Flour Mites Are a Thing?!
Unfortunately, yes. But we won't let them defeat us.
Imagine a scenario in which you've woken up on a beautiful Sunday morning with a huge hankering for pancakes. Imagine also that you're the type of person who says, "I'm gonna make some amazing pancakes to combat said hankering," as opposed to the person who chooses to go to brunch at their nearest breakfast place. There's nothing wrong with the second person, of course, the two are simply different. Anyways, imagine that you are person #1. You type into Google, "best fluffy buttermilk pancakes" and you find the recipe that looks best. You get really excited because you think you're about to make the best pancakes of your life! You imagine all the ways in which they'll melt in your mouth. You think about the gooey, sugary syrup that you'll drown them in. You can taste the butter that you'll shmear over top. You're getting seriously stoked now!
Then you go to your pantry and get out all the necessary ingredients to make your life-changing pancakes. You go to start mixing up your batter when something catches your eye in the flour. It's brown and...oh my god, it's moving. What the...? You look around some more, still flabbergasted from the first sight. There are a thousand of them. You look down to the ground and a grave materializes. It says, "Here lies Chelsea's Pancake Hopes and Dreams."
WTF are these things?!
Congrats! You have flour mites, also known as grain mites. They're little devils that infest and subsequently ruin all your favorite dry goods. They're relatively harmless (unless you're one of the rare few with an allergy), but they can wreak havoc on all that you hold near and dear in your pantry by forcing you to throw out hundreds of dollars of otherwise perfectly good food. They're gross for two reasons. First of all, they're bugs that live in and feed off of your grain products (oats, flour, rice, various other baking ingredients, crackers, chips, etc.) which is nausea-inducing in its own right. Secondly, they can make your food taste all kinds of nasty.
Are you worried you might have a flour mite infestation? Here's what they look like.
The above picture is a very severe infestation. Usually, you'll only see one or two crawling around in there. If you can't see any at all, but still suspect you may have flour mites, there are a couple of things you can do. First, take a pinch of the compromised grain and roll it around in your fingers. Then, smell the product that you've mushed. If you smell a mintyness, that's a good indication that you have flour mites. For some sciencey reason, they give off this smell when they or their dust is crushed.
Another trick to determine a flour mite infestation is by spreading a smooth layer of flour on a flat surface and leaving it for a good several minutes. When you come back and notice that your flour has been displaced and doesn't quite look so even anymore, that's another tell-tale sign that you have flour mites. The displacement is caused by the little bugs moving around in the flour.
Finally, you might notice your flour mite infestation after you've already cooked or baked something. In this case, your food might taste off. If an ingredient was compromised by flour mites, the whole dish may have a sweet, but wrong, taste to it.
If any of the above rang true for you, you can be pretty certain that you have a flour mite infestation.
What should you do next?
Here's the part that really sucks. You're going to have throw out otherwise perfectly good food. However, not all hope is lost. You really only have to throw out the goods which appear to be severely compromised. As in, you can see actually see the mites. That stuff? Trash. Take it outside immediately and dumpster it as to not further the infestation. Everything else? The bad news is that it could still be compromised. The good news is that you can throw it in the freezer instead of the trash. Freezing the food kills any eggs or larvae that may be living in it. So, if you're worried about a certain bag of chips, you're better safe than sorry to just put it in the freezer for a few days.
Next, be prepared for a massive pantry wipe down. Clean everything! Don't use any harsh chemicals, though, since you'll be storing food in there. After cleaning, you should give your pantry a chance to fully dry before putting your dry goods back in as the mites thrive in moist conditions.
How do I make sure they stay gone?
The easiest way to keep flour mites away is by making sure your pantry is both cool and dry, as the bugs thrive in areas of high moisture and temperature. If you're worried about the humidity level, you can buy mini dehumidifiers from Amazon. Conversely, you can run a fan in your pantry or keep it open more often to encourage ventilation.
Another surefire way to eliminate any chance of the infestation returning is to store your food in airtight sealed containers, like these. These are great because the mites are simply unable to get in. However, it's still important to check the outsides of these containers for mites as they can potentially get in when you open them. Just wipe down the outside before opening the containers to prevent this. But you really only have to worry about that for a month since the mites will die or go away on their own if they're starved of their food source.
That's about it. Flour mites suck, but if you can get rid of them and keep their presence under control, you should only have to go through this hell once. Shit happens, but it doesn't have to happen again. May all your pancake dreams come true!