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Research Leads to Better, Insect-Resistant Packaging / March 18, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Flour beetles on pet food

Research Leads to Better, Insect-Resistant Packaging

By Linda McGraw
March 18, 1998

Anyone who has opened a box of crackers, cereal or even dry pet food has struggled with several layers of wrapping and tight seals. But that's a good thing, according to Agricultural Research Service entomologist Michael A. Mullen.

Mullen should know. His lab work to test packaging materials against insects has led to insect-resistant, pesticide-free containers for dry pet foods, raisins, baby cereals, pancake mixes and breakfast cereals for domestic consumption and export.

Since 1989, manufacturers have relied on Mullen's findings to improve packaging. One company has reported a 75 percent reduction in customer complaints about insect- related problems. Mullen's research comes at an opportune time for the food industry, which faces increasing restrictions on pesticide use.

Mullen, based at ARS' Grain Marketing and Production Research Center in Manhattan, Kan., developed an odor neutralizer that can be incorporated into packaging and keeps the smell of the contents from attracting insects. He also discovered that closures on bag bottoms are prone to insect entry and need reinforcement as much as top closures. Most insects enter food and feed packages through seams and closures.

Like people who fall into two personality types--uptight A or laid-back B--stored product insects are one of two types: invaders or penetrators. The invaders are opportunists that get inside food containers by searching for cracks, crevices, and holes. Penetrators simply chew holes in the packages. While there's no one thing that makes a package insect-proof, each additional design improvement provides protection against invasion.

An article in the March issue of Agricultural Research, ARS' monthly magazine, tells more about the research to pest-proof food and feed packages. It's available on the World Wide Web at:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar98/pest0398.htm

Scientific contact: Michael A. Mullen, Grain Marketing and Production Research Center, 1515 College Ave., Manhattan, KS 66502; (785) 776-2782, fax (785) 537-5584, mullen@usgmrl.ksu.edu.

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