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Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Keeping your
hoard of rice
real nice

Did you overstock when you
thought there was a dock
strike looming?


By Cynthia Oi


OH, those dock workers. They scared the sushi out of a lot of people with talk of a strike, and sent them scurrying to the markets to stock up on rice and toilet tissue.

Then they didn't go on strike. Well, that's good news.

But now what? In Hawaii's environment, it's very likely that bugs are going to invade those 20-pound bags of Hinode faster than you can roll a rice ball.

To keep those precious grains from taking on a bug's life, store them in an airtight container and keep the containers in a cool place, said Larry Nakahara, manager of the plant pest control branch of the state Agriculture Department.

Bugs are always a problem in the islands, he said, but the problem is multiplied when storage isn't secure.

You could always cook up a huge batch of
fried rice and invite the neighborhood over.

First, make sure the bugs aren't already running through the rice, he said. Then transfer the rice from the original bag to a container that has a snug lid. Nakahara stores his rice in plastic paint buckets. He finds a 20-pound bag will fit just right in buckets that held 6 to 8 gallons of paint. Of course, he carefully washes out any residue first.

Nakahara said plastic trash bags are also an option, but warns that some beetles can chew through thin plastic. Keeping rice in the fridge or freeze also will help, "but not many people have that much space in the refrigerator."

Bugs need three things to thrive: moisture, air and food, said Rhoda Yoshino, extension educator at the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Offices.

"If you deprive them of one of these things, your food doesn't get buggy," Yoshino said.

Some grain products and packages of instant dried saimin already contain insect eggs, she said. "To keep them from hatching, you have to keep moisture and air out, because the bugs already have a ready food source."

Last week's rainy and humid weather could exacerbate storage problems, Yoshino said. "There was so much moisture in the air, and rice bags, even the coated ones, are porous."

She recommends removing as much air as possible from containers before sealing them. Vacuum-packing gadgets will help, if you have one or can borrow one.

"But don't go out and buy one. That's just adding cost for something you may never use again," said the practical, no-nonsense Yoshino.


Larry Nakahara, manager of the plant pest control branch, state Agriculture Department, identified three of the most common bugs found in rice, flour, cereal, dried food products and spices.

Bullet Rice weevil: Black, with a long snout, about 1/8 of an inch long.

Bullet Red flour beetle: Flat, elongated, reddish brown, about 1/8 of an inch.

Bullet Cigarette beetle: Found in old cigarettes, blackish, pebble-like, 1/16 inch in diameter.

Nakahara said eating these bugs isn't harmful. "It's a matter of whether you want to eat it or not."

We'll pass.

She suggested using a drinking straw to suck out air. To do this, put a clean straw in a self-sealing bag and zip it shut except where the straw protrudes. Then suck on the straw until the air is drawn out and quickly zip it up.

Yoshino doesn't believe that bay leaves or sticks of chewing gum will de-bug rice. "They have no properties to keep bugs out, but some people think they do."

Beyond preservation, the food can be returned to the stores from which they were bought. Times Supermarket and Costco representatives said returns will be taken with receipts; Star Markets said it only allowed purchases of one bag of rice and one package of toilet paper, so returns should not be necessary.

People may also make donations to organizations that feed those in need.

The Hawaii Foodbank has already benefited.

"We are starting to get calls from retailers and wholesalers," said Brett Schlemmer, Foodbank director of operations.

Many perishables, such as milk and produce, had been sitting on the docks and although refrigerated, do not have enough shelf life left to put them into the markets and stores.

"So we've been getting quite a bit of fresh nutrition," a grateful Schlemmer said. "We're talking tons."

Now -- about the toilet paper. It isn't perishable, so the only problem is finding space for the two cases of 36 rolls. Here's a Martha Stewart suggestion: Put the boxes in the living room and toss an elegant damask tablecloth over them. Or not.

In any case, there's a lesson in all of this, said Yoshino.

"Don't hoard."

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