How to store flour, sugar, cereals, baking powder and yeast to avoid weevils and ants.

Storing Baking Supplies

Do you really have to be a bit paranoid about your flour and sugar storage on a boat?  Well, yes — in general, a boat is more “open” than a house and thus it’s a lot easier for moisture and/or bugs to get in.  And thus baking supplies — flour, sugar, boxed mixes, baking powder and yeast — have to be stored a little more carefully on a boat than ashore to ensure they’ll be in good condition when you want to use them.

The good news is that it’s not hard to properly store your supplies — although you DO need to invest in some good plastic containers.  The same principles apply to breakfast cereals, too.

Flour & Sugar

I typically have my stocks of flour and sugar divided into at least three parts:

  • a small container that’s easily accessible for everyday use; and
  • the main stocks divided between at least two containers, so that if one should get bugs in it, my entire stock isn’t gone.

Then, once a week or so, I’d replenish the smaller container from one of the big containers.

Overall, it’s better to use plastic containers with locking lids to store your baking supplies, as opposed to putting them in Ziplocs.  I’ve had far more problems with Ziplocs developing pinholes, through which bugs and moisture can enter.  That said, sometimes Ziplocs are your only choice for what will fit in a particular location, and in that case, it’s best to use freezer bags and double-bag the items.

Lock & Lock, Rubbermaid Lock-its, and Sterilite Ultra-Seal are all good containers to use — they have positively locking lids and gasketed seals.  In figuring what sizes will work best for you, you have to consider how much of anything you’re likely to want to store — and then remember to divide that in two or more parts, based on what size containers will fit in the lockers you have available.

A couple of important measurements in deciding what size containers you need:

Flour: 5 pounds is about 19 cups; some varieties, such as rye, will have as much as 5 cups per pound

Sugar: 5 pounds is 10 to 11 cups.

NOTE:  I store oatmeal the same way as sugar and flour.

Box Mixes

Most box mixes now have an inner bag containing the mix.  Where this is the case, I take the inner bag out, cut the directions from the box, and put the inner bag and directions inside a freezer Ziploc, and then put those bags inside a larger plastic container with a locking lid.  I throw away the rest of the box.

I do this for two reasons:  first, the mixes take up less room without the cardboard boxes, and second, the cardboard box can have bugs in it.

NOTE:  I store breakfast cereal in the same way as box mixes, although I make sure not to put heavy mixes on top of bags of cereal that could be crushed.

Avoiding Weevils and Ants

The first step in avoiding weevils and ants is to try not to bring any home from the store.  There’s rarely a problem in the US, or even in foreign countries in large stores with items that sell quickly.  The problem comes with items that are sold in bulk, in small villages, or that are “specialty” items that might have sat on the shelf for a while.  It’s easy to get excited about snagging a “find” (brownie mix, Bisquick) and not stop to think about whether it’s likely to be fresh.

Assuming that you’ve started with an uncontaminated supply, good plastic containers with gasketed lids go a long ways towards keeping both moisture and bugs out of your baking supplies. But to really avoid weevils (in things with flour, including cereals) and ants (in things with sugar, again including cereals), you need to do two things more:

To avoid weevils, put a couple of bay leaves in every container of flour or cereal and change them every three months.  If you have put box mixes in individual Ziplocs, I recommend a bay leaf in each Ziploc.

To avoid ants, put a whole clove or two in every container of anything with sugar.  You can also sprinkle a tiny bit of ground cloves in the sugar — don’t worry, you really won’t taste the cloves when you use the sugar (unless you use a huge amount).

I also like to put some cloves — or a drop of clove oil — in the locker itself.   Aboard Que Tal, ants were my biggest problem but once I discovered using cloves, I stopped seeing them.

I particularly like using the bay leaves and cloves to avoid bug problems before they start, as these are non-toxic solutions.  You don’t have to worry about chemicals getting into your food, as you do with various pesticides — particularly sprays.  And they’re safe around kids and pets, both of whom can get into things that adults would never think of!

Baking Powder & Yeast

See my articles on How to Store Yeast and Baking Powder Tips for the best ways to store these.

Should You Get Bugs or Moisture in a Container . . .

