My roommate put some mothballs in the pantry and when I came home and saw them, I took them out.

They were probably only there for a few hours, but is it safe to store food in there? Should I throw out the food that was in there together with the mothballs? I'm leaning towards 'when in doubt throw it out' but I'm unsure whether that is overkill in this case.

  • 6
    Aside from the toxicity (to humans) of mothballs, look into why your roommate put them in the pantry. If you have flour moths (aka flour flies), I don't think mothballs would even work; however, there are traps that can work to significantly cut down on an infestation.
    – Erica
    Apr 29, 2015 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


Mothballs work by sublimating (evaporating) a toxic substance into the air. That substance, be it para-dichlorobenzene or napthalene, recondenses on whatever else is in the area around them, and makes those objects toxic to moths etc. However, the sublimation takes a long time. You can leave mothballs in a closet for months, and still not see very little weight loss in the balls themselves. That means that not much will come off in 'a few hours' to wreck your food. Tell your roommate that a pantry is not a good long term storage spot for mothballs, but eat the food with confidence. It hasn't had time to get contaminated.

  • and if the food were properly packaged, no problem whatsoever...
    – jwenting
    May 2, 2015 at 7:15
  • You'd get a greater exposure from wearing clothes stored on mothballs for years. Dec 11, 2019 at 19:42

Most things probably just fine. Some have a fairly strong odor that could be transferred to some foods. Would probably throw out bread. Would also throw out moths. Even a few hours exposure might damage them to the point where they won't have that fresh moth flavor.

  • 3
    I, for one, hate it when my moths lose that special moth freshness.
    – Preston
    May 4, 2015 at 9:41

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