Grain Storage
August 20, 2004 10:28 AM   Subscribe

I have a couple questions about storing grains and where to find things to store them in. Step inside to hear them.

Last night I tossed out 3/4 a bag of basmati rice because I opened it to find it half eaten and crawling with little bugs. I had it stored in a cabinet still in the brown bag from the organic food store. I've found other bug-infested boxes of stuff in the same cabinet. Also, I'm doing a lot of bread baking these days and I find myself with 5 - 6 half-opened bags of various types of flour still stored in the original bags.

My questions:

#1: Flour and rice. My wife says bags of grains come with the bugs (or eggs) already there so storing them in airtight containers wont make a difference. The eggs will hatch and the bugs will just magically show up one day. While I'm sure this is true to some degree, I suspect the bugs are mostly coming from outside the bag and saying "hey! Free food!" Is she right? Am I right? Are we both right?

#2: I don't mind unknowingly eating an occasional bug or picking out a bug or two before I use a product, but I'd rather keep my grains as bug-free as possible, if I can. Assuming it'll make a difference to store them in air-tight containers (if nothing else, it'll make a difference in my mind as well as keeping the kitchen less cluttered), where is a good source for inexpensive food-grade containers of various sizes? I'd need sizes that can store up to 10lbs of flour. I love these ones, from The Baker's Catalog but they seem way overpriced. I figure I'd need at least 10 of the larger size and I can't see paying $200.00+ for them. There must be another source.

Thanks in advance for your help.
posted by bondcliff to Food & Drink (5 answers total)
I don't know about the bugs, since I tend to keep most grains and baking supplies in air-tight containers, ziplocks or canisters anyway. Also, now I keep most of my flour in the freezer since I don't bake that often and it keeps it from going stale/rancid. I was going to recommend going to an Organized Living store, but they can be a tad overpriced (I couldn't see your Baker's catalogue suggestion for comparison though). However, they don't have a store near you and don't seem to have much of a web presence.

The good news is that The Container Store is great. They have large containers (can be stacked, are food safe, and they have nifty open locking lids for easy scooping of food) on the Amazon site. But they have MANY more food storage options on their own site. Have fun organizing!
posted by fionab at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2004

I use those giant pickle jars that you get from Costco or whatever boxbox store you patronize. If it's little beetles you have, then airtight containers should work okay. If it's pantry moths, then you're really going to have to go the freezer route, or get glass jars with some sort of rubber sealer like canning jars. I keep all my flour in big ziplock bags in the freezer. I got the bulk of my jars from a friend who was moving. In your area, you might want to try Craigslist or Freecycle both of which are great for hunting down items like these [valuable to you, maybe junk to someone else]. You might also want to try the MA Materials Exchange or try this list of links if you want to explore other low/no cost options. We have this listing in my area, for example
Available Materials - Bins & Display units NEW!
Bulk bins and display units for grains, flour, nuts, etc., in excellent condition. Perfect for retail display or storage in commercial kitchen.. Supply: One Time. Present Quantity: 6 units availabe - 4 feet each. Cost: Negotiable. State: vt. County: chittenden. Contact Name: katy lesser. Phone: 802 863 2569. Fax: 802 863 2570. Email: Code: A17/118.
posted by jessamyn at 11:20 AM on August 20, 2004

where is a good source for inexpensive food-grade containers of various sizes?

All of my grains are in big IKEA jars with these nifty pull-tops that make a pretty good seal. If that link works, it's the "Burken" variety. As with all their stuff: it's not necessarily the most trick/posh/gadgety in the world, but it is of decent quality for a very low price.

I really don't know about the bug issue. If there are dormant eggs in your grains, I think that denying them oxygen and exposing them to light are both probably good ideas. Putting them in a porous container in a dark place is only going to help them hatch and thrive.

Jars are good because the part that touches the shelf is solid glass. A bag laying on a shelf needs only one crease-crack to let bugs in from the outside. But they'd have to climb all the way to the top of a jar, and then contend with the lid.

Your wife might be right about the dormant eggs, but I think anyone would also recognize that bugs can and will get in from the outside if you let them. It's hard to agree that a good container makes *no* difference.
posted by scarabic at 11:22 AM on August 20, 2004

While you're checking out your options, I recommend putting those half-opened bags of flour into heavy ziploc bags, squeezing out most of the air, and sticking them in the freezer. Depending on how damp your area is, you might want to double-bag.

The plastic will keep out any bugs that did come with the flour, and the freeziness will keep and that are already in there dormant.
posted by bcwinters at 11:28 AM on August 20, 2004

There are some good web pages here and here. Here's the completist's list of grain pests (with pictures). I'm particularly taken with the confused flour beetle.

The best prevention is keeping your stuff clean and sealed from the atmosphere. Bugs are organisms---they need oxygen just as much as we do. If your canisters are air-tight, it's much harder for them to develop. I use Snap-lid containers. They're so cheap as to be almost disposable and they come in a bunch of colours. They work perfectly for baking.

Bugs also like to be warm. Stuff that tends to get infested rapidly (organic products, brown flour and the like), I keep in the fridge.

Get rid of your bugs by cleaning thoroughly. You can freeze stuff to sterilize it. If they're not ready for it, freezing will kill most insects.
posted by bonehead at 12:29 PM on August 20, 2004

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