Indian Meal Moth
Summary: Indian meal moth can develop in unopened boxes of pantry products that are past their expiration dates.
We are all guilty of buying food product, putting it up on a shelf and forgetting about it. I mean, how often do you have the urge to eat couscous? Seemed like a good idea when you bought it, but you just never got around to preparing it. So, when someone suggests having something “middle-Eastern” for dinner, you remember and dig way in the back of the top shelf. At last, you find it, but when you open it, surprise, surprise. The couscous has company.
How did this happen to you? The kitchen is spotless and the couscous was never opened. The answer is that the Indian meal moth is common around the world and is well known for getting into stored grain products. You have just learned that Indian meal moths can get into sealed plastic bags or cardboard boxes by chewing through them.
The larvae of Indian meal moths eat cereals, whole grains, dried fruit, powdered milk, flour, pastas, seeds, spices and other pantry items. They spin silk as they eat and leave behind webbing in the grain. They are sometimes referred to as pantry moths or flour moths.
The adult moths are small with reddish brown wingtips. The moths are nocturnal and attracted to light, so sometimes you see them at night hovering close to your TV screen, but away from their food source. This can be confusing to someone who has not identified the moth because you wonder where they came from and how they got inside.
Usually, Indian meal moths get indoors via a packaged good like pasta or cereal. Dried dog food and bird seed are common culprits, as well. In spite of their efforts, it is nearly impossible for manufacturers to get rid of all Indian meal moth larvae in their product because new larvae are small enough to pass through the smallest of many mesh screens used for filtering. We suggest you inspect grain products carefully when you open them, especially if they are in large containers or they have gone past their expiration date.
To get rid of Indian meal moths you need to get rid of their food source. Once you find one moth you'll need to examine all the packages in your pantry containing any kind of grain, especially packages that have been there for a while. Throw away any food item that has silk threads on it or the white worms. You could also freeze the food items for several days or heat it in the oven for an hour or so and this will kill the eggs and larvae. This can be done if you want to save bird feed or seeds, but it isn't appetizing for something you plan to eat yourself.
After throwing out the contaminated food, vacuum the shelves carefully and wash them with soap and water. This will sanitize the storage place and help prevent a reoccurrence. Separate and store large packages of grains or seeds
apart from other pantry items.
You can treat the cracks and crevices of storage shelves with a product like Tri Die Aerosol, but you must be sure the pesticide has dried before putting any product back on the shelf. Read the warning label on any pesticide.
For a totally non-pesticide solution consider using Indian meal moth traps containing a pheromone that attracts the moth. It's a good tool to use to confirm it the moths are still present.
Indian meal moths can be quite a nuisance, but are harmless. They don't bite, sting or poison your food. For a large infestation you might have to call a pest control operator, but it is likely a problem you can save some money on by solving yourself. Just find the source of the infestation, remove it, and sanitize the area. Also, don't store dried foods in damp places for long periods. Follow these simple rules and you might avoid the YUCK factor of opening a box of cereal and finding that something has beaten you to the breakfast table.