Why are there bugs in organic staples sometimes

So you have received those organic peanuts you had ordered directly from the farmer through Farmizen, but what is this, some of the nuts have holes in them !

This is not something you expect after paying a premium for organic produce, but to be honest this is actually something you should expect from time to time when you order organic groceries. Before you pick up the phone and ask for a refund or leave a 1/2 star review let us delve a little deeper into understanding this issue.

Most common bugs found in staples like pulses and cereals are either weevils or beetles although there are a few moths too. In agricultural science terms these are called storage pests. It has been estimated that between one quarter and one third of the world grain crop is lost each year during storage, and these pests are not just limited to organic produce.

Storage pests have been a problem since our hunter gatherer forefathers had a career shift to agriculture and than moved to real estate. We as a species have been trying to battle them from the time we stored our grains in earthenware vessels sealed with clay till today where we have foolproof Ziploc and Tupperware’s. I am pretty sure Donald Trump’s pantry has a few bugs and there is nothing the Chief of staff can do about it.

So how do these bugs get in the first place, if we study their life cycles, most of these insects lay their eggs on the grain ( some do in cracks and under the sheath) in the farm just before harvest. Even after all the grading, processing and refining the eggs are tiny enough to get through. Sometimes the machineries used to process are a source of these pests so are the sacks used to pack or storage facilities. And once they find the right temperature to hatch in your pantry the party is on. Adult insects which are already in our pantries sometimes infest newly bought groceries too.

So why is storage pest presence lower in store bought grains or pulses ?

Just as commercial agriculture uses a lot of harmful pesticides, commercial storage of grains uses a myriad of harmful pesticides and fungicides

Some insecticides are incorporated directly into the grain by spraying while the silos are filled. Fumigation is done every couple of days , repeated dustings or sprayings are carried out while the bags are being stacked and during the storage period. A few pulses like toor dal are even coated with mineral oil mixed with insecticide. All these storage processes may reduce the incidence of pests but leave behind traces of potentially harmful chemicals.

What are some of the harmful chemicals used

Methyl bromide: Very cheap and highly effective fumigant. But it’s highly toxic with the US banning its use in 2005 but developing countries like India still use it. Poisonings of workers who fumigate is very common as it is rapidly absorbed via skin and airways. Residues on the produce once ingested accumulates in tissue, which includes the liver, brain, adrenals, lungs, kidneys, fat, and testis. Not only that, but also methyl bromide is known to cause ozone-depleting effects, an environmental danger.

Aluminum phosphide : The Gas released from this chemical is known as Phosphine, again a very effective but highly toxic chemical used commonly. Accidental poisoning incidents of workers while usage is very high in India even though most cases are not reported. Even for domestic use its commonly sold as rice tablet and accidental poisonings of kids are reported from time to time

Mugdha Ras, Parad Tikki, Parad Tablet : The most harmful of these lot, but passed off as a herbal product for home use by some major ayurvedic companies. These contain mercury compounds mixed in chalk in a tablet form. Mercury even in small quantities keeps accumulating in body and causes severe neurological problems over time

Coating with oil : Dals are polished and given a coating of mineral oil ( sometimes mixed with insecticide) to create a physical barrier for insects which stops them from laying eggs

Both these fumigants effects wears off after a certain time so multiple applications are done increasing the amount of harmful residue, but still these produce do get affected with bugs eventually and are commonly converted to flours etc and passed on to customers bug parts and all

So what can be done about this ?

At our end we reject any pest infested staples received from the farmer, but when the eggs have not hatched and there is no visible damage these will be delivered as nor the farmer or us have any way of checking this. Most cereals, pulses and flours are delivered in a week or two once they reach us. As a policy we don’t use any chemicals to store the produce, however we do store them with neem leaves which is a natural pest repellent

Here a few things you can do to avoid pests and store organic grains, pulses and nuts for a long time

Storing in the Fridge : Staples stored in the fridge stay pest free for longer as the low temperature means the any eggs don’t get the chance to hatch

Adding Natural Pest repellents : You can add Neem or Bay leaves, Cloves, Ginger and Garlic to rice and other cereals and pulses. All of these have natural oils which repel pests and do not leave any residue or tinge the product. You can just remove them when using the nuts or grains.

Sun drying : Once you receive the produce you can spread them thinly on a paper or plate and keep it under direct sunlight for a few hours. Any eggs will be rendered unhatchable and even adult bugs will be killed. This will also reduce moisture content of the produce making them less susceptible to other microbial attacks

Storing in Sealed containers : Always store individual items separately in containers with a very good airtight seal. Don’t leave the produce in plastic packaging they came in with clips, if this is unavoidable, roll the plastic a few times and clip so that airtight packaging can be maintained .It’s better not to mix a new batch of peanuts with an old batch of peanuts. Always thoroughly clean the container before refilling to kill any unhatched eggs.

Cleaning Pantries : Once in a while cleaning pantries and cupboards thoroughly will clear out any hidden pests and avoid cross infestation. You can remove all containers and vacuum the cupboards or dust and clean with a solution of Vinegar diluted with water.

Although these methods may look like another task in your already busy lives, its worth taking these precautions than to consume produce which has residues of harmful and banned insecticides

Any other tips and tricks you have used to keep staples pest free, please share with us and we will be glad to publish


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