GCCF initiative connects food recovery community with temperature-controlled logistics companies.
By Karen E. Thuermer

Hunger is a serious problem around the globe. Also challenging is mass feeding and food rescue. This is the ability to take unused food, store and refrigerate it and transport it to people in need. The fact is, the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone. Yet each year, billions of pounds of food go to waste. Millions of people across the planet do not have reliable access to the food they need.

Feeding America reports that 34 million people in the United States alone are food insecure, 9 million of whom are children. In 2021, 53 million Americans turned to food programs. Every county in the United States experiences food insecurity, and food drives occur across the country, especially in times of natural disaster.

Consider the victims of a powerful tornado that raged across the southern United States last March and destroyed a city in Mississippi. Immediately volunteers from Operation BBQ Relief (OBR) rushed to feed the victims. The organization was founded in 2011 in response to an enormous tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri. At the time, competitive pitmasters from nine different states answered the call to feed displaced families and first responders.

“Together, they were able to serve over 120,000 meals in a 13-day period,” recalls Paul D. Peterson, Head of Development Initiatives at OBR. “This experience of building a network to feed individuals in need has been the inspiration for Operation BBQ Relief. Our focus is the most vulnerable population that otherwise would not have life sustaining support.”

Today, OBR’s mission is to deploy equipment, volunteers and food resources to provide hot meals and water to communities that have been decimated by disasters. To date, Operation BBQ Relief has provided more than 10 million meals throughout the United States and abroad following natural disasters, COVID-19 response, and through The Always Serving Project, benefiting the homeless, first responders, and veterans and members of the military.

In February 2023, GCCA connected with OBR when a request to help store 150 pallets of frozen pork before it went to waste was received on a Friday afternoon. Immediately, the association reached out to GCCA members in the region around Dallas, Texas, to see which member, if any, could help. GCCA members Lineage Logistics, RLS Premier and United States Cold Storage Inc. were keen to support and answered the late afternoon call ahead of a long weekend. Ultimately, Keith Mowery, Senior Vice President, Logistics at United States Cold Storage ensured the donation could be properly stored. The company’s local facility will store all the product for six to eight months. According to OBR, this donation will provide approximately 500,000 meals to people experiencing a disaster situation.

“What many people don’t know is that there are so many more ways to help end hunger than just donating food,” comments Diane Letson, Vice President, Food Industry Partnerships, Feeding America National Organization. “For instance, companies and individuals can advocate, volunteer, make a financial contribution, and even donate equipment or materials needed to move food, boxes, pallet jacks, racking, thermal blankets, cold storage space, backhauls or transportation.”

Answering Questions

The Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) has had food waste on its radar screen for some time. Hearing that members were uncertain what to do with unwanted food, GCCA began by developing a handbook. “They were asking what could be done to keep it out of the landfill, how to reallocate it and get it into food banks,” says Amanda Brondy, Vice President, International Projects at GCCA.

Global issues relating to the pandemic, war in Ukraine, supply chain challenges and inflation have increased concerns over food loss, waste and insecurity. “More people began paying attention to the problem,” says Brondy. “We started looking at what we as an industry could do to support those working in food rescue. We began interviewing our members, their connections and those listed in the handbook.”

GCCA also connected and reconnected with other food rescue groups such as the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN). “We tried to understand from our members and food banks what the challenges were and how GCCA members and resources could resolve challenges or reduce the food waste burden on the food banks,” Brondy says.

Food Bank Initiatives

Subsequently, GCCA and its members came up with a series of recommendations that Brondy says continues to grow to this day. Those recommendations culminated in September 2022 when GCCA and its foundation arm, the World Food Logistics Organization (now the Global Cold Chain Foundation), announced a new initiative. Opportunities would be provided to food banks, food pantries and others working within the food recovery community to connect with, and glean knowledge from, experts in the perishables logistics industry.

One recommendation was enacted immediately. Complimentary GCCA membership has been offered to food banks and food pantries. Membership will give them access to resources on appropriate perishable commodity storage temperatures and handling, sanitary transportation, and warehouse and energy efficiency. It also gives them the ability to utilize the association’s Scientific Advisory Council, a panel of experts covering all technical needs of the temperature control industry. In addition, they can connect with the hundreds of companies worldwide representing experts in refrigerated warehouses, transportation assets and controlled environment construction.

