A Waimate man who found hundreds of “creepy crawlies” in a packet of brown rice is worried the bugs could be in other New Zealand pantries and people may be unknowingly eating them.

Earlier this month, David Schofield went to cook some Australian-brand SunRice brown rice, which had been stored in his pantry in airtight containers, to go with a curry for dinner.

Mr Schofield was “quite surprised” to discover some of the grains were moving and, upon closer inspection, realised the rice was infested with little bugs.

“There’s hundreds and hundreds of them – they’ve survived in a packet that’s sealed, goodness knows.”

He could not remember if he bought the rice from a Waimate or Timaru supermarket, but was concerned if other people had bought packets from the same batch, they could also have bugs in their pantries or have unknowingly eaten them.

“If it’s in my packet, it’s in other people’s packets – they need to get it off the shelves.”

He called SunRice and also contacted the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), fearing it could be a biosecurity risk if the bugs had come from Australia.

After reviewing a photo of the bugs, MPI entomology team manager Alan Flynn said they were was consistent with the rice weevil (Sitophilus oryzae). The rice weevil is found worldwide and is a common pest in stored products.

“Pantry pest insects can breed in virtually any stored product – seeds, nuts, grains or flours, dried herbs, chocolates with nut centres, bird seed, other animal foods,” Mr Flynn said.

Since January 1 this year, MPI had received about 17 reports of insects associated with imported rice. As the rice weevil was established in New Zealand, it did not pose a biosecurity risk. Nor would it harm humans or animals who ate it, Mr Flynn said.

“People usually unwittingly buy them in stored products in the egg stage which is invisible in the product, and only when they have finished feeding and emerge as adults (the mating and dispersal stage) do they become obvious.”

A SunRice Group spokesperson said food safety was “extremely important” to the company and all products were subject to “stringent quality assurance processes”.

In warm climates, grain products such as rice and wheat were prone to occasional infestation, even if stored under good physical conditions, the spokesperson said.

“This is an issue that can happen anywhere throughout the supply chain or storage process, including after products have left SunRice’s manufacturing and storage facilities.

“We understand that finding infestations like this can be a stressful experience for our consumers, and we take matters like this seriously.”