Linking the Cold Chain to Reduce Food Loss and Waste
The connection between cold chain logistics and food rescue has long been understated. The private sector network of refrigerated storage, transportation and distribution facilities, if mentioned at all, is often considered tangential to the conversations between food suppliers, producers and food rescue organizations. However, to prevent food loss and waste at the warehouse or distribution level, the cold chain is critical. Cold chain logistics providers deliver crucial services to food banks and food rescue groups. These relationships have been formed to prevent the loss of cases, pallets or even truckloads of safe food when rejection occurs, as well as to ensure that donated food is handled and stored properly.
The Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) is a trade association representing the temperature-controlled supply chain, including cold storage, transportation, construction, equipment suppliers and service providers. In 2022, the association began a new food loss and waste reduction initiative. This initiative works to:
- Expand access to GCCA’s resources for food rescue groups.
- Remove the barriers for increased collaboration between food rescue groups and the refrigerated logistics industry.
- Increase awareness among GCCA members of the problems created and exacerbated by the food loss and waste.
This initiative was inspired entirely by the work of GCCA members within their communities and the stories we heard emerging out of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, one U.S.-based member, Nor-Am Cold Storage, stepped in to run the operations of their local community food bank for three days when it faced a temporary shutdown as a result of the staff and volunteer numbers being dramatically reduced due to COVID-19. Food for All Africa in Ghana received technical advice from GCCA member, FreezeLink, which was crucial when Food for All Africa needed to scale up to meet the rising demand for food during the pandemic. The mentoring relationship ensured a cost-efficient and effective sourcing of warehousing items for the food bank.
Truthfully though, the support began long before the pandemic started. In Kenya, BigCold has advised Food Banking Kenya (FBK) for several years, providing temporary temperature-controlled storage, free consultancy on warehousing specifications, assistance with negotiations on pricing with equipment supplies and training of staff on warehousing and stock control. FoodForward South Africa (SA), the largest food distribution nonprofit organization in South Africa, received donations from GCCA members and/or their parent companies, including Rainbow Chicken Ltd. (RCL) Food, Etlin International and Oceana Group, enabling outreach to over half a million vulnerable people across all nine provinces of South Africa every day. In Panama, the cofounder of Galores Group helped start a local food bank and is still on the board of directors.
In recognition of these achievements and because of the urgency of rising food insecurity, GCCA launched the aforementioned initiative to reduce food loss and waste. The effort is not meant to replace the work and partnerships that exist already, but to build on them. We aim to be a platform to facilitate these connections where there are none and allow our members to do what they do best: keep perishable food safe for all. Partnerships have been established with Feeding America, the Global Foodbanking Network and the European Food Banks Federation (FEBA). Additional partnerships are underway with the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) and Red de Bancos de Alimentos de México (BAMX). We also announced a complimentary membership for food rescue groups in an effort to expand access to our resources and network for such groups. This membership enables food rescue organizations to access technical resources on refrigerated food safety, storage and logistics best practices, as well as training and connections to members. So far, more than 40 food rescue organizations from 10 countries have joined the GCCA.
The initiative has already yielded results. In February 2023, a disaster relief organization, Operation BBQ Relief, received an unexpected donation of 150 pallets of frozen pork. If refrigerated storage space could not be located, it would be sent to a landfill. Through the GCCA, the donation found a home at United States Cold Storage, who agreed to hold the product for seven months. After hearing about Operation BBQ Relief, another member, RLS Premier (now CORE X Partners), subsequently agreed to set aside 150 pallets of refrigerated warehouse space in Fort Worth, Texas, for the nonprofit to use as needed.
Similarly inspired, GCCA member Conestoga Cold Storage established a partnership with Canada’s largest food rescue organization, Second Harvest. Conestoga has created “flex accounts” in four facilities to provide Second Harvest with expanded refrigerated storage space. In exchange, Second Harvest ensures all criteria for inbound and outbound shipments meet Conestoga Cold Storage’s requirements and has worked out a system whereby Conestoga can receive donation receipts for utilized space.
Despite these gains, membership is only the first step in the process of what GCCA intends to be a series of tangible actions to transform agrifood systems. One year in and we have 22 actionable recommendations, such as dedicated training on perishable handling and logistics, informal audits to enhance energy efficiency and facilitated infrastructure and equipment support and donation. This list is a living document that has grown from 15 to 22 recommendations since it was originally created in 2022. We are also working to ensure the efforts are global. In addition to the partnerships with members in Africa, GCCA members in Latin America have been especially focused on this initiative, especially Emergent Cold, IceStar and SuperFrio. We have also connected GCCA affiliate associations, which are national cold chain associations, with food banks in Nigeria, Indonesia, China and the Philippines.
What is most exciting is that these ideas and opportunities are member driven. We are hopeful to see even more progress made as these partnerships mature.