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How Food Waste Inspired PrithiviRaj Jegannathan

An Indian man in a yellow shirt stands in front of a grey machine.
Photo by Spencer Hall

While completing an internship after his undergraduate studies, PrithiviRaj Jegannathan, MS ’24 (NDFS), was shocked to learn 1/3 of global food production goes to waste. He knew he wanted to research this issue to find solutions and that a graduate degree would help him accomplish this goal. While researching potential programs, he discovered several professors studied food storage at BYU and immediately applied to the Food Science master’s program.

Under the tutelage of Dr. Michael Dunn, Jegannathan studies how freeze-drying food affects its shelf life. He compared how the sensory, physical, and chemical aspects hold up after 50 years of storage. This research enabled him to craft strategies to keep food from spoiling and preserve longer by preserving the physical, chemical, nutritional and sensory properties of the food. He also hopes his thesis will help those compiling emergency preparedness kits.

Adapting to New Environments

Jegannathan experienced some culture shock when moving from India to the United States. To combat it, he poured his energy into making connections with fellow students at BYU. As the only member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his family, Jegannathan wanted to learn at a university that would enable a strong academic and faith-filled experience. Being with people of the same faith helped him acclimate to a different country and culture.

Adapting to the rigors of graduate school proved initially difficult, but Jegannathan found support at BYU that helped him thrive. “It can be really hard balancing everything: your personal life, your school, your grades and your research work,” mused Jegannathan. “Since I'm not at home, I’ve had to push myself. I feel like BYU does a good job of having people who are there to support you.”

Forging Connections at BYU

An Indian man in a yellow shirt stands in front of a light grey freezer door.
Photo by Spencer Hall

Since Jegannathan had not previously studied food science, he had to take several prerequisite classes, which enabled him to meet many students at various stages in the program. Jegannathan also works as a teaching assistant for food engineering classes and has thoroughly enjoyed helping other students learn and grow.

The size of the program, only 60-70 students, allowed Jegannathan to work in all aspects of food science: microbiology, nutrition, and chemistry. He loved hearing about other students’ projects and helping in any way he could. He also appreciated the industry connections and company visits that helped prepare him for post-graduate life.

Serving as the Institute of Food Technologists’ Student Association (IFTSA) BYU representative gave Jegannathan an opportunity to network and gain more experience mentoring as he coordinated campus events and hosted webinars. As part of IFT’s Bonneville region (the intermountain states), he collaborated with USU and BYU-Idaho to hold inter-school networking socials.

He has also competed for the past year in a product development competition sponsored by the Idaho Milk Processors Association (IMPA). His team won third place last year, and he hopes to compete this year.

After graduation, Jegannathan anticipates using the research acumen he gained at BYU to pursue a PhD. He hopes his research will create innovations that can eliminate the food waste problem.