Pantry Pests: Indianmeal Moths in Food

Pantry Pests: Indianmeal Moths in Food


What to do if you see worms, webs, or moths in your food

If you’ve ever opened a box of food or bag of pet food and seen little white worms with black heads, had moths fly out of the package, or wondered why the food looks like it has webs . you may have Indianmeal moths in your food!

Indianmeal moths are one of the most common and most troublesome of all food-infesting pests across much of the U.S.

These tiny insects are sometimes thought to be clothes moths, because, often, the first thing you see that makes you suspect you have pests is small moths zigzagging around the kitchen, or flying toward lights, such as lamps and TV screens. But it’s not these moths that cause the greatest problem, it’s the larvae, or worms, that feed on and build webs across pantry foods. The moths, of the Indianmeal species, are more of an annoyance – and they are an indication that you have a problem!

Indianmeal Moth Identification

The adult Indianmeal moth:

  • is about 3/8-inch long with a wingspan of 1/2 to 3/4 inch.
  • has reddish-brown wing tips, the wings are light gray or yellow near the head.
  • has a reddish-brown head and upper body with grayish legs.
  • flies primarily at dusk and is attracted to light.

The Indianmeal moth larval worm:

  • is about 2/3 inch when fully grown.
  • is cream or dirty white colored with yellowish green or pink shading.
  • has a dark brown head.
  • are sometimes called simply «white worms with black heads.»

Indianmeal Moth Behavior and Damage

Although the Indianmeal moth may fly in from the outdoors during warm weather, it is usually brought into the home in packaged foods, pet foods. The moth can reproduce quickly to contaminate and damage food.

Adult Indianmeal moths do not feed, so they don’t usually live for more than about a week. Their main purpose is to mate, then for the female to lay her eggs. A single female can lay up to 300 eggs during her short lifespan. These will be laid singly or in clusters on food or in cracks and crevices in food areas.

When the larvae hatch from the eggs, they will begin to feed on the food on or near which the eggs were laid. As they feed, they produce a silken webbing that covers and sticks to the food. This is another one of the most common signs that you have an Indianmeal moth infestation.

Foods Indianmeal Moths Infest

Some of the most common foods that attract Indianmeal moth larvae to feed and infest are:

  • coarse grains, such as cornmeal, oatmeal, grits.
  • breakfast cereals that come in bags or boxes.
  • spices, dried soups, and dried pasta.
  • dried herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
  • nuts, crackers, and candies.
  • baking products, such as cornmeal, flour, and powdered milk.
  • pet foods, such as dry dog and cat foods, flaked fish food, and bird seed.

Indianmeal moths will even feed on non-food items that are all-natural, such as ornamental and craft items made from natural materials, dried flowers, seeds, etc.

When they infest large packages, the larval worms usually stay and feed on or near the surface of the food, but they may be anywhere in a food. This is especially in smaller packages, where the larvae will burrow down into the food to continue to feed. The tiny Indianmeal moth worm can get into even sealed products because it can chew through plastic bags and thin boxes to get to the food.

Because the adult female may lay her eggs in cracks near foods, the hatching larva will also be found there as they begin to crawl out in search of food. When the larvae are ready to pupate, they will also often leave the food to seek a crack or confined space to do so.

Indianmeal Moth Control

Although Indianmeal moths and their larvae can be a significant problem, they can be controlled and eliminated.

Moth Balls Ok Near Food?

We have moths in our cabinet where we store our dried goods and can’t get rid of them! We have thrown everything away, thouroughly wiped everything down and started from scratch with no luck. I’m thinking about putting mothballs in the cabinet but I’m not sure if they’re safe next to food. Please help!

3 Answers

Bay leaves work wonders. Please do not store moth balls by your food, you don’t want that! Just take some bay leaves like the ones you can buy whole in your spices, baking aisle at the grocery store, and lay a few out in the cabinets. After about a month or two, replace the bay leaves you have laying down in the back of your cabinet, since the smell of them slowly goes away.

You can also boil some peppers in some water, then spray that in the back of your cabinet that will work too. But I would certainly try the first one beforehand. The bay leaves work wonders! 🙂

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Absolutely not. At least it’ll taint any food that you store there, and at worst you could end being poisoned.

There’s a couple of things you can do to avoid the moths:

1/ Get all the food out and wipe cabinets with thick bleach and rinse well.

2/Keep all food in airtight containers, especially anything made with flour or cereals.

3/Make absolutely sure there’s no spillages in the cabinets and that containers are well cleaned before returning to cabinets, touching a lid with a hand dirty with food will defeat the purpose.

That should stop your problem.

