How to critter-proof your groceries

fresh produce in a brown grocery bag Photo by wong yu liang

There’s nothing worse than opening your pantry and finding nibbled cereal boxes, ripped-open bags of rice, and little brown souvenirs from four-legged visitors. Rodents can be voracious, stubborn and surprisingly clever about getting into your food—so here are some tips to keep your dry goods out of critters’ tiny hands.

Keep dry goods in metal or glass, not plastic

Heavy duty plastic might be OK, but to guarantee your food is super secure and critter-free, decant everything into glass or metal containers with tight-fitting lids. As a bonus, everything looks so much better when your containers match. Pick transparent ones that have erasable chalkboard labels for maximum flexibility, or write the contents on the container using a dry-erase marker. Mason jars work well too.

Low on pantry space? Store dry goods in your pots and pans with the lids on—weigh down the lids if your furry friends are particularly stubborn. Use this trick for any dry goods, including cereal, flour, sugar, pet food, and rice.

Use aromatherapy to your advantage

Apparently, rodents hate the smell of peppermint. Stock up on peppermint essential oil (not extract or flavouring) and go to town. Add it to an easy DIY cleaning spray, or saturate a couple of cotton balls and leave them in the pantry (refresh the oil every month). Just be cautious with undiluted peppermint oil: it smells great, but can irritate skin. Not a fan of peppermint? Try scented dryer sheets instead—they’re not as effective as the minty-fresh stuff, but they might work as a preventative measure.

Try a stand-alone pantry

If you can, store dry goods in a stand-alone unit with a tightly sealing door. Built-in pantries and cupboards are hard to rodent-proof, as drywall and panelling is chewable and therefore vulnerable. An unused fridge or freezer is an ideal, air-tight place to store dry goods—just be sure to air it out now and then to avoid stuffiness and, potentially, mold.

Remember that rodents like all sorts of food

Just because it isn’t food for you doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious to a mouse. Store any seeds, including grass and bird seed and pet food, in sealed bins or garbage cans.

Keep your kitchen spotless

Don’t tempt four-legged critters with crumbs and tasty spills. Once mice know there’s food to be had, it’s only a short step from your kitchen floor to your pantry and cupboards. Sweep or vacuum your kitchen and wipe down your counters with vinegar and water after every meal. Also, clean any grease out of your stove or microwave.

Don’t leave pet food out overnight

No matter how much your dog or cat may protest, a bowl of dry pet food on the floor overnight is like opening a 24-hour diner for critters. An easy solution is to store the bowl of dry food in the fridge overnight, then get it out in the morning. If you absolutely must leave pet food out overnight, put it in the middle of a wide open space so mice have to be out in the open to grab some.

Make your kitchen a desert

It’s not just food that attracts critters—they’re looking for water as well. Wipe up any spills, dry up your kitchen sink after using it and, if you’re really having a critter problem, try relocating your pet’s water dish to a bathroom.

Seal up any holes

This can be a big job, but it’s necessary. Fill in holes and any empty areas behind outlets and switch plates with steel wool (stuff it in with a pencil or chopstick if you have to). Expandable foam will work, but mice can chew through it, so be sure to use steel wool as well. Add in a peppermint-oil-soaked cotton ball if space permits.