Why Houston Food Bank was forced to throw out 2 million pounds of food week before Thanksgiving

HOUSTON – Last week, a 30,000-square-foot cooler at the Houston Food Bank in east Houston was filled with much-needed produce and other perishables. It now sits empty after a mechanical issue caused the bank to toss the 1.8 million pounds of food that were kept inside.

“That equates to about 62 truck-loads of product,” said Nicole Lander, the food bank’s chief impact officer. “So, when you think of a semi-truck, the big trucks that you see on the highway, on average about 20 pallets fit in each of those trucks.”

"This morning, I was watching the news and I saw the information about the catastrophe in the warehouse where they lost all perishable foods and I know that next week is thanksgiving,” said volunteer Lisa Collins. "So I thought it was important to come and help."

According to the Houston food bank, the cost of the food disposal and replacement and clean-up of the affected areas will cost about $3 million. An evaporator fan broke and punctured a pipe filled with ammonia, which is used to keep the large cooling areas at the food bank cold. Alarms sounded quickly and no workers were injured, but the ammonia leak contaminated everything that was in here. Some of the food was designated to help feed those in need for Thanksgiving next week.

“We serve 800,000 people annually through those partner sites,” Lander said. “If we’re not able to distribute food to our partners, it impacts how much food is getting into our community to people that really need it.”

Work continues inside the food bank with non-perishable items.

"Definitely willing to help. Heard about it this morning before the shift just come in and do my part,” said volunteer Steven Cardenas.

Outside in refrigerated trucks is where newly-donated produce and perishables are being stored until the coolers become operational again.

“It doesn’t meet the need,” Lander said. “We’re doing the best we can. Once we’re able to get back in the building and operational -- we think that will be next week, early next week sometime -- full steam ahead.”

Lander said individuals and organizations can help by donating funds, volunteering or by collecting food to donate.

For more information on how you can help visit the Houston Food Bank website.

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