How to identify and control pantry moths

Verena
Verena
Verena
Verena

I grew up on a small, organic family farm and after a gap year spent working on an American ranch, I started studying agricultural science. Soil, organic farming practices, and plant science are what I am most drawn to. At home, when I'm not in our garden, you can find me in the kitchen, cooking and baking with our harvested fruits and vegetables.

Favorite fruit: Even if a bit boring - apples
Favorite vegetables: Bell peppers, red beets, zucchini, white cabbage

Nobody likes finding moths or larvae in their food. Find out how to identify and get rid of pantry moths and how to prevent them from infesting your home again.

Weevil moth on bread
Kitchen moths, unlike clothes moths always have spots or a brown pattern [Photo: Tomasz Klejdysz/ Shutterstock.com]

The terms “pantry moth” or “food moth” refer to several pests, including the Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella), the Mediterranean flour moth (Ephestia kuehniella) and the warehouse moth (Ephestia elutella). Luckily, it is not necessary to identify the exact type of moth to be able to get rid of it. One way a pantry moth infestation can come about is by bringing contaminated food into our homes from the supermarket. The moths can also simply fly in through an open window. The actual damage, however, is not caused by the adult moths, but by their larvae.

Identifying pantry moths: What do the moths and their larvae look like?

While the different types of pantry moths do not all look the same, it is quite easy to distinguish them from clothes moths – learn all about this in our article on the difference between clothes moths and pantry moths. Unlike butterflies that are active during the day, these nocturnal pests rest with their wings folded. The various pantry moths are 0.4 – 1.4 cm in size.

A flour moth
Flour moths have grey-black wing markings [Photo: Tomasz Klejdysz/ Shutterstock.com]

Moth traps, such as our Plantura Pantry Moth Traps, help detect a moth infestation at an early stage, enabling you to act quickly. The traps contain pheromones which are chemicals normally emitted by females to attract a mate. In moth traps, they are used to attract the male moths, which then stick to the trap. The pheromones are specifically targeted towards pantry moths, which will help you distinguish them from other moth species.

Pantry Moth Traps 6-pack
Pantry Moth Traps 6-pack
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(4.8/5)
  • 6 odourless, long-lasting pantry moth traps
  • Ideal for detecting infestations in kitchens & pantries early on
  • 100% insecticide-free & non-toxic
£8.99

Be aware that pheromone traps are only meant for detecting and monitoring the presence of moths. They are not suitable for eliminating an infestation entirely because they have no effect on the females and there is no guarantee that they will catch every male. This means that the remaining moths will be able to mate and continue the life cycle – and due to the large number of eggs the female moths are able to lay in a month, this could still result in a severe infestation.

Adult moths lay their eggs in or near dry food, where the larvae then hatch. The larvae then eat their surroundings as they grow, which can result in a fair bit of damage. After this, they pupate in a dry and dark location. The new adult moths will either lay their eggs in the same spot or travel long distances to new food sources. Depending on the type of pantry moth, a single female can lay anywhere between 50 and 400 eggs – so even just one female is capable of causing major problems.

Indian meal moth caterpillar on food
The eggs of the Indian meal moth soon develop into clearly visible caterpillars [Photo: Tomasz Klejdysz/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Pantry moths contaminate and feed on untreated, ground and processed grain products, nuts, legumes, cocoa and chocolate, tea and spices, dried and fresh fruit, dry and fresh vegetables, hay and straw and sometimes even tobacco.

A tell-tale sign of a pantry moth infestation are the webs the moths leave behind. If you find strings of oats in your porridge or clumps in your flour, you can be pretty sure they were caused by moth webs. The larvae themselves are also easy to identify. Although they are basically invisible to the naked eye immediately after hatching, they grow quickly and up to 1.7 cm. Pantry moth larvae look more like maggots, unlike the beautiful kinds of caterpillars that turn into butterflies. The ideal temperature for larvae to develop is 30 °C, which is why these pests occur mainly in the warm summer months.

Food jar with moth webs
Spider webs clearly indicate a moth infestation [Photo: Jsep/ Shutterstock.com]

Summary – How to identify pantry moths:

  • Adults: 0.4 – 1.4 cm with brown dotted wings
  • Larvae: maggot-like caterpillars, up to 1.7 cm
  • Webs can be recognised by lumps in food
  • Mainly contaminate cereals, flour, nuts and teabags
  • Occur mainly in the warm summer months
  • Moth traps such as our Plantura Pantry Moth Traps help detect an infestation easily and early on

Where do pantry moths come from?

Pantry moths can occur in any household and are not necessarily a sign of poor hygiene. However, if stored food is not protected, moths and larvae can quickly gain access and make the food inedible.

Pantry moth larvae eating fruit
It is the moth larvae that cause the most damage to food [Photo: Inga Gedrovicha/ Shutterstock.com]

The most common cause of an infestation is keeping food in its original packaging. Plastic film, paper or cardboard are no hindrance to moths. Their larvae will simply chew tiny holes into the packaging to get to the food. Of course, there is always the possibility that some pantry moths will have already made their way into the food before you buy it – but fortunately for us, this does not happen very often.

