David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
Yard & Garden
Icky Insect Invaders
Control the Insects Wintering in Your Kitchen
There's nothing as exciting as getting all the fixings ready for the Thanksgiving dinner with thoughts of all the aromas filling the air as the turkey and trimmings are cooked.
And then, right when you're reaching for the spices, stuffing, flour or biscuit mixes, you discover the cupboards crawling with all sorts of little pests. Of course, if you have bad eye sight, or have been tipping your elbow a little too much while watching the football games, you may not even notice them.
Kitchen insects seems to become more noticeable during the late fall or early winter months, though their presence can be high throughout the year. Maybe it's the cooler weather or the fact that the house is usually closed up for the winter that makes us notice them a little more.
Cockroaches, of course, are the most widely known, but generally least seen. Roaches tend to be more nocturnal and scurry at the sound of approaching footsteps. It's only when we deep clean, move a refrigerator or reach behind a box in the cupboard, and disturb them that we notice them.
Less likely to run away are the pantry pests, a broad group of bugs that include beetle and weevil grubs and moth larva. Seldom do we find the beetles in the kitchen and even more rarely the moths. That's not to say that they aren't there, because they can be, especially when you open up that spice container and shake a few out.
Most of the pantry pests prefer to feed on grain products and spices, though they are fond of chocolate, dog food (probably with grain fillers), dried flowers and Thanksgiving decorations such as Indian corn. What they won't go after is usually easier to figure out than what they will - they don't like high-sugar content and pure salt.
Cake mixes are fair game. So are the ever-popular Ramen noodles with their flavor packets. Spices in metal containers are more commonly infested than glass containers, but the insect usually starts out in the container before you even bring it home.
Cardboard, paper and plastic are no match for the insects. They'll chew right through the sides of one package into the other. Thick plastic containers often prevent them from spreading.
The first thing to realize is that these insects don't pose any safety problem. Sure, they can be classified scientifically as "icky" but they are a high source of protein and few calories. Most are white and when you accidentally bake them in a cake, biscuit, mashed potato or sauce, no one usually notices.
Of course, if they do, just say "Well. My. My. Isn't that weird? Who do you think will win the football game? More cranberries anyone?" That should do the trick.
Then, when everyone is shopping for holiday presents, do some good thorough cleaning.
Go through all your mixes. Throw out the ones that are insect infested. If you question whether something is in there or not, put the box in the freezer for 24 hours. That should be enough to kill any insect there. Some people even store some of their cake and biscuit mixes in the freezer, bringing them out a couple of hours to warm before using.
Once a year, remove everything from the cupboards and wipe the cupboards down with hot sudsy water. Rinse with some bleach water, and then give a final rinsing.
Your grandmother probably used shelf paper in the kitchen, but it can hide some of the bugs. Get rid of it.
Consider storing mixes in plastic containers to prevent cross contamination.
Keep Fido's food tightly sealed, and if in the kitchen, away from other products.
Don't keep spices and herbs around for more than a year. That same storage time should apply to most grain products.
© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.