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Moth balls, are made from naphthalene, a hydrocarbon derived from coal tar that easily sublimates, or exudes gas acting as a fumigant. However these gases must build to high concentrations to be effective.

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Moth balls made with naphthalene are toxic and high levels of exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the urine and jaundice, a yellow appearance to the skin. Naphthalene can also kill red blood cells. Though your body can replace them, in the interim the condition is referred to as hemolytic anemia. Hospitals have reported a high incidence of hemolytic anemia in newborns and small children who were dressed in clothing or wrapped in blankets that had been stored in naphthalene moth balls. In pregnant women, naphthalene can transfer from the mother’s bloodstream into the bloodstream of her unborn baby. The toxin has also been detected in breast milk, though not in quantities that are thought to be of concern. Naphthalene has also been linked to nasal cancer.

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How to Get Rid of Pantry Moths and Worms


Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools

You open a bag of whole wheat flour, a box of cereal, or a bag of dog food only to find little worms, moths, or even some webs. Ew! Here’s how to get rid of these pantry pests.

What Are Pantry Moths?

You’ve just encountered the Indian meal moth, perhaps the most common among the “pantry pests.” These moths can infest bags or boxes of flour, grains, dried beans, seeds, nuts, cereals, baking chocolate, cake mixes, rice, nuts, dried fruit, dog food, birdseed, teas, herbs, spices, potpourri mixtures, and even decorative wreaths that include nuts, fruits, and/or seedheads.

One Cooperative Extension fact sheet describes what you’ve just seen this way: “Most of the ‘damage’ to stored products occurs when the larvae spin massive amounts of silk that accumulate fecal pellets, cast skins, and egg shells in food products.”

Not a very appetizing image.

Where Do Pantry Moths Come From?

Although you may need to do some serious cupboard-cleaning, don’t lay the blame for the infestation on your poor housekeeping. Meal moths probably laid those eggs at a food-packaging facility or in the bulk bins at the natural food store.

After mating, the half-inch long gray/brown female meal moth finds a suitable environment for laying her eggs—as many as 400 at one time. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed and grow for several weeks before spinning a cocoon (pupa), from which emerges an adult moth. Depending on temperature, food source, and other factors, the meal moth’s life cycle lasts from a month to 10 months or longer.

Are Pantry Moths Harmful?

The good news: This pest does not cause disease, even if you accidently cook and eat a few larvae (gross), and it doesn’t escape your foodstuffs to eat its way through your fabrics or furniture. It likes the same foods that you and your pets like.

The bad news: Indian meal moths can be difficult to eradicate, especially if they’ve completed their life cycle and dispersed throughout your pantry.

Photos: Indian meal larva and adult moth. Credit: John Lyle, University of Florida.

How to Control Pantry Moths

  • First, get the infested flour and any other infested products you might find out of your house. Don’t just throw them in the trash, unless you plan on taking the trash out right away. You could also dig a hole away from the house and bury the infested product(s) in the soil.
  • Don’t store that trash in the garage or basement while you wait for trash pickup or your next trip to the dump.
  • Then, remove everything from your cupboards and food-storage areas, including cans and glass jars. Vacuum and scrub all surfaces. Remove and replace torn or peeling shelf liners. Using a flashlight, pay special attention to the corners and the undersides of shelves, as well as to cracks or holes in shelving.
  • Meal-moth larvae have legs, and often move quite far from their original home. You may find larvae and pupae tucked away in door hinges, backs of door knobs, and corners of wire baskets; underneath shelves, and around the edges of jar lids, cans, and non-food items also stored in your pantry or cupboard.
  • The larvae can chew through paper and plastic. If (like me) you tend to keep an assortment of nuts, fruits, and grains bought from bulk storage bins and stored in plastic or paper bags, check every bag for openings that could have allowed entry of meal-moth larvae, or for holes the larvae may have chewed themselves.
  • If you have concerns, place any items that seem intact with no signs of damage to the food inside, in the freezer at 0° or below for four days. That will kill any eggs that might be present.
  • Now, resolve to store all pantry edibles in sealed glass or metal containers as soon as you bring the food products into your home. If a product is infested, the larvae won’t be able to escape the container to contaminate other products.
  • Keep small bags of spices in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Keep pet foods and birdseed away from the pantry in covered metal containers in a laundry room, garage or outside shed.
  • Hang seed-and-fruit wreaths outside. Better yet, purchase or make wreaths of twigs or evergreens that don’t contain edibles.
  • Consider placing some meal-moth pheromone traps (widely available online and in hardware, garden, and home-supply stores). These traps monitor the presence of meal moths, and perhaps prevent a future infestation. The traps work by attracting the male moths, who then become stuck to glue boards and die, unable to fertilize female moths. (Warning: Some folks find the glue traps a bit gruesome, since the trapped moths aren’t killed quickly, but flutter for some time before dying. )

Note: Don’t be deterred by negative comments from others who claim the traps didn’t work and now they have moths flying all around their homes. These folks are probably aren’t seeing meal moths, but rather one or more of the many other Lepidopterans (butterflies and moths) that commonly visit home interiors.

