Ever notice small, brown bugs crawling around in your flour? They’re not always harmful, but you’ll still want to get rid of them quickly before they spread and ruin your dry goods.
Whether you’re opening a brand new bag of all-purpose flour from the store or a container in your pantry, spotting bugs is never a fun occasion. While literally hundreds of different insects can get into your pantry, there’s a particular type of bug (called a weevil) that likes to take up residence in stored flour and other dry goods.
Are these flour bugs harmful? How do you get rid of them and prevent them from entering in the first place? In small doses, there’s no need to seriously worry. However, for larger infestations, you’ll want to toss that flour to the compost and do some deep cleaning.
In this article, we’ll look at some ways to get rid of flour weevils, how to tell them apart from other bugs, and where they come from.
What Are Flour Bugs?
Flour bugs are a specific type of beetle that infest and feed on flour, cereal, and dried grain products. They’re also referred to as pantry weevils, wheat bugs, rice weevils, flour worms, and a variety of other names colloquially.
These tiny bugs are a reddish-brown to black color, usually no more than three to five millimeters in length. They reproduce quickly and lay eggs in the crevices of stored flour, bags of rice, and even boxes of cereal.
If left unchecked, weevils can take over your dry goods quickly and make them unfit for consumption.
How to Identify a Weevil
If you’ve ever seen them, you’ll likely know what we’re talking about. Seen from the side through a clear container, weevils in flour or rice loosely resemble the ants in an ant farm. From far away, they look like small, dark pieces of rice with legs.
How Do Weevils Get in Flour?
Weevils can get into your flour and stored grains in a number of ways, though they’re usually already in your products when you bring them home from the store. Female weevils lay eggs in the grain kernel out in the field, and every once in a while, the eggs survive the milling and processing and make their way to you!
It’s worth noting that the flour bug eggs won’t necessarily have hatched when you purchase the flour, so if you notice those little devils tunneling through your grains one day out of the blue, that could be the reason why.
Will they crawl in through the cracks of your window at night and sneak into the bag of flour? Probably not, though you should still keep your pantry items thoroughly sealed, as weevils can enter your home through tiny gaps in the house on rare occasions.
And if you do notice several weevils and have been using the flour already, there’s no cause for alarm. While a little unpleasant to think of, eating a small amount of cooked weevils, larvae, and eggs, which are extremely tiny, won’t harm you in the event of accidental ingestion.
Ways to Tell if You Have Flour Bugs
There are a few telltale signs to tell if your flour has bugs in it. Besides spotting weevils outright, as they often burrow into the depths of flour and can be hard to see, look for:
- Cobwebs – Weevil larvae leave a cobweb-like, silvery residue in their wake as they move. Note that the actual eggs are almost impossible to spot with the naked eye.
- Remains – Dead weevils, stray legs, and molted skin will look like tiny brown, insect-like particles strewn in the flour or grain. Toss out flour you see that has any dead insect remains.
If these tiny bugs in flour are entering from the outside (especially if you have fruit trees or a garden close to your house), you should be able to spot them along the window sill, baseboard, or on the wall.
So Are Flour Bugs Bad?
Yes and no. Eating the bugs in flour won’t cause any serious health issues or make you sick, provided you’re not shoveling them onto your plate live and eating them raw. But would you really consider such a thing?
Flour bugs multiply quickly, and too many can spoil your dry goods, lead to an infestation, and increase your risk of a foodborne illness. A couple of weevils won’t hurt you, but a large presence of dead or living insects, along with their feces and any bacteria they carried in, is cause for concern.
Plus, weevils aren’t usually people’s choice for seasoning a meal. If you see weevils in flour, know that they’ll spread quickly to other dry goods in your pantry if not properly sealed. It’s best to immediately dispose of any affected flour and to follow some of our steps below for how to get rid of weevils.
Note that baking kills off any larvae, eggs, and living weevils, should you find a few after the fact.
Can You Use Flour That Has Bugs in It?
Yes, but again it’s not advisable to do so because of how quickly weevils spread. Besides impacting the flavor, larger quantities of bugs in flour, as mentioned, pose an increased risk of illness from harmful bacteria.
If you spot a few weevils in your new bag of whole wheat flour and don’t want to waste it, carefully sift through and scoop out any weevils and dispose of them in the trash outside. From there, stick the bag of flour in the freezer for a few days to kill off any larvae and eggs (more on that below).
How to Get Rid of Weevils
Whether there’s a rampant outbreak of weevils in your flour or you just want to take some precautionary measures, here are several ways for preventing and getting rid of those tiny bugs. Taking these steps can also help make flour last longer and stay fresher for each use.
Toss Out the Flour
The first and least exciting way to get rid of weevils is to toss the affected flour or grain away. (Or you can compost it, so long as you don’t have more than about five pounds of flour.)
Keep Containers Sealed
It’s important to keep your dry goods tightly sealed in airtight or well-secured storage containers. This prevents any weevils or other pests from entering and, especially, from spreading!
Clean the Shelves
Besides being something that feels good to have accomplished, cleaning your kitchen shelves and storage areas also helps prevent pests. This may seem obvious, but it is one good way to keep away and get rid of weevils.
Completely clear your shelves, dusting or vacuuming off loose particles, crumbs, and any spilled flour. Wipe down and disinfect using a spray bottle of white vinegar or eco-friendly sanitizing wipes.
Freeze the Flour
This works if your weevil friends have yet to reach maturity. Look for signs of larvae or eggs indicated in a cobweb-like film on the flour. As this can be subtle and hard to detect, out of precaution, it’s a good idea to freeze all of your newly purchased flour and grains for three or four days.
Keep in mind that the freezer will kill weevil eggs but isn’t (yet) technologically capable of removing them. Since people don’t eat raw flour and everything will be heated in cooking or baking, there’s no need to worry about getting sick if a few weevil eggs were hidden in your product.
Don’t Overdo Bulk Purchasing
Stocking up on a few extra pounds of flour is a smart way to save on time and sometimes money when you shop — especially if you’re a frequent baker. However, too much extra flour can be hard to store and may lead to waste.
A 40-pound bag of flour in your pantry left in its original, thick-paper packaging can be a magnet for curious weevils. Shop smart and don’t overdo bulk purchasing in order to minimize the risk of weevils and potential waste!
Buy From Trusted Sources
Flour weevils more often than not enter your pantry already in the bag brought home from the store. While it can be difficult for manufacturers to eliminate weevils completely during processing, shop from stores and vendors you trust for peace of mind and quality assurance.
Professional Pest Control
For serious or ongoing, long-term infestations of weevils in your flour, pantry, and home, it’s best to contact an exterminator. They’ll be able to identify any underlying issues that may be causing weevils to wreak havoc on your dry goods.
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