Let’s discuss a strange, food-related pest: the cheese skipper!
What is a cheese skipper?
A cheese skipper is a tiny species of fly (Piophila casei) that infests old meats (including cured and smoked beef, pork, and fish) and cheeses. Adult cheese skippers can even be found on decomposing animal carcasses. Adults will feed on these substrates and lay their eggs. Developing maggots will live in and feed on these high protein substrates. Cheese skipper maggots engage in an interesting behavior– they jump! The maggots don’t have legs, so the jumping is a result of a bending and snapping motion. Some even jump 4–5 inches into the air!
Am I at risk for an infestation?
In many parts of the US, the answer is typically no. In North Carolina, however, we’re passionate about pork! Our love of pork and the state’s large number of pork production facilities means the answer is “maybe” for this area. When I was student teaching, I had a student bring in a fly for identification because his family had to discard all of the pork they were curing. He said that some type of insect had gotten into their curing house and had laid eggs on the meat. Spoiler alert: it was a cheese skipper! Whether you are curing meat or purchasing cured meat for use in different recipes (collard greens with salt pork, anyone??), there’s a risk of cheese skippers. Those who cure meat must make sure their curing facilities are tightly sealed. The rest of us just need to make sure we store our cured meat, once opened, in the refrigerator and don’t let it sit out on the counter for long periods of time. Also be sure to check the packages at the store to make sure there aren’t any punctures or tears in the packaging before purchasing. Cured meats have a long shelf life, so periodically check any packages in your pantry for holes, tears, or broken seals.
The odds of developing a cheese skipper problem are low, but it’s best to arm yourself with knowledge just in case. If you’re seeing lots of small flies, check the pantry and give us a call! Our technicians will be able to identify the type of fly you’re seeing and help manage the infestation, no matter the species.