Finally, please don’t use insecticides to kill meal moths. Not only are they unlikely to be effective, but many aren’t safe for use around food.

Do you have or have you had pantry moths? What did you do to get rid of them?

About This Blog

«Living Naturally» is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that’s good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it’s relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

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Reader Comments

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Pantry moths

Submitted by Theresa on October 20, 2019 — 6:38pm

We did everything g, vacuumed, washed with bleach, repainted the pantry, cleaned cans, and still have moths! We but the traps every 6 weeks. Have been doing this for a year. We keep boxes of food in the refrigerator and freezer. It does appear, though, that they are ingesting the One Bite poison we have for rats, but it doesn’t seem like that’s even doing anything. We’re ready to give up!

freeze 7 days then put iin zip locks

Submitted by markk on October 20, 2019 — 8:33am

free foods flour and other items for 7 days kills the eggs . Then store in zip ock bags

Darn moths.

Submitted by Lori-Ann Allen on October 16, 2019 — 1:13pm

Like others have said, some things that definitely have helped me:
•all feedstuffs in airtight containers, helps against other pests too, so win/win
•search out and eliminate adults and larvae. I use an electric racquet made for flies. In the morning and evening the adults will rest. Find them and ZAP. «Worms» do indeed love crevices. Vacuuming those with a brush usually gets them.
•freezing bulk stuff a few days before storing airtight to avoid anything that came along in it.
Haven’t tried the Bay leaf trick yet, but thanks for the hint y’all, I will be looking to add that to the arsenal!

food in zip lock bags

Submitted by Linda McLendon on November 13, 2019 — 1:01pm

the moth larvae or WHATEVER stage can EAT thru the plastic, that did NOT work for me.

Bay Leaves!

Submitted by Melissa Selleck on October 16, 2019 — 11:08am

I’ve had problems with the meal moths in my dried products in the past but, after disposing of the infested product I included a couple of bay leaves in my ne dried products (i.e. flour, rice, spices, etc.). I haven’t had an issue with the moths since. Just toss a couple of bay leaves in your dry products containers and you’ll be good to go. They don’t like the presence of the leaves. I keep them in my bird seed, in my flour, in my legumes, in my rice, well, you get the idea. It’s natural and it works. Good luck everyone!

Pantry Moths

Submitted by Trisha Wain on October 15, 2019 — 6:34pm

I had a major infestation a few years ago. I found a really cheap 50lb bag of wild bird seed. I opened it only to have a face full of those moths come out. Next thing I know they were making little cocoons in every room of my house! Especially where the wall and ceiling come together. I did all the cleaning and the purging. My best idea was to buy 2 butterfly nets at the dollar store, for my grandson (5 yrs old) and I. We would go moth hunting together. It still took a while to finally clear them out but, the fun we had together doing it, was well worth the time.

Indian Meal Moths

Submitted by Ruth on October 15, 2019 — 4:29pm

I found the pheromone traps to be the most effective. I hid them at the back of my pantry and eventually wasn’t finding any more webs or moths infiltrating my dry goods.

pantry moyhs

Submitted by Steven Schultz on October 15, 2019 — 3:55pm

I have used moth traps that were quite ridding my pantry of moths.

Flour bugs

Submitted by Camielle Steele on October 15, 2019 — 9:30am

My Mother said to keep a couple bay leaves in your flour container and it will keep bug out of the flour. I am 80 years old, have always done this and have never had bugs in my flour container. I don’t use it often so I know this works.

Pantry Moths

Submitted by Denise T on October 15, 2019 — 11:37am

I agree with Camielle. I’ve used bay leaves with some success as long as there wasn’t a bad infestation. If there is, the pheromone traps work really well.

Pantry moths

Submitted by Wendie Howland on October 15, 2019 — 8:02am

I stopped having pantry moths decades ago. The glass jars are good, but the best is to completely foil incoming infestations by rethinking storage. All susceptible products, i.e., tea, corn meal, oatmeal, barley, spices that didn’t come in sealed glass, etc., live in my freezer. When the ants make their annual spring visit, the Cheerios and Chex go in too. Plenty of room in there, and nary a larva or moth again. If I want to, after a few days or weeks I can replant them in glass for the cupboards. The birdseed lives in a big metal trash can outdoors in a wooden locker secured from raccoons and squirrels, and winter takes care of anything that hitchhikes in with it.

