By James Speakman and Tui Benjamin
More than one million frozen airline ready meals have been saved from incineration to feed vulnerable people during the coronavirus lockdown.
The gourmet aeroplane dinners – from Thomas Cook Airlines’ James Martin range – had been stored in huge freezers in Trafford Park, close to Manchester Airport, since the airline went into administration earlier this year.
But when the coronavirus pandemic began and the majority of flights were grounded, all 1.1 million meals were due to be destroyed as airlines sought to cut costs.
The dishes, which include spinach gnocchi with pesto and mozzarella, vegan tagine and scrambled egg with baked beans and potato rosti, will now be distributed across Manchester to people who are ill, elderly, self-isolating due to underlying health conditions, formerly homeless or in poverty.
Corin Bell, founder of Manchester food waste social enterprise Open Kitchen MCR, which stepped in to save the meals, said: “Before the coronavirus hit, there were 400,000 people that were estimated to be in food poverty in Manchester alone.
“A lot of the usual routes to access food for people in poverty are not available now that COVID-19 has hit, and it’s essential that we find safe ways to get not just enough food, but good food out to people who need it.
“We couldn’t let these airline meals go to waste when we knew there were so many people going hungry – the idea of more than a million meals going up in smoke would have been horrific.
“We are just trying to feed as many people as we can – we feel very proud of what we’ve achieved, and determined to keep going.
“Manchester is a wonderful place to run a social enterprise and we’ve always felt very supported, so this is our turn to give back.”
The food has now been transported to a -23°c warehouse in Heywood, Oldham, owned by food logistics company Lineage Logistics.
They will be stored before moved to Open Kitchen MCR’s freezers in batches of 200 to 400 at a time, defrosted safely, decanted into microwave-safe packaging and relabelled.
The 1.1 million meals will then be distributed by the not-for-profit catering company, who are currently delivering 8,500 meals per week and hope this figure will soon rise to 10,000.
The surplus will be shared across councils across Greater Manchester to feed as many people as possible.
David Vickers, general manager at Lineage Logistics, said: “They’re perfectly good meals, and anything that we can do to help the vulnerable is what we’re aiming to do.
“It’s going to be around 260 pallets – which is about two aisles in our warehouse.”
To donate to Open Kitchen MCR go to paypal.me/realjunkfoodmcr and to volunteer email firstname.lastname@example.org