
  • Pheromone traps, or plain yellow sticky traps may be useful in monitoring the population, and identifying problem areas in the home.

If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email us at npic@ace.orst.edu.

Last updated January 27, 2017

Pantry Moths

  • Identify your pest.. There are several beetle and moth species that infest kitchen food items. Be sure you're targeting the right insect.
  • Find and remove infested food items first. Look for food with webbing, feces, or holes poked in plastic bags.
  • Food without signs of insects should be moved to airtight glass, or plastic containers.
  • Remove all items from the cupboard or pantry and clean thoroughly (vacuum corners and wash with soap and water).
  • Check other non-food items that may become infested. These may include animal food, birdseed, tea and dried flowers.
  • Remove cocoons. Be sure to search nearby drawers, under shelf paper, and the folds of towels and paper products.
  • Place infested items in the freezer for a week to kill pantry moth larvae and eggs.
  • Place all new food items into glass or plastic containers in case lingering moths exist.
  • Pheromone traps may be used to monitor the population and capture male moths. Plain yellow sticky traps may also be helpful.

If you choose to use a pesticide, read the label before you buy. Try a lower toxicity product first.

If you have a pesticide product in mind, have your label handy and click here for information about that product.

County Extension Offices

Through its county agents, the Cooperative Extension Service gives individuals access to the resources at land-grant universities across the nation. These universities are centers for research in many subjects, including entomology (the study of insects) and agriculture. Each county within the United States has an Extension office, which is staffed with agents who work closely with university-based Extension specialists to deliver answers to your questions about gardening, agriculture, and pest control. You can find the phone number for your local county extension office in the local government section (often marked with blue pages) of your telephone directory or by clicking on the map below.

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Additional Resources:

Related Topics:

What are pests?

Learn about a pest

Identify a pest

Control a pest

Integrated Pest Management

What are pesticides?

Herbicides

Disinfectants

Fungicides

Insecticides

Natural and Biological Pesticides

Repellents

Rodenticides

Other types of pesticides

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