Pantry Goals

6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Flour Bugs & Other Pantry Pests

If you've ever spotted a weevil, mite, or moth, this one's for you.

February  4, 2019

Welcome to Pantry Goals, your destination for all the practical tips and need-to-know tricks to get your space in tip-top shape (and keep it that way).

A few months ago, one of my dearest friends lived every baker’s nightmare. She opened up a bag of flour, intending to make cookies, only to be greeted by a swarm of creepy, crawly bugs. Flour mites had broken into her pantry, and she swears there were hundreds crawling around in the bag of flour—it sounds like the making of a cooking horror movie!

Unfortunately, this is a fairly common occurrence, as there are a whole group of bugs that absolutely love to snack on pantry essentials—rice, flour, cereal, beans, and the like. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to keep your pantry pest-free. Just use these easy tips to bug-proof your kitchen.

Embrace Airtight Everything

If you’ve been looking for a reason to invest in new containers for your pantry, this is a good one. The best way to keep pests like flour mites, grain weevils, and pantry moths out of your essentials is to store the ingredients in airtight containers.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“You did't include my go-to prevention technique (learned after clearing my pantry several times, during an income period where I could barely afford to fill it the first time!) When you buy any flour, grain, etc, put it in the freezer for 2-3 days. This will kill anything that came in with it - as the mites, etc usually do. Once you have a "clean" starch, it is much less likely to pick up anything in the cabinet. ”
— Marilyn

Most of these bugs can burrow through paper bags and mesh, so you need a hard material like plastic or glass to keep them at bay. Luckily, there’s no shortage of good-looking, functional, airtight pantry containers to choose from.

Buy in Bulk—Only When It Makes Sense

A sale on your favorite brand of flour may seem too good to pass up, but it’s actually not a great idea to buy certain pantry essentials in bulk.

Think about it: If you buy multiple bags of flour, rice, or dried beans, they’re probably going to sit in your pantry for a few months before getting used. The longer you leave them there, the greater the chance of bugs finding them. And if pests do get into the bags of extra supplies, you might not find them for a while, giving them a chance to spread.

For this reason, it’s better to wait until you’re nearly out of flour, rice, and other pantry staples to restock. This will also give you the chance to completely clean and dry out your airtight containers before refilling them again.

Give Groceries the Third Degree

On a similar note, take a few seconds to inspect groceries before you buy them. Sneaky bugs may be hiding in damaged boxes or bags, and you don’t want to inadvertently invite them into your home.

Honor Expiration Dates

You’ll also want to pay attention to the expiration dates on your food supplies. Even items considered “non-perishable” can go bad, and if they do, they’re more likely to attract pests, according to Modern Pest Services. Bottom line? It might be time to toss that corn meal that’s been sitting in there for years.

Practice Pantry Hygiene

I learned the hard way that ants really like when you leave crumbs on the counter, and I don’t recommend experimenting this theory in your pantry. A runaway bean once may not seem like a big deal, but do you really want to test your luck?

Taking little steps to keep your pantry clean can save you a lot of hassle in the long run. If you spill something, take the time to clean it up properly. It’s also a good idea to deep clean periodically—as an added bonus, this will help you keep the space neat and organized. Win-win.

Bugs Already Moved In? Purge that Pantry!

Spotted a weevil, mite, or moth? Unfortunately, you’re going to have to purge and deep clean your pantry. Toss out any ingredients that have bugs, and any nearby items that could potentially be infested or otherwise compromised.

Once you’ve gotten rid of bug-infested ingredients, take everything else out of your pantry and vacuum it thoroughly. Scrub down the shelves with soap and warm water—Environmental Pest Control says not to use any pesticides, as this can affect your food.

Let everything dry, then do one final scan for bugs before you restock your pantry. And don’t forget those airtight containers this time!

How do you keep your pantry protected from creepy-crawlies? Share your tips with us below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mzel0145
  • Judith Kellett
    Judith Kellett
  • Christina S Ooi
    Christina S Ooi
  • Samina
  • Mary Doversberger Hood
    Mary Doversberger Hood
Freelance writer, product tester & baking enthusiast.


