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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

Home Invasion (AKA: Did you "pandemic cook"?)

I received a picture the other day of a pest to identify. This, by itself, is nothing out of the ordinary: I get many texted and emailed pictures for ID. Not to sound too egotistical, but I’m pretty good at it. I joke that my superpower is getting a correct identification from a fuzzy cell phone picture. This was a nice clear picture and I had it right away.

Indian meal moth - Plodia interpunctella

What was a bit different about this situation was where it was found. I’m very used to dealing with stored product pests in the food processing industry. Even retail: I see lots of Indian meal moths, warehouse beetles, sawtoothed grain beetles, cigarette beetles, and more in pet food stores, grocery stores, farm stores, etc. This was a residence, a home.

Going through the research, there is almost nothing on Indian meal moths in residential accounts. This does not mean they don’t occur there. I’ve run into it quite a bit, though much less so than food processing. This is a really important time to think about these pests in residential settings. People have plenty of food products in their homes that Indian meal moths (and other stored product pests) can and will feed on. Everything from dry goods like cereal and pasta to chocolate, nuts, dried fruits, candies, and so much more.

Let’s cover some fun facts on IMM:

  • There are parasitic wasps that parasitize IMM – I once had an IMM infestation so bad there were more wasps in the sticky traps than moths.

  • They aren’t all that cold tolerant – below 53F (12C), they can’t complete development.

  • They will feed on (almost) anything – there hasn’t been a comprehensive study on all the potential food products but the number of food products they can feed on is extensive. I once reared these on ground coffee, I’ve seen wheat bins completely infested, and once dealt with a candy product (that I would have sworn had no nutritional value) that was infested with IMM.

  • Love can be their downfall – mating disruption treatments work. And they work really well.

  • Adult moths don’t matter – well, they do lay eggs, but it is the larvae that are doing all the feeding damage.

  • Larvae spin webs – and it is a messy webbing that is gummed up with food particles and droppings so you can often tell an infestation without actually seeing the insects themselves.

I mentioned it was important to think of these pests now. It has been a bit over a year since the Covid pandemic started and people started panic-buying and stockpiling food. So for more than a year, people have had extra food stashes and unlike food processing, their FIFO processes aren’t so great. So all that extra flour for pandemic baking and sacks of rice for… well, eating have been sitting in pantries just waiting. Since Indian meal moths have a native outdoor population, it’s not unlikely that one can get in and start the infestation process. And since it takes about a month to go from egg to adult, there have been a few months for those populations to build and spread throughout other foods.

Food is now in weird places

Another thing compounding residential situations is where those pandemic stashes are located. All that extra food doesn’t fit in the kitchen pantry anymore. It’s being stored in basements, in closets, in spare bedrooms, even garages. All places that are not ideal for food storage and places that, quite honestly, get forgotten about. (“Where did we store that case of cocoa powder again?” “Didn’t we have a big bag of sunflower seeds around here?”) Since many people are working from home much more, food is being eaten in the home more and in different areas of the home. I guiltily admit I eat in my home office and I should vacuum the floor more!

Indian meal moths are occurring more in residential accounts more than pre-pandemic. It’s not just IMM, it’s many of the stored product pests that are taking advantage of extra food stashes. What to do about this? Drop me a note about what conditions you have and let's work together!

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