Sugar and flour are two basic pantry staples. In previous generations, before mass-produced convenience foods were the norm, households stocked up on flour and sugar, used to make such basics as breads and other bakery items. For our great-grandparents, the need for long-term flour and sugar storage was often due to the inability to get to the market during some seasons. In modern times, households unable to use an entire package of flour or sugar within a short time frame must safely store flour and sugar for a long period.
No matter how clean you keep your kitchen, pests cans still cause problems in your pantry. They enter your home in a variety of ways and seek out improperly stored foods to lay eggs in. The eggs hatch into larva that look like worms, and they can spoil your food as they grow into full-fledged insects. The key to preventing worms in your food is to be proactive and make sure your flours and grains are stored properly as soon as you get home from the store.
If you are going to be using a package of flour or grains within a short amount of time, it’s unlikely you will have problems with pantry pests as long as the packaging is intact, without tears or holes. However, cardboard, paper and plastic will not keep insects out of your food, so transfer your food to a heavy-duty container if you plan to store it for longer than a few weeks. Keep your shelves dry and free of crumbs, because moisture and open food attracts insects. Use older packages of food before newer ones and don’t store new packages next to older ones; if the older packages are infested with insects they can move to the new packaging.
The best way to prevent insects from invading your flours and grains is to store them in glass or metal containers. Very heavy-duty plastic will also work. Transfer your food to containers with tight-fitting lids, such as a screw-top lid or one with a substantial seal around it. If you’re sure the original packaging is free of insect infestation you can put it directly into a container. Look for webbing or holes on the package. It might be easier to empty your flour and grains into containers and provide a scoop for usage.
Flours and grains store well in a refrigerator. This is a good option if you have continual problems with insects despite your best efforts. Store flour in a container with a good lid and tight seal to prevent moisture loss, which can affect the quality of the flour. White flour will store for up to a year in the refrigerator, while whole-wheat flour stays good for six to eight months, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Corn meal can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 18 months. White and brown rice also store well in the refrigerator.
Whole-wheat flour and brown rice actually benefit from being stored in the freezer because it slows the oils in them from going rancid, as they tend to do when stored for long periods at room temperature. White flour, whole-wheat flour and corn meal will keep in the freezer for up to two years. Store rice for up to a year in the freezer. Put your flours and grains in air-tight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags to prevent moisture problems.
- Pack flour in an airtight, moisture-proof, freezer container and secure lid.
- Label the container, identifying the ingredients and the date purchased.
- Place in the freezer. Flour will keep several years when stored in the freezer, at approximately 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If flour is not stored in the freezer, keep it in an air tight, vapor-proof material to prevent the absorption of odors. Store the flour in a cool, dry, dark location, off the floor and away from materials with strong odors, such as soap, chemicals or onions. Flour will keep for about 6 to 8 months when stored in this manner.
- Pour the sugar from the bag into an opaque airtight container that is moisture- and odor-proof. Glass jars, with lids, make ideal storage containers. Discard the packaging the sugar came in.
- Secure a lid on the container, or seal in a food storage bag.
- Store the container in a dry, cool location, off the ground. Keep away from other foods or products with strong odors. Don’t store the sugar in the refrigerator or freezer. The moisture from the refrigerator hardens sugar, making it lumpy.
How to Get Rid of and Prevent Flour Mites
Pantry mites are less than 1 millimeter and translucent or light buff to brown. They feed on flour, milk powder, sugar, corn meal, semolina, macaroni and cereal products, cheese, dried fruit, pet food, and even the stuffing of those wheat pain-relieving pads that are heated in the microwave.
The food itself is not the culprit and neither is poor hygiene. They are attracted by warm, damp, dark places. Kitchen cupboards are ideal environments, especially in summer. They are more often than not introduced into the house through a contaminated source from the supermarket. In some individuals, ingesting these mites can result in a severe allergic reaction called “oral mite anaphylaxis” or “pancake syndrome.”
1. When you detect mites in your dry goods, check every single place where dry goods are stored: pantries, pet food dispensers, kitchen cabinets, bread boxes. Bugs travel from floor to floor. If you don’t get all the bugs, they will spread and infest the areas you’ve cleaned out again.
2. You can detect mites by sticking a piece of scotch tape, sticky side up on packages or on the shelves of storage areas. They also may stick to glue on box tops. Check the edges of sealed flour canisters. They might not be able to get inside, but they may be on the lip, awaiting you to open the container.
3. Throw out all infested foods in plastic garbage bags and get those trash bags out of the house immediately.
4. Put all dry goods that don’t have bugs in the freezer for a day or two.
5. Do not ever use pesticides where food is stored.
6. Consider trying real orange oil diluted to 1:10 ratio of orange oil to water (10% strength). Consider to spray it on shelves and such, and let it dry — or wipe it off the surface instead, if you please.
7. Vacuum out the cabinets, then throw the vacuum bag into the outside trash.
8. Wash infected cabinets with soap, water and bleach. Make sure you pull shelves and wash the side edges, too.
9. WHEN SHOPPING FOR NEW DRY GOODS: Check the supermarket shelf where dry goods are displayed. Don’t forget that many prefab dinners have dry goods in the packages. Pet food is also food for mites.
10. Shop for dry goods in stores that have high shelf turnover.
11. Buy dry goods in small quantities.
12. Keep dry goods in a different section of the house, preferably where there is ventilation.
13. When you bring dry goods home from the store, store them in the freezer overnight. This is what is done in the Far East where mites are a big problem.
14. Store in airtight glass or plastic containers. Glass containers should have rubber seal. When you use the ingredients, check around the seals for bugs before opening the container.
15. Plastic bags are fine for short term, but bugs can make pin point holes in them. Wax and paper don’t protect well.
16. Many people say that loose bay leaves in the back of cabinets keep mites out. Try it and see if it works for you.
17. Take heart if you’ve eaten something before you detected that it was infested: Flour mites are harmless even if eaten.
• How to Store Flour & Sugar for Long Periods of Time by Ann Johnson
• How to Store Flours & Grains Without Getting Worms by Maria Christensen
• How to Get Rid of and Prevent Flour Mites by Linda Rogers, Teresa, Maluniu, IngeborgK and 4 others
• Storage Life of Dried Foods by USA Emergency Supply
• 7 Simple Rules for Effective and Hygienic Dry Goods Storage by Food Safety Magazine
• Pantry pests by University of California Integrated Pest Management Program
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