mzel0145 February 21, 2021
When I moved into my condo apartment in Manhattan I saw a few bugs in my first week. I sprayed a commercial product, thinking they were under control.
Trash was to be left at a common area in the back doors halls.
I was not prepared for of a swarm of roaches (in the thousands) blanketing the other side of the door— a horror equal to any fright movie!
I filled an empty plastic ketchup bottle with boric acid powder and sprayed it vigorously at the roaches and surrounding area. I then sprayed all crevices of interior of my apartment as well.
The next day, and going forward, these pest were completely gone. Magic! This stuff is an inexpensive “a-bomb” for all bugs.
The commercial “ bug-be-gone” services would be out of business if everyone knew how effective this approach is.
Judith K. October 6, 2019
Something I had not been aware of is that a number of foods are packed in harmless inert gases like nitrogen, which prevent any eggs from hatching. Once you open the packet, however, air gets in and eggs can hatch giving you a whole new crop of critters!!!
So now I try to freeze dry goods for a week before storing them, to prevent adding live eggs to my storage jars. But I have spent a fortune on storage, and still have problems even though I freeze/trap/and spray the odd strays that I see, roaming around looking for homes & food.
I used to live in the coldest state in Australia and never saw pantry moths, but since I moved to a hot part of the country I have got a real wake-up call. I used to think I was managing so well: now I realise I didn't know when I was well off!
Christina S. February 10, 2019
Nancy H. February 22, 2019
Any item I'm concerned might have mites goes in my very cold freezer for 3 days. That kills the buggers. By the way, it works for moths too. My freezer is -3F
Samina February 8, 2019
Ugh - I brought home something buggy from the grocery years ago & it was a nightmare to get rid of. I've learned & now store any extra flour & sugar in the garage fridge. Anything loose is stored in a zip top bag or airtight container. My mother taught me to store my Basmati rice in an airtight bin with lots of loose cloves. I've never had bugs in my rice.
Mary D. February 7, 2019
Pantry moths! Ugh! Even after throwing stuff out and taking preventive measures, I couldn’t get rid of the ones who’d already moved in. (even one of these buggers drives me crazy) Finally, something worked. After cleaning inside the cabinets (again), I sprayed them with undiluted vinegar, let that dry, then put bay leaves on shelves, under the turntable, even taped a few to the cabinet walls. For extra insurance I also use the pantry moth traps. Knock on wood, this solved the problem.
ustabahippie February 7, 2019
I put all new grains in the freezer for 24 hrs and then store in various mason-type jars with good screw on lids. Never have bug problems. (Knocking on wood)
Lydia February 7, 2019
This really helps, and I’ve found the actual metal canning lids, versus plastic, to be best here.
TJ T. February 7, 2019
We live in a heavily wooded area and ants drive us crazy, even with ant traps. So we've taken to putting everything in something airtight, especially cereals, grains, pasta, flours, and anything with sugar in it. Hubby and son love those sugared cereals so when they buy a box we put the inside bag in a large freezer bag or bags, then back into the box which keeps everything in order in the pantry and nothing gets crushed. I once had a bag of cornmeal that developed those little worms but it was in the sealed bag. I now also put things that can be frozen in the freezer when possible, bagging things into smaller serving sizes.
Pam W. February 5, 2019
Bugs often find their way into your pantry via cardboard packaging. Repackage everything that comes in a box into an airtight container. If the contents are already infested (it happens) you will only lose that container of food. If you buy things like flour in bulk, the freezer is good place to store them.
J February 4, 2019
Whoa, you forgot the most important final step! After the discarding and cleaning, you need to buy a bunch of "Pantry Pest" moth traps! There are several brands--you'll find them at your local hardware store and probably even grocery store. They're cardboard tents that contain pheronomes that will trap the moths. I suggest buying 8 (most brands come in packs of 2), so buy 4. Put one tent in every cupboard, in your pantry in several places, and don't forget close to bird seed and dry pet food. Replace the tents every six months. I acquired the little devils a few decades ago in a bag of rice mix from Louisiana. They actually burrowed a hole through a plastic container of semolina flour! After I discarded every kind of grain product, and cleaned (I finished with a bleach solution), I began the practice of using the "pantry pest" tents in my cupboards. Many years later, no more bugs--although I still see a moth or two in the traps--which is why I still replace them faithfully every six months or so. .
M February 4, 2019
I tried these after a meal moth invasion. Not one moth ever went inside.
Lydia February 7, 2019
These are well worth it! It’s an important step and can help you monitor in the future.
Smaug February 4, 2019
I find it helpful to wipe down containers of honey, maple syrup etc. with a damp rag after using- however careful you are, small amounts will find their way to the outside of the container, and they won't seem so small to ants. Diluted orange oil- food grade works fine- seems to discourage ants to a great degree (it's used against termites nowadays, and they're not easy to kill)- I haven't tried it on other insects, but I have heard that lemon oil will discourage spiders.
M February 4, 2019
Bulk food can certainly be an issue when you buy too much to get through quickly. I've found it to be even more of an issue for bringing critters IN.

