about us     |        contribute      |       site map       |     disclaimer      |      advertise

By Sarah Elmusrati

I know that my self-designated role is to get you excited about food; not to put you off it.  So it is with great caution and tact that I write today.  Many of you come from the cooler areas in the northern hemisphere, where you are blessed by the absence of cockroaches and ants.  But in Libya, pest control remains an ongoing battle. When the heat is on the bugs come out to play, and the party always ends up in the kitchen.  Keeping your food safe and your families healthy requires a little more ingenuity during the summer months, from June to September. Arm yourself with these natural war tactics and ammunition, and defend your home, Libyan style!

As with all aspects of our health, food safety is dictated by good hygiene. Keep all surfaces, especially countertops clean.  Wipe up and sweep away any spills immediately as the floor is the easiest for pests to access, and usually the most neglected part of the kitchen as food is not prepared or eaten on it.  It is also a good idea to plug drains at night or while you are away, as this is the easiest time for our multi-legged foes to crawl up the pipes, when no water is draining to wash them down.  Make sure that all jars and containers stored on the counter are closed tight and wipe sticky jam, honey and condiment jars clean.

Weevils infest all sorts of grains, rice, flours; and products based on these, such as cereals, pasta, and cookies.  They have even been known to attack dried herbs and whole spices such as coriander seeds. Grains with black specks or tiny dark holes in them are a good sign that these insects have been lurking around.  In fact, in the local Libyan dialect, weevils are called sous, the plural of sousa meaning both pest and cavity.  Damaged grains are said to be m'sowas, the same term used to describe a decaying tooth.  Although weevils are most active during the summer, they cannot survive extreme heat or cold.  A good idea is to buy your grains in small batches, and store in airtight containers in your freezer.  Grains which are already infested should be placed in a plastic bag, sealed and disposed of immediately.  Check that other cereals in the pantry have not been infested as well.

If you've ever been to a Libyan house and stood in awe in front of a shop sized top loading freezer wondering how much ice-cream was in that thing, excessive summer storage is one justification for owning them.  If, like me, you have a normal kitchen fridge and are short on freezer space, a good trick is to place a few whole cloves (the spice) in the storage containers, as their fragrance deters weevils.  Be sure to store these on the bottom shelf of the lower cabinets (the coolest part) and away from any heat radiating appliances such as ovens and stoves. This trick first came about to protect large stores of couscous, which had been made after the harvest months.  An unlikely coincidence is that the locals also suck on a clove to calm tooth aches, weird huh?!

Cockroach infestation can only be controlled through chemical extermination, but we can be kinder when it comes to repelling ants.  Ants enter our homes through unsealed windows and doors, or cracks in the wall. Easily deterred by garlic, a good trick is to rub a clove on the window sill and around the window/ door frames.  This creates a boundary that ants will never cross.  Chalk also has the same effect, but here they are put off by the chalk sticking to their legs making them immobile. A few crushed cloves of garlic left near problem spots will also work well.  As ants cannot survive in water, placing jars of jam and honey in a bowl of water will create a "moat" and any ants brave enough to try crossing it will drown in the process.

My final ploy is against the fruit fly.  They tend to feed on (you guessed it) fruit or any other rotting organic material.  It is easy to locate the source of the problem, as the flies will be swarming around it.  Discard any overripe bananas or tomatoes, and keep fruit and veg stored outside the fridge, under cover. My mother's secret is to place a bottle cap full of plain white vinegar in the fruit basket, and apparently this is enough to keep the flies away!

> back to feature



Published June 2010