Cabinet Moths

Submitted by Jo Chichester on October 15, 2019 — 7:56am

A few years ago I read that bay leaves will repel the moths. I’ve sprinkled them in my pantry ever since and, yes, they do. No more moth problems.

Pantry moths

Submitted by Lisa Livingston on October 15, 2019 — 7:15am

I had a horrible moth problem 2 years ago. I think they came in with my son’s parrot food. They had completely infested his room and moved on to my pantry. Like others I threw everything out and cleaned well. I researched natural solutions and somewhere along the way someone recommended bay leaves. To this day I have bay leaves taped to my pantry walls and ceiling and have not had another moth problem.

I had them too!

Submitted by robert meier on October 10, 2019 — 7:01pm

My wife will go through a 50lbs bag of flour in a year. I bought a sealed lid container to put the big bag of flour in. They are called Gamma2 Vittles Vault on Amazon. They work!


Submitted by Felicia Bussell on October 15, 2019 — 8:26pm

moths in the flowers

Submitted by Karen on October 23, 2018 — 6:39am

Several weeks ago i bought two large flowering plants for the indoors for the holidays. They are a type of mum and in a deep burgundy, so lovely to look at in the living room. I then noticed moths flying around them or the lighting. Couldn’t figure it out but then when I water them again more moths. I put them outside to completely water them then tried again. In the mean time while they were outside, no moths inside. It seems to me that the flowers had become root bound and dried out too much at the market place, then attracted moths? Anyway, I have left them outdoors this past week and have not suffered them in the house. Anyone had this experience? I haven’t even seen a moth until I got those plants.


Submitted by Nora Cox on October 15, 2019 — 3:54pm

I’m thinking what you are seeing are Aphids, they look like moths but are smaller and white in color. If so you can take plant outside and there is a spray insecticide made especially for them.

to all of you with seemingly unsolvable meal-moth problems

Submitted by Margaret Boyles on October 15, 2018 — 3:44pm

The national Cooperative Extension website, E-Xtension offers a wonderful Ask-an-Expert feature that will connect your question(s) with an expert on the topic in your particular area. Do check it out!

Cannot Find the Food Source

Submitted by Diana on August 28, 2018 — 12:27am

My roommate and I have been living with cupboard moths for the past 2.5 years.

These moths came into our lives by the way of infested borrowed flour.

They have since invaded our lives.

As suggested, my roommate and I did a major clean of our kitchen. We used bleach, soap and hot water and dichotomas earth on all cupboards and drawers. We used traps. We noticed a significant decline in our population to the point that we saw nothing in our traps. We thought we were free after 2 years.

However, we never were able to move the fridge or stove to get behind these appliances sweepers/cleaned. So perhaps that’s where they resided?

Fast forward to approximately 2 months ago. My roommate and I move into our new place. Never lived in. Brand new.

Suddenly we begin to see these moths. Obviously, we were never free of our pests and they must’ve hopped on a ride on some appliance or something. And they’re multiplying like crazy. We confirmed their presence after observing them in newly placed traps.

We threw out all food that we didn’t need (almond flour in airtight sealed glass jars) and a bunch of things in our fridge. We threw away so many cookbooks and checked all our manuals (that resided in a cupboard in our kitchen for signs of these pests. (Side note for 2.5 years my roommate and I placed all our spices, flour everything in the fridge- we had no food in the cupboards).

Things we couldn’t bare to throw out- teas and spices have now been in the freezer for almost 2 months.

We threw away any appliance we thought could be infested- a Crock-Pot, a toaster, two blenders. We have a new espresso machine that I cleaned feverishly with vinegar (my roommate just got this $300 machine and I would hate to have to get her to throw it out) We placed dichotomas earth in our cupboards, cleansed everything with vinegar (including peg holes and door hinges). We have not cooked in our new place or brought new groceries. Anything brought in has been placed on the fridge.

These moths have been found in the kitchen, the living room and the foyer.

We had a pest control company come in and do a spray. They sprayed everything. And at first it was fine. 3 days later we found live ones in our traps AND fluttering around.

About a week and a half later we got a second spray. Night of the second spray we saw one fluttering by the fridge but it appeared to be dying. We killed it anyway.

I found a dead one by my bathtub and assumed I mustve stepped on it and brought it in accidently. Why would it be in my bathroom. What food source could there be? But today, ten days after our 2nd spray (where they apparently drenched our couch and rug. just in case) we find a small live one by our tv.

