Pantry pests include a host of unwanted guests including mealworms. These worms are usually the larval stage of flies, beetles, and moths and, unfortunately, treatment and prevention often take time and perseverance. Of course they thrive in foods, generally those stored in the pantry or in cabinets. But mealworms can show up of in a host of other unlikely places. Any food source or hiding spot is fair game. That’s why you may see them crawling out around a stovetop or from underneath the refrigerator.
Obtaining food is a mealworm’s primary goal. All dry foods and grains are susceptible while some will venture into moist environments. You may first become aware of an infestation by seeing silky web-like structures in a bag of cornmeal. Or perhaps small moths begin flying in or near the kitchen or pantry. You might also open up an old bag of nuts to find a swarm of mealworms, too!
Mealworms arrive in your kitchen in a number of ways. In the egg stage, they may be attached to any food item. The larvae can hide in cardboard boxes and moths can enter when a door is opened. Even if you store dog food in a separate area, pests can develop and migrate into the kitchen. In fact, pet food, especially birdseed, is a prime product for introducing pests from the store into your home.
There are several reasons you might find mealworms in places other than the pantry. They’ll seek out all nutrition sources and these might be food crumbs dropped behind the stove, spilled in cabinets or errant pieces that roll under the fridge. As larvae prepare to pupate (create a cocoon in preparation for the adult phase), they will select crevices in which to hide. Finally, in the adult stage, they may lay their eggs in any dark space that is close to a food source.
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Prevention of Mealworms in Cabinets and Pantries
To prevent mealworms, it’s important to locate the main sources of the infestation. That means an entire removal of all pantry goods. Next, each bag and container should be inspected for any signs of activity, whether it’s webbing, dried carcasses, or active movement. Sooner or later, you’ll almost certainly find the culprits. Discard any infested product immediately. The pantry should be thoroughly cleaned, but it’s also important to work your way around the kitchen as well. That means pulling out the stove and refrigerator, if possible, and sweeping up, then washing. Scrub all cabinet shelves as well.
It’s also a good idea to inspect goods as you bring them home. You probably won’t find eggs, but signs of advanced infestations will be evident. You can also freeze flour and other dried goods for several days to kill mealworms. A temperature of 0 degrees F/-17 degrees C is best. Once that is done, the pests are dead and harmless, although that thought is perhaps a bit unappetizing.
Finally, store all goods in bug-proof containers or canisters. Plastic baggies are not insect proof.
Mealworm Treatment in Pantries and Cabinets
Insecticides are available that are safe to use for pantry pest prevention. They are not applied to the food, but to all surfaces. Always follow instructions carefully. Several applications at intervals will probably be necessary, especially in the small spaces where shelves and cabinets meet the walls. Once you’ve sprayed the surface, let it dry thoroughly. Place clean shelf paper on each surface. This treatment will be effective against mealworms, or the larval stage, and adults only.
Next, you may want to place traps specially designed for adult capture. Some will attract only the males while others will emit pheromones that are appealing to both sexes. With diligence, you can eliminate all phases of these pantry pests.