GCCA is considering other initiatives as well such as specialized training for food banks in the form of webinars or auditable Cold Chain Institute courses.

“Domestically, we could look inward for resources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which puts a lot of work into reducing food waste,” Brondy says. “But for now, our focus is on organizing. We will be looking for opportunities where we can grow domestically and internationally.”


To date, Feeding America, GFN and OBR are among several organizations that have partnered with GCCA to support these initiatives.

Katie Pearmine, Associate Director of Global Food Systems Partnerships, explains that GFN became a GCCA partner because of its leadership in cold chain and food innovation as well as its commitment to philanthropy and building sustainable food systems. She sees the initiatives as strengthening food bank capacity while also supporting partnerships between food recovery organizations and companies handling and storing food.

Pearmine notes that GCCA members especially can provide support through cold chain technology to store food safely and efficiently before distribution. “While GFN has provided member food banks with funds to increase their cold chain capacity, GCCA members can amplify this work by providing our members with tailored technical assistance based on the food bank’s infrastructure and capacity needs,” she says.

Letson explains that by partnering with GCCA’s initiative, Feeding America can potentially reach a broader audience within the food and grocery industry. “This partnership can help convey not only these unique opportunities to get involved but also the severity of food insecurity in this country.”

She emphasizes that networking is critical to speaking and advocating on behalf of people experiencing hunger. “We can mutually benefit by supporting and assisting our members with information – both hunger statistics and industry conditions within cold storage,” says Letson. “We both have opportunities to educate our members and look for ways to support each other through speaking opportunities, educational materials, conferences and newsletters. Possibly we may advocate for legislation that could benefit both GCCA’s and Feeding America’s members. As our food banks and their partner agencies join GCCA, there are myriad resources available including manuals on commodity storage, warehouse operations and sanitary transportation.”

Feeding America has also learned of requests to GCCA from food banks asking about ideal temperatures for new sorting and repack rooms, backup systems for cold storage, facility design, cold rooms, suppliers of precoolers and purchasing a used reefer truck.

Peterson emphasizes that partnering with GCCA helps OBR store necessary food items until a disaster strikes. “Often during disasters, the food that is needed is not immediately available to rapidly respond,” he explains. “This alliance can increase our response time and availability to the communities that need us most.”

Peterson also notes how moving forward, GCCA is a valuable partner in offering strategic locations to be readily available for use. “Imagine having storage on the West Coast and trying to rapidly respond to a disaster on the East Coast,” he explains. “The extra days of transport could be the difference between standing by and waiting on resources to arrive or immediately helping a community in need.”

In considering how GCCA members could benefit from its partnership with OBR, Peterson suggests that since Operation BBQ Relief is a nonprofit 501(c)3, a charitable donation of space could be tax deductible expense.

“During a disaster, everyone wants to help,” he adds. “Operation BBQ Relief provides that opportunity to positively affect those most vulnerable during a time of need. A successful deployment starts with planning long before a disaster. This allows GCCA and its associates to communicate what, why and how they are supporting relief efforts.”

Networking is a critical component of building OBR and other such organizations’ donor and support base. “Operation BBQ Relief survives on donors to help provide meals in the most vulnerable areas after a disaster,” Peterson says. “Without having the ability to strategically store items throughout the country until needed, these communities would not be able to rebuild and start to return to normal.”

Letson emphasizes the need for more powerful advocates to speak out for people experiencing hunger. “We still find that food and grocery companies aren’t entirely aware of what can be donated or of laws established to protect companies when they donate food in good faith,” she says. “What could be problematic for a company – aging cold storage product that doesn’t have a customer – could be turned into a win/win/win for the company, the food bank and the person receiving that food when it gets donated instead of tossed.”

Networking also helps demystify why a neighbor would need food assistance. “We want every neighbor in need of food assistance to feel confident and comfortable stepping forward,” Letson says.

Global Effort

Food banks are important everywhere but even more important in developing countries with a huge gap between economic classes. In Panama, for example, poverty still is a significant issue for many Panamanians although it has been one of the fastest-growing countries in Latin America.

“Some communities in rural areas rarely see the benefits of economic growth, and more than 85% of the indigenous people live under the poverty line,” comments Rafael Rocha, Vice President, Commercial, Emergent Cold LatAm.

