Have you ever seen moths fluttering around your pantry? Weevils in a box of rice? Aphids on the broccoli? Fruit flies buzzing around that bowl of bananas?
It is totally gross to find bugs in and around your food. But it’s probably no reflection on your housekeeping skills. It’s just that you brought the little buggers home from the store.
You may spot evidence of insects in a sack of flour, a box of pasta or rice, a bag of pet food, or on fresh produce—especially organic produce. Fruit attracts fruit flies, especially when it's fermenting. Bugs as a whole aren’t too fussy about what they eat, but they’re all hungry, and can often chew right through cardboard boxes and plastic bags.
What to do right now
When it comes to insects and food, it’s us against them. Eating a bug or two won’t kill you. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration allows insect fragments, maggots, and "insect filth" in many canned and processed foods. But you can minimize the number of bugs you and your family consume by acting pre-emptively.
Wash all produce by submerging it into a deep bowl of water with salt or vinegar. Bugs tend to sink to the bottom or float to the top. Rinse well, and, especially with green leafy vegetables, shake vigorously to remove any hangers-on.
Trap fruit flies in a bowl of cider vinegar with a drop or two of dish detergent added to break the surface tension, so they can't land and fly away.
Inspect every bag and box of packaged food, especially grains, spices, cereals, and pasta. The longer a product has been in your cabinet, the more likely it is to be infested.
Dispose of any infested products you find, so the infestation doesn’t spread.
How to keep bugs out in the future
Once you’ve discovered bugs in your kitchen, you will never want to see them again. But using pesticides near your family’s food is not a great solution. Here are 10 better ways to protect your food.
Vacuum every pantry shelf, from the corners to the hinges. Then, wipe each shelf down with a vinegar and water solution, and towel dry. Do this a couple of times a year.
Eyeball all incoming groceries. If the package is torn or damaged, don’t even buy it.
Keep all pantry products in sealed glass containers.
Before you store them, freeze rice and similar grains for three days to kill insects and their eggs.
Keep produce in the fridge, not on the counter. For foods you don't refrigerate, like bananas and tomatoes, eat them before they become over-ripe.
Keep the drain clean. Fruit flies love to breed there.
Don’t let crumbs sit around on shelves or counters. Sweep them up as soon as you see them.
You can purchase pheromone traps to attract moths. These only attract male moths, though, so they're not completely effective.
Diatomaceous Earth (food grade only) is a powder made of fossilized plankton. It is non-toxic to humans and other mammals, and it dries out and kills insects. We’re pretty skeptical about sprinkling it in the pantry, but if you decide to use it, be careful not to inhale any.
Some people add bay leaves to a canister of flour to repel bugs. Though we haven’t seen any hard scientific proof that this helps, go ahead and use one if you want to. It won’t do any harm.