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three teenagers sorting potatoes at a food bank.
Siddharth Maruvada, Arnav Meduri, and Abhinav Meduri, the high school students who created Pantry Patrol, sort through potatoes at the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina in Raleigh. While volunteering, they’re also noting potential features that may be useful to add to their app. (photo by Elise Mahon from UNC Research)

Three local high school students—Abhinav Meduri, Arnav Meduri, and Siddharth Maruvada—collaborated with Dr. Alice Ammerman, one of her students, and a Food Bank partner to publish research about food waste practices in food pantries in central and eastern North Carolina. The study, “A Descriptive Study of Food Waste-Related Practices and Policies Among Food Pantries in Central and Eastern North Carolina,” was published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition in March 2024.

The study surveyed 84 pantries in North Carolina, finding that fresh produce was the most discarded category of food. The pantries reported that spoiled and expired food was the most common reason for food waste. “One in 10 U.S. households are food insecure, and about 30% of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted each year,” said Dr. Ammerman, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP). “Any effort to reduce food waste, including at food pantries, is going to help reduce hunger in our communities.”

The students have a long history of working together to reduce food waste and fight hunger. In 2020, then-freshmen Meduri, Meduri, and Maruvada began researching food insecurity after the? news media reported increased food insecurity as schools operated remotely and students lost access to school food programs. They began working with Dr. Ammerman to build an app, called Pantry Patrol, that helps food pantries maximize efficiency and reduce food waste.

To further develop Pantry Patrol, Dr. Ammerman connected Meduri, Meduri, and Maruvada with Gideon Adams, vice president of community health and engagement for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and a member of HPDP’s Community Advisory Board. Adams’ experience and insight into food pantries’ needs helped the team develop food waste-focused tools, such as dashboards, food inspections, and data visualizations. The students also expanded the app to include other food pantry management tools to improve pantries’ overall efficiency.

Several N.C. food pantries have begun using the app and have offered positive feedback for the app’s features as well as the students’ responsiveness to continue tailoring the app to each pantry’s needs. In 2021, Meduri, Meduri, and Maruvada placed first nationally for Pantry Patrol in the ninth-grade category for eCybermission, a virtual competition in which students use STEM techniques to solve local problems. Today, Meduri, Meduri, and Maruvada are high school seniors at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, N.C. This research study continues the students’ work to address food insecurity by reducing food waste.

While the vast majority of food pantries studied had already implemented some measures to try to reduce food waste, the study suggests additional policies and practices that can help food pantries maximize distribution of safe, edible foods to their clients.

The study is co-authored by Meduri, Meduri, Maruvada, Dr. Ammerman, Adams and Kyle Busse, who very recently completed his doctorate at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Busse supported the students in designing a survey instrument, conducting the research, analyzing the data and writing the manuscript. “It was a privilege to mentor these three outstanding students,” said Busse. “ They are curious, innovative, and committed to alleviating food insecurity in our community. The findings from this study can inform efforts to reduce food waste in food pantries in North Carolina and across the country.”

Dr. Alice Ammerman, DrPH, is the director of HPDP and is the Mildred Kaufman Distinguished Professor in the department of nutrition in the UNC Gillings School for Global Public Health. Her research experience includes extensive cultural adaptation of nutrition and physical activity intervention materials and interventions at all levels of the socio-ecologic model.

Kyle Busse, MPH, recently completed the doctoral program in Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. His research focuses on the consumption of ultra-processed foods in adolescence and early adulthood and its relationship to cardiometabolic health across the life course.

 Gideon Adams is the vice president of community health and engagement for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and a member of HPDP’s Community Advisory Board.


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