As a thirty-party logistics provider, he saw how some of their customers were throwing food away for many reasons. But mostly the reason was these products were not appropriate to be sold or delivered to restaurants.

“One day I heard a priest talking about a group that wanted to bring the food bank to Panama to reduce food waste and hunger,” Rocha recalls. “That same day, I approached the group to see how I could help. My initial idea was to link my customers to them, but I realized that they needed lots of support on the logistics side, so I offered to help.”

Since then, Rocha has become a food bank board member. And he has been supporting the food bank by collecting donations as well as providing logistics and other activities. Today, Galores Group facilities have space dedicated to the food bank where customers can transfer inventory that is close to its expiration date to the food bank. “Furthermore, we also use our trucks for deliveries for some of the food banks’ foundation partners,” he adds.

Rocha shares that he decided to volunteer in this effort “because I am a Christian, and believe we need to share,” he says. “I could not see food being disposed of just because it was the easier way to get rid of poorly managed inventory.”

Since becoming involved, the food bank has been supporting many families under the line of poverty as well as some important NGOs in the country. “We have a clear purpose of reducing food waste across Latin America,” says Rocha. “That’s what motivates me to expand the partnership that we have started in Panama to our more than 60 facilities across 11 countries in the region.”

Important efforts are also underway in Africa. Lizelle van der Berg, Director, GCCA South Africa, reports businesses in the cold storage and distribution industry are partnering with food banks in Africa.

In Kenya, for example, BigCold supported Food Banking Kenya (FBK) during its initial stages in sourcing for a warehouse and assisted with technical support. John Gathungu, FBK Executive Director and Co-founder, explains that BigCold also introduced FBK to suppliers of different warehouse equipment and to potential partners.

FBK operates a warehouse facility to store donated or rescued food for distribution. It actively solicits food and other crucial resources from local food growers, retailers, wholesalers and processors. In addition, it collects food donations from restaurants for immediate distribution to highly exposed groups.

“Big Cold saved us from the high cost of acquisition of equipment and increased the number of our potential partners, which has ultimately enhanced our efficiency,” says Gathungu. BigCold also assisted FBK with temporary temperature-controlled storage, free consultancy on warehousing specifications, negotiations on pricing with equipment suppliers, and training of staff on warehousing and stock control.

In Ghana, the cold chain logistics company FreezeLink helped Food for All Africa with advice and technical expertise. This occurred as a result of the organization’s founder and executive director, Elijah Amoo Addo, contacting FreezeLink about scaling up during the pandemic to meet the rising demand for food and basic support.

“The company’s advice and technical know-how were very supportive in enabling us to use the limited resources we had to put in place the right measures to meet our scale-up plans,” says Addo.

FreezeLink connected Food for All Africa to the right resources for the supply of refrigeration and storage containers for its warehousing model. This ensured the most cost-efficient and effective sourcing of warehousing items.

“For us at Food for All Africa, the opportunity to be mentored by the professional team at FreezeLink helps us in furthering our mission of creating efficient and sustainable means of nutrition for needy Ghanaians through food banking,” says Addo. “It is this kind of partnership that we are most grateful to foster.”

FoodForward SA, a food distribution non-profit organization in South Africa, helps recover quality surplus food from retailers, manufacturers and farmers. It then redistributes the food to more than 1,000 registered and beneficiary organizations. The company has a fleet of refrigerated trucks and cold storage facilities at its five warehouses. This allows it to maintain the cold chain during the recovery, storage and distribution of perishable surplus food. These food recovery efforts reach over half a million vulnerable people across all nine provinces of South Africa every day.

Andy du Plessis, Managing Director of FoodForward, helped introduce digital technology to connect beneficiary organizations to retail stores and food outlets for the regular collection of surplus food. FoodForward also launched the Second Harvest initiative, a specific outreach program to commercial farmers and growers across South Africa, for the recovery of surplus fruit and vegetables.

It goes without saying that food insecurity and mass feeding is a global issue. While the problem cannot be solved tomorrow, such food recovery efforts are improving peoples’ lives today. “Concurrently, there is so much need for expertise,” points out Brondy.


June 29, 2023


Cold Chain Development, Commodity Storage & Handling, Food Loss & Waste, Food Safety & Audits, Refrigeration & Engineering, Transportation & Logistics