Tip: Moth larvae are harmless and it is not the larvae themselves that make infested food inedible. Instead, it is their droppings and the webs they leave behind. Sometimes, the droppings and webs may attract other pests, such as mites, or even fungi. Since some types of fungi can be poisonous, it is important to dispose of infested items immediately.

How to prevent pantry moths

The best way to prevent a pantry moth infestation is to store food in sealed airtight glass, ceramic or thick plastic containers rather than in its original packaging. This is the only way to keep the hungry larvae away from your food. Regularly removing crumbs from cabinets and countertops and installing fly screens on windows will also help keep these pests away.

While our Plantura Pantry Moth Traps do not prevent pantry moths from entering your food, they can help by detecting an infestation at a very early stage. This will allow you to act quickly and save the majority of your food.

Store food in jars
To keep pantry moths at bay, store your food in airtight containers [Photo: Chris Grube/ Shutterstock.com]

Summary – How to prevent a pantry moth infestation:

  • Transfer food you wish to store for a long period of time to sealed, airtight glass, ceramic or thick plastic containers
  • Set up pheromone moth traps to detect an infestation at an early stage

Pantry moth control: How to get rid of them

As soon as you know there are moths in your home, check your food for larvae and webs. Always dispose of contaminated food. However, since moth larvae can survive and even continue to grow in the bin, they need to be killed before the food is thrown away. To do so, put the food in the freezer for three days before disposing of it. To eliminate moths from your kitchen entirely, a few more steps are necessary:

Ichneumon wasps for pantry moth control

Moth eggs are a major problem because they are basically invisible to the naked eye. Ichneumon wasps belong to the genus Trichogramma and are employed to control pest populations. They have proved to be very effective little helpers because they specifically seek out moth eggs to parasitise them, thereby breaking the moths’ life cycle. Ichneumon wasps are so tiny that they are hardly visible and literally disintegrate at the end of their short lifespan. However, even when using ichneumon wasps, it is still important to dispose of moth infested food first.

Our Plantura Mini-Wasps against Pantry Moths also belong to the genus Trichogramma and, more specifically, to the species Trichogramma evanescens. They provide a natural, chemical-free means of moth control. The wasps come in carded dispensers containing 2000 eggs each, which you can simply place at the site of infestation. The number of cards required depends on the size of the affected area. For a moth infestation in a standard size kitchen, we recommend using four cards.

Mini-Wasps against Pantry Moths - Natural Moth Control
Mini-Wasps against Pantry Moths - Natural Moth Control
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star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating
(5/5)
  • Effective & chemical-free biological control for pantry moths
  • 1 one-time payment for 4 separate lots of mini-wasp cards delivered at 2 week intervals
  • Highest quality parasitic wasps - not harmful to humans or pets
£23.99

To ensure that all moths are eliminated and to completely break their life cycle, you will need to introduce the cards four times in total. For this reason, you will receive three fresh sets of cards at 14-day intervals right to your doorstep. The use of ichneumon wasps is completely safe as they are harmless to both humans and animals. Also, as they cannot reproduce without moth eggs, they only stay until their work. To check whether your moth control has been successful, we recommend setting up pheromone moth traps such as our Plantura Pantry Moth Traps at the same time. They will help you see when your kitchen is moth-free.

Summary – How to eliminate pantry moths with ichneumon wasps:

  1. Detect the presence of moths by setting up traps and looking for larvae and webs in food
  2. Order our Plantura Mini-Wasps against Pantry Moths (1 card per square metre or closed cabinet compartment)
  3. Freeze and then dispose of infested food
  4. Set up your Plantura ichneumon wasp cards
  5. Repeat: you will automatically receive a new delivery every 2 weeks
  6. Celebrate: after 4 repetitions the moths will be gone
  7. Wipe down your cabinets etc. with a damp cloth to remove any final traces
Chalcid wasp on a leaf
Chalcid wasps are natural antagonists of food moths [Photo: Tomasz Klejdysz/ Shutterstock.com]

Home remedies for pantry moth control

Should you choose to give home remedies a go, we recommend opting for the all-purpose weapon: vinegar. Simply use a mix of vinegar and water to thoroughly clean your kitchen or pantry. This will kill moth eggs. However, as it is unlikely you will be able to get rid of them entirely, you run the risk of moths spreading again after a while. Ichneumon wasps are therefore a much more effective moth control method.

Moths develop fastest when it is warm, so another option is cold treatment. Depending on the species, moths stop growing or even die once temperatures go below 10 °C. This is because the Indian meal moth and the Mediterranean flour moth are more adapted to warmer regions. Again, it is important to dispose of infested food items beforehand because larval droppings and webs are a health hazard.

Vinegar used in a spray bottle
Vinegar cleaner is a good home remedy against kitchen moth eggs [Photo: Brian A Jackson/ Shutterstock.com]

Other moth control methods

While insecticides in the form of sprays can help against food moths, we do not recommend using them. Using sprays in close proximity to your food means your food comes into direct contact with harmful chemicals. Natural moth control with ichneumon wasps, on the other hand, provides a safe and sustainable alternative.

Ichneumon wasps are not only used for pantry moths, but also for clothes moths. To learn how to tell these two pests apart, see our guide on clothes moths vs pantry moths.

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