Well, a nasty little thing happened the other day. Or, maybe I should say an educational one. I was making a batch of sugar cookie dough and had the initial ingredients in the mixing bowl and had blended them. I pulled the flour canister toward me and when I opened it, was appalled to see dozens of creepy crawly little black bugs in it! Now I’ve seen one or two of these little flour weevils before, but this time I was a bit taken aback. But I had already started mixing the dough. What to do?
I decided to sift every single bit of flour from the canister and that way I could be assured that one of these little critters wouldn’t become part of a cookie. Or so I thought. I got a couple of big bowls and began what turned out to be a time consuming process. When I was finished, I looked at the sifted flour and saw no black “dots,” so figured I was okay. Fortunately for me, this was the kind of dough that had to be chilled in the refrigerator before being rolled out.
That afternoon I was telling my friend, Iris, about it and she immediately advised me to “throw it out!” She was referring to both the dough AND the flour. When I asked her why, she said, “there are probably bug eggs in it.” This thought slightly sickened me, so I decided to do some research on the Internet. OH. MY. GOODNESS.
It turns out that hundreds of flour beetles can live and reproduce in a small box or bag of infested food such as flour, cereals, baking mixes, crackers, rice, macaroni, nuts, popcorn and spices. You bring them home with you right from the store! Small white larvae hatch from the eggs and feed until they’re about 1/6″ long. Development from egg to adult takes about two months. Who knows how long your food was in the store?
And about my sifting? According to entomologist Phillip Glogoza, “bug eggs make it through the sifting process because they are about the same size as the flour particles.” EWWWWWW!
I immediately ransacked the kitchen, dumping the flour from the canister,from a half-empty flour bag and the cookie dough. I sterilized the cabinet where the flour sack had been. I put all the flour in a trash bag far away from the kitchen, then did more research to find out how to avoid this in the future. According to the best sources, freezing the bag for four or five days after you bring it home from the store will apparently prevent anything from hatching in your flour or other products.
After all this was done, I did wonder for a moment if all this was much ado about nothing. What would happen if I had made those cookies? Wikipedia says, “If ingested, E. coli infection and other various diseases can be contracted from weevils, depending on their diet.” The FDA Consumer, April 1986 said, “Besides eating and spoiling food, flour beetles may also be carriers of bacteria, molds and parasites. Humans can become infected with tapeworms by unwittingly eating infected beetles hiding in contaminated foods.” Hmm, yummy!
So, class, what have we learned today? Freeze that flour! Unless, of course, you like your baked goods with a side of E coli or have always wanted a tapeworm of your very own. And, if you don’t check your flour and have already acquired a tapeworm, don’t worry. Eventually, it will pass. (In a gross way, but it will pass.)
Try not to think about it.