Well, we don’t really want to think about these things.  And if we spot a problem, it’s easy to try to ignore it.  But the reality is that it’s not going to get better on it’s own, it’s going to get worse.  And more food will be spoiled and it will be an even bigger and nastier clean-up job.

The first thing to do is get the bad contents off the boat.  Not just into a trash bag, but actually off the boat.  Whether it’s gone moldy or there are bugs in a box, dump it.

Then carefully check any nearby containers to see if they have a problem, too.  Pull everything out of the locker and wash it down with a bleach solution (if you can’t use bleach because of fabric nearby, use either ammonia or vinegar — don’t mix them — and the stronger the solution, the better).

Also wash the plastic container out with a bleach solution and make sure it’s totally dry before putting anything back in it.  If you had the gunky stuff inside Ziplocs, don’t try to reuse them — trash them right along with their contents.

With a bit of luck and following the above guidelines for storing your baking supplies, you’ll never encounter a problem.

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  • Candy Williams
    Posted at 11 January 2011 Reply

    I LOVED the clove tip for getting rid of ants. We have always had ant problems even when we were on land. Can’t wait to share this tip. Thanks!

  • Margaret McGovern
    Posted at 12 December 2011 Reply

    Just returned to our boat on the Rio Dulce after a summer away. Some of the canned goods developed rust around the top and bottom rim. Are they safe to use or should I toss them all?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 12 December 2011 Reply

      Hi Margaret!

      Sorry to hear about the rust, but welcome back to the boat and welcome to The Boat Galley!

      According to the FDA: “Discard heavily rusted cans. Cans that are heavily rusted can have tiny holes in them, allowing bacteria to enter. Surface rust that you can remove by rubbing with your finger or a paper towel is not serious. You can keep these canned foods. If you open the cans and there is any rust inside, do not eat the food. Rust (oxidized iron) is not safe to eat.”

      The Canned Food Alliance (a trade group for manufacturers of canned goods) says: “Rust or dents do not affect the contents of the can as long as the can does not leak. If the can is leaking, however, or if the ends are bulged, the food should not be used.”

      Hope that helps you!


  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 03 May 2012 Reply

    Oops, typo — should be “your” ingredients! 😉

  • nichola wright
    Posted at 03 November 2012 Reply

    What easy to do tips and using natural ingredients too. Perfect. Many thanks!

  • S/V Dos Libras
    Posted at 23 September 2014 Reply

    This came at a good time! I’m starting to think about provisioning for Bahamas… I’m going to crack open my Boat Galley Cookbook and start practicing some recipes…

  • Betty Adams
    Posted at 27 August 2015 Reply

    The containers in the photo are definitely Tupperware, although Tupperware was not mentioned in the brands of containers. That’s pretty much all I use, and have not had any problems with critters getting in. Another thing about Tupperware is that it has a lifetime guarantee, anything that breaks can be replaced. I get a lot of Tupperware at garage sales, and have even found some floating by while on the boat. It doesn’t matter how you obtained it, its still guaranteed. As soon as we go back to Mexico for the winter season, I will definitely add Bay leaves and cloves!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 27 August 2015 Reply

      I prefer the locking ones mainly because if they get tossed around in rambunctious conditions, they’re a lot less likely to pop open. But I do have some Tupperware, too — sometimes it’s a matter of what fits.

  • Debbie Bowen Crawford
    Posted at 06 June 2016 Reply

    I went to mason jars and that helps but cans are still a problem. It is so hard to not used canned food with a family of four and frozen is not an option with limited freezer space.

  • Lori Steinbrunner
    Posted at 06 June 2016 Reply

    Good info. Wondering if you’ve had any experience with powdered buttermilk?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 06 June 2016 Reply

      I used it a couple of times maybe 10 years ago, and haven’t since because of Dave’s milk allergy. If memory serves me right, I had to put some dried beans in it to keep it from clumping . . . or becoming rock hard.

  • Judi Adams
    Posted at 19 July 2017 Reply

    Now I know why I don’t have ants. I use cloves. Before we started cruising another friend said to freeze flour, dried beans and pasta for 48 hrs to kill any eggs and it seemed to work.

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