I’m at my wits end and ready to move from this brand new apartment, break the lease and abandon all my belongings. Realistically, I can’t do that.

We’ve searched high and low- we think we eliminated their food source.

Can Indian meal moths live in the fridge? Can they live in appliances like tvs, PlayStation store etc? Could they reside in the soil or cactus plants we have bought? Where do these suckers feed? As we’re so certain we’ve removed their food source? Do they live in sink drains perhaps.

We seen no larvae. Nothing.

Please- what is our next step? What are we missing?

Pantry Moths

Submitted by Beverley on October 6, 2018 — 3:37pm

I have been dealing with them for a year. Followed EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF ADVICE that exists and still they are here. Summer and its high temperatures was the worse. They just had a population explosion. I am at my wits’ end.
How the hell do they just keep on coming?

Indian Meal Moths

Submitted by Nina on October 23, 2018 — 8:11am

You’re likely to find these moths thriving in the back, motor section of your refrigerator. They like the warmth and there’s plenty of crumbs and stuff under the refrigerator to keep them going. They also like to live under your stove and dishwasher for the same reason. I don’t know why these places are often not mentioned in articles about getting rid of the moths. 99% of the time, that’s where they are. If they’re not under these appliances yet, your infestation will be simple to end. Just look through your stored, dry foods, find the source, and throw it away. The scrubbing, the other laborious recommended actions are not necessary and do no good. Most often you’ll need to buy a new refrigerator though.

Cupboard moths

Submitted by Ron from Mercer PA on October 23, 2018 — 6:35am

We fought this problem for over a year. Fortunately, we told our local farm and feed store about the problem. They carry pest strips that you hang in the kitchen. These are the same strips that they use to protect the inventory in their store. IT WORKED . No more moths.
Advise. go to your local feed store and see what they use!


Submitted by JANE on July 13, 2018 — 9:56am

I just experienced pantry moths. I actually gutted my pantry totally. Used peppermint oil in my diffuser and sprayed with 91% alcohol to drug them and then killed them with a flyswatter. It took me a month to get them all out. Then I painted the room completely and thankfully I have not seen any in the past month. When I set off bombs in my house it acted like they fed on it and multiplied faster. Never want to go thru this again.


Submitted by Prather Lewis on October 19, 2017 — 3:39am

I am having problems with weevils in my flour grits and meal. I store them in sealed plastic containers. What can I do is it because the eggs were already in the bags when I bought them?

miller moths

Submitted by debbie on October 18, 2017 — 6:58pm

We put all grains, dried fruit, etc in glass jars, tight plastic bins. I put bay leaves in them. Millers and other weevils hate bay leaves. I have a home bakery and these bugs are the enemy! If you get an infestation the only thing we found to really get them out was a bug bomb. Of coursd you have to find and get rid of whatever has the bugs in it.

Thank you for this

Submitted by Beverly on October 18, 2017 — 1:10pm

Thank you for this informative article.

Pantry Moth

Submitted by Sheila on October 18, 2017 — 9:44am

I have putting bay leaves in my buckets of bulk goods keeps them at bay. Great article!

Have Bay or Eucalyptus? Moths will take an Exit

Submitted by Diana on October 23, 2018 — 3:02pm

Sheila has the right idea. No moths in my cupboards for years since I began using Bay leaves and/or leaves of Eucalyptus which grows rather abundantly on the West coast. Simply tie a sprig into a clean sock or net bag, place on shelf or hang it on the inside of a cupboard door on a small hook or tiny nail, and give it a squeeze. Replace once a year or less or more. Moths hate what they consider the stink, but we consider aromatic. Don’t put leaves behind or beneath appliances though, that would be a fire hazard.


Submitted by Darnell Fugate on October 15, 2019 — 8:40am

I am 71 years old and always place 2 Bay Leaves directly in each of my dry food storage glass canisters (not tightly sealed), replacing leaves yearly. The leaves are big enough to just take out when getting your flour, etc. and then lay it back inside. Only had a moth problem once when I moved and forgot to put in the leaves. Threw out the contaminated flour and meal and replaced with new but also placed the Bay Leaves inside each container. I also keep the leaves laying around inside all my cabinets and behind my appliances. Learned this trick from my mother when flour was sold and stored in cloth bags, she would later use the bags to sew me dresses.

cupboard moths

Submitted by Melissa Gladstone on October 15, 2019 — 10:08am

My Grandma said, «put bay leaves in all your canisters after you decant your items, then leave bay scattered in the cabinets»

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