‘Tis the season for stored product pests


November 30, 2021

Photo: Mark Sheperdigian, BCE

Remind clients that throwing away old, unused food items, and properly storing those that need to be saved may help prevent stored product pest infestations. Photo: Mark Sheperdigian, BCE

The holidays are a time for baking — and for surprises. Sometimes, folks get surprises while they’re baking. That’s because all those baking supplies have been sitting in the pantry since last spring, and some of them have taken in boarders. It makes our phones ring, but what’s behind the spike in activity?

There are many stored product pests (SPP); most of them are beetles and moths. The single most common SPP in residential accounts is the Indianmeal moth (Plodia interpunctella). A small crowd of beetles is vying for second place, including red and confused flour beetles (Tribolium spp.), cigarette beetles (Lasioderma serricorne), drugstore beetles (Stegobium paniceum), and warehouse beetles (Trogoderma spp.).

Under ideal conditions, most SPP take a month or more to complete their lifecycle. In cooler temperatures, it may take much longer to reach maturity. For many households, baking products such as flour, baking mixes and chocolate sit in the pantry all summer, which is normally dark and in the air-conditioning. The cooler temperatures slow down the developmental times of SPP, but they do not stop them.

By the time baking season rolls around, several SPP generations may have passed. The infestations become unmistakable. Once the population overflows its packaging, the SPP may find other susceptible products and, if there’s time, start another infestation. Every situation is different, but that first infested product found may not be the only infestation present.

Photo: Mark Sheperdigian, BCE

Photo: Mark Sheperdigian, BCE

In hunting down all the sources, remember that SPP are likely to be found in areas that have been quiet and undisturbed for a long time, and that may include spillage. It’s not unusual to find packages that have been there for years. A special ingredient bought for a new recipe, for example, may be partially used and the rest is stored indefinitely. In the years to come, it can become infested.

A thorough search of the entire pantry is in order. Each product should be picked up and handled, so make sure you put on a fresh pair of gloves before you do this. Products found to be susceptible, but not yet infested, should be put into secure containers such as plastic storage bowls, glass jars with lids, or even heavy-duty zip closure bags.

Also recommend to clients to not keep foodstuffs for years. It is OK to throw away unused product if it’s really old. Unlike people and fine wine, “really old” and “still good” are mutually exclusive when it comes to opened food packages. It’s better to buy such products in smaller quantities, or only as much as you might use in a season.

However they do it, help your clients throw out the stuff they won’t use and properly store products that need to be saved. If it’s left alone too long and stored improperly, it may change from next year’s baking to next year’s surprise.

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