Snap, Crackle and Pop!

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Snap, Crackle and Pop!

By Lee S. Yudin, Ph.D.

Pacific Daily News

February 28, 1998

It’s still early morning, you are running a little late to get the kids fed and off to school. You are near the kitchen pantry and grab the unopened box of cereal you just purchased from the grocery store the other day. You hastily pour the cereal into each bowl, add milk, and then all of a sudden you see something crawling inside the cereal. Just at that moment, the youngest one starts to take a heaping spoonful and you yell, “DON’T EAT THAT! It’s got GA’GA (bugs, for you non-chamoru speakers) INSIDE!”

            Many of us have purchased cereal, rice, pasta, ichiban, candy, or flour from the grocery store and realized, to our dismay, that it was infested with crawling little creatures. Shivers usually go up and down one’s spine when they see these creatures in something that they have already taken a bit of. Snap, Crackle and Pop will take on a brand new meaning if this scenario ever happens to you.

            Most stored product pests are insects that are found within the beetle world, though there are a few moths that are stored product pests as well. On Guam, there are five important stored product pests – the granary and rice weevils, the red and confused flour beetles, and the grain beetle. On rare occasions, grain and cereal moths can also be a problem. Most of these pests enter the home via food items already infested with these insects. Usually, the first noticeable sign that one has a problem is the appearance of small beetles crawling on your counter top. Certain grain items that are not frequently used, such as wheat or flour, may be slightly infested when they are purchased, but over time a large number of beetles can be generated and will eventually be found crawling outside of their original package.

            Beetles are insects that have very hard front wings that offer them lots of protection and chewing mouthparts which they use to penetrate wrappers or cardboard boxes as they make their way towards their food of choice.

            The adults of these beetles and weevils are quite small in comparison to an adult house fly or a honey bee. Adults range in size from 1/8 to ¼ inch long. Weevils differ from beetles in that weevils have a very extended snout – “a good sized nose.” Like many of their insect relatives, these stored product pests can reach huge numbers if left unchecked. In my office at UOG, sealed in a glass container, I have about 1,000 grain beetles feeding on less than 4 ounces of uncooked pasta. Tremendous numbers of stored product pests can be generated on a little amount of food.

            So, what can you, as a homeowner, do to keep these stored product pests out of your home and your kitchen cabinets? Your first line of defense is at the grocery market. Inspect all your packages before you bring them home. Look for small entry holes in the wrapper or cardboard box the item comes in. Items like processed grain (flour and rice), dried fruits, dry pet food, candy bars, tobacco, seeds and nuts, and spices are all sources of food for these insect pests.

            If you find infested food items in your home, they should immediately be thrown away. Once an item is found to be infested, check all stored food items in pantries or on nearby shelves. Thoroughly vacuum the shelves and use a crevice attachment to clean cracks and crevices.

            Proper storage and good sanitation are the keys to preventing certain problems. In Micronesia, it is important to place products sold in cardboard, paper, or thin plastic material into glass jars or other containers that can be sealed tightly. Houses that do not have air conditioned kitchens will either need to seal these items or store them inside the refrigerator or freezer. If at all possible, try to keep these materials cool and dry. Freezing most food items for 4 to 5 days at 0° F will kill most stored-product pests. Since most home freezers do not get that cold, it therefore requires 12 to 15 days to kill beetle or moth pests.

            I don not recommend the use of insecticides around food items. It is much better and a lot safer to throw away contaminated food items or any other product that you might think is infested than to pick up your favorite can of insect spray. The best advice is to throw it out if you have any concerns regarding a food item’s safety.