Pantry moth control and prevention

Indian meal moths (also known as pantry moths or weevil moths) can quickly devastate the dry sweets and staples on the shelves of homes, stores, restaurants and food processing plants. Their legacy is a mess of unusable products and contaminated pantry shelves. What to do? Read on, and let our Elite Pest Control experts share a few tips about how to identify the problem and put into place a few DIY moth control measures.

Description and identification

At the adult stage, the Indian meal moth is small, brownish and about 1 cm long. The wings are a mottled grey, copper or dark brown. As a nocturnal lepidopteran (butterfly), you’re most likely to see it in action after dark.

The larva is white or pink with a brown head; the colour depends on the kind of food it is nourished on. Mature larvae grow to about 12 mm in length.

The female Indian meal moth reproduces rather intensively. She starts to lay eggs only three days after becoming a mature adult, and she can easily lay between 200 and 400 eggs in your foodstuffs. Under optimal conditions, the hatching occurs 3 days later.

The larval stage lasts an average of 40 days, although it can run up to a full year in certain conditions. This is problematic for home dwellers, because it’s the larvae that do the most damage.

Signs of a pantry moth infestation

Although you may have noticed a tiny moth or two fluttering around indoors, you probably thought it had simply slipped inside at night while the door was open. However, when you find larvae or fine, stringy webs in your dry foods, it is the irrefutable sign that you have a bug infestation in your pantry.

The webbed clumps are produced by the larvae of the Indian meal moth. You might find these larvae and moth eggs in all kinds of non-sticky foodstuffs—think bread, flour, oats and other grains, cereals and porridge mixes, rice, pasta, couscous, dried fruits and seeds, powdered milk, packaged cookies and crackers, dry pet food, bird seed and candy. In this light, it comes as no surprise that the name “Indian meal” comes from the 19th-century expression for ground corn.

Here are some other signs to look for:

  • Mouldy spots in packaged or stored bulk foods
  • White worm-like larvae inside packaging
  • Empty larvae casings left behind as the larvae moult inside the container or package
  • Cocoons
  • Small, brownish moths flying indoors in a zig-zag pattern at night, especially around the kitchen

If you’ve noticed any of these signs, it’s time to implement a few Indian meal moth control measures.

Our suggested pantry moth control methods

  1. Inspect

Once you’ve detected a problem, inspect all your food storage areas to assess the extent of the damage. Immediately toss all contaminated foodstuffs into an outdoor composting container, or tightly wrap the compromised packages in plastic bags and place in an outdoor garbage container. Keep in mind that larvae can only eat milled or crushed grains and crumbly food products—although they can chew their way through plastic and cardboard, they can’t penetrate the harder shells of whole grains.


  1. Clean

If possible, remove shelves from cabinets; peel off and discard any shelf liners. Use a soap, vinegar and water solution to wash the shelves, walls, cans, bottles and other sealed containers you intend to continue storing food in. Alternatively, you can use a diluted bleach solution and rinse afterwards. Be sure to use a toothpick to clean out any shelf-peg holes.

  1. Prevent

In addition, our pest control technicians suggest:

  • Inspecting food packaging at the grocery store, before you bring the items home
  • Checking pantry shelves on a regular basis for signs of infestation
  • Storing non-refrigerated foods in properly sealed glass, metal or hard plastic containers
  • Cleaning up spills right away
  • Emptying the toaster tray, where crumbs tend to accumulate
  • Making sure your cabinet shelves and shelf supports are flush against the wall so crumbs won’t build up behind them
  • Keeping an eye out for moth cocoons nestled into wall and ceiling corners and under tables

With a bit of vigilance, you can keep your home clear of pests after a successful moth extermination.

Did the moths come back?

If a thorough cleaning and prevention routine isn’t helping you keep your home clear of these pesky moths, it may be time to bring in the big guns: an exterminator who’s qualified to use specialized products that are safe to apply in food-preparation areas.

Our technicians are true experts in detection, extermination and decontamination, and they are on standby 24/7 for just this kind of problem. Check out our many locations throughout Quebec, including Gatineau, Laval, Montreal, Repentigny, St-Jérôme and Trois-Rivières.

Contact us today to make an appointment for a free assessment.