I've had a few meal moth infestations, and a few near-misses, and all of them came from bulk food items. Though bulk is a great way to only buy what you need, and avoid package waste, bulk items are rarely properly cared for. They are at the whim of containers that aren't air-tight, shoppers leaving lids open or not fully closed, and other contaminations.

The only thing that got rid of them was throwing out absolutely every pantry item not in a jar, cleaning every area that might have crumbs/bug food, and sealing everything new in airtight containers. All of the near-misses came when the moths were sealed in a container, making it easy to spot and isolate them.
Gammy February 4, 2019
Florida certainly has its share of bugs here. In the kitchen I use a product called Terro for ants, it is made of boric acid and a sweetener. You put a drop on a small piece of paper and place where you see ants. The worker ants take the food back to the nest to feed the queen, it may may take a few days before the ants disappear completely, but it works. Not very poisonous to humans, but keep away from young children and pets. For roaches (the state bird of Florida), I sprinkle dry borax in the very back of my cabinets and as far behind appliances as I can reach. The roaches walk through the borax, ingest when they groom themselves then die. Both low tech, but cheap. I refuse to use pesticides where I store / cook food. I second freezing and using bay leaves for grains.
Denise February 4, 2019
Use your freezer and fridge. I put all grains, etc, into the freezer for several days when I get them home from the grocery store. Or outside if you live in a cold enough climate. Then I store in pantry. If it’s long term then I store in fridge or just keep in freezer permanently.
Lynn February 4, 2019
Once I bought a bag of corn meal directly from the old mill near us. We got a terrible infestation of meal moths - even if you clean out everything, they can live off of the crumbs under your stove or refrigerator. My solution? Sell your house and move, actually that is what we did.
Joan W. February 4, 2019
I have acquired an extra bag of KingArthurs pastry flour and was thinking about freezing it. Would that hurt the flour?
Denise February 4, 2019
No, I freeze all my flours and grains if not permanently then temporarily. Doesn’t hurt them. Just be careful when you get them out; of crystals have formed you want to scrape them off so they don’t get wet. You can let them come to room temp before using in a recipe (just 15-20 minutes is good) but I’ve also used them right out of the freezer.
Steph February 5, 2019
Also, if you choose to freeze your flour, best to freeze it in an airtight container to avoid picking up odors from the freezer.
Michel P. February 4, 2019
Many little critters actual come with you staples, already inside the package. Do what people who live on boats do and Freeze everthing before putting them in airtight containers. This kills any existing stowaways before you put them aeay in you cupboard. Airtight containers alone eill not solve the problem.
Carlos C. February 4, 2019
I learned that keeping a few dried chilies in your container of rice prevents bugs from getting in. The smell is too pungent for them. I've tried this and haven't experienced any problems with weevils or moths. Also, with plastic containers, make sure they really are airtight. I re-purposed a large plastic jar once for my rice, and it turned into a moth farm.

I 100% agree with the tip about not buying in bulk. I used to buy 10 lb bags of rice. The longer you keep something around, the more time bugs have to get into it. I now try to limit my size, even if it costs me a little more at the grocery.
Carolyn February 4, 2019
I've had good luck using bay leaves as a deterrent (for pantry moths... won't work for ants or other crawlies). I throw them (whole) into each bag of flour, rice, oatmeal, etc. and scatter one or two into the pantry corners. They don't impart any flavor into the dry goods, and it seems to work well. I had a moth infestation in bag of popcorn one time, and it stayed contained to the popcorn - they never migrated to the other goods!
Brenna June 11, 2019
I actually just discovered an unopened package of árbol chilies in my pantry completely infested with grain moths, so I'm not too sure about the efficacy of this! Maybe it requires a different type of chilies.
Marilyn February 4, 2019
You did't include my go-to prevention technique (learned after clearing my pantry several times, during an income period where I could barely afford to fill it the first time!)
When you buy any flour, grain, etc, put it in the freezer for 2-3 days. This will kill anything that came in with it - as the mites, etc usually do. Once you have a "clean" starch, it is much less likely to pick up anything in the cabinet.
bhilz February 4, 2019
Thanks for sharing this! I was wondering if anyone was going to address the fact that eggs for weevils and other pests are often already in the flours and other staples we buy, since they are laid on the wheat plants and too small to be detected in processing. Thus, a big part of bug prevention is creating conditions where those eggs do not hatch.