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Conversion from a cook-serve to a cook-chill system that combines blast-chill and liquid-cooling systems results in efficient quality control and notable labor and energy savings at this LEED gold-certified central kitchen.
When the new central kitchen and renovated rethermalization kitchens at Metropolitan State Hospital (MSH) in Norwalk, Calif., opened in July 2009, the project team was understandably elated, if not relieved. "The old 1950s building housing the kitchen was falling apart," says Tamer Ahmed, state project manager for the California Department of General Services (DGS). "Freezers weren't working, pipes were bursting, equipment wasn't functioning properly and the temperature in the kitchen could reach 120 degrees on hot days."
In 2002, Ahmed was given the task to come up with a project scope and budget for this new kitchen. "In 2005, we were given the go-ahead to come up with a project design for a new facility," he says. "We put out a bid in 2007, the year oil prices went up, so the bid came in $2 million over budget. We shelved the project for a year until we could get more money from the state. We bid the entire project out again for construction of the kitchen and renovation of the satellite kitchens at $22.5 million and were able to proceed. The total project cost was $30.5 million, including design fee, construction management, construction inspection, material inspection, additional separate equipment for the kitchen, such as three refrigerated trucks, dishes, the forklift and other pieces."
The Metropolitan State Hospital houses patients who have a variety of mental illnesses. Some have been accused of crimes but cannot stand trial because of their mental health issues. Staff at the facility assist these individuals in
their recovery by offering rehabilitation services to prepare them for community living. The new 27,000-square-foot kitchen houses the Department of Nutrition Services Administration staff as well as food preparation and food storage areas. It has the capacity to serve up to 6,000 meals per day, though it currently dishes out 2,100 meals per day due to present occupancy levels.
In developing this new facility, a significant emphasis was placed on environmentally friendly building practices and their ongoing use. Ultimately, this resulted in the hospital receiving LEED gold certification for its new central kitchen. This is one step higher than the silver certification that is required for all California state building projects. "This is the first cook-chill kitchen in the state of California to receive this distinction," Ahmed says. He credits the entire project team, including DGS, MSH, Vanir Construction Management and Jacobs Engineering Group, for their contribution to the project and its subsequent LEED certification.
"The ability to achieve LEED certification for an operation of this size is a wonderful accomplishment and a complicated process that requires extensive planning," says Jim Webb, principal at Webb-Dewco Food Facility Consultants. "We enjoyed being able to introduce a number of manufacturers to the team. The kitchen equipment that was selected helped contribute to the LEED certification. The State of California selected the team not only to help design the new Metro State Hospital food service operation, but to develop a foundation and benchmark for its health care system statewide."
Perhaps no one on the project team was more satisfied with the project's completion than Chris Elder-Marshall, M.A., R.D., who was foodservice director at the facility for 20 years until her retirement in October 2010. "I wanted to be sure the project was working well," she says. She later received California's Superior Accomplishment Award for sustained performance for her work in developing and opening the new kitchen.
The project included construction of a new building and a sweeping change in operation from a cook-serve system in which food was cooked, sent to floors in bulk, reheated and served to a cook-chill/retherm/tray-delivery system in which staff prepare food that is chilled, stored, plated when needed, and rethermalized on the patient floors. "We are saving labor and energy costs, the food quality and quantity served to individuals is more consistent while still meeting Title 22 regulations and heart-healthy guidelines to achieve the goals of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines," Elder-Marshall says. "In addition, the system reduces food spoilage, and there is more security to keep the food and food production system safe. What's more, the cooks aren't constantly compensating and adjusting recipes because the steam lids don't close and the ovens don't heat up properly."
"The new system provides a food bank for a five-day cooking operation versus the former seven-day cooking operation that included holidays," says the food facility consultant, James Donahoe, principal and senior designer at Webb-Dewco Food Facility Consultants. "For the entire system, we brought in all new equipment except floor mixers and a few carts."
Transitioning to New from Old
In the old kitchen, food was prepared, placed into bulk containers and sent up in carts to the individuals dining at eight cafeterias in four residential buildings. Each cafeteria's staff grilled menu items such as cheese sandwiches and French toast, heated and served the bulk food, made coffee and cleaned up, including stacking and washing dishes as needed.
Transitioning from the old system to the new system and building was a gargantuan challenge. "We couldn't renovate all the satellite kitchens and dining rooms at one time, so in order to serve food to all the individuals while renovations were taking place, we had to run three systems in the old kitchen — cook-serve, cook-chill hand-done with ice baths, and a temporary sack-meal setup," Elder-Marshall says. "We had no new or additional staff for this, so everyone had to be very flexible." The old kitchen is closed and is used as a storage facility.
Overview of the New Facility
In the new system, food deliveries arrive at a designated dock. "The kitchen layout is designed with a U-shaped flow, so both receiving and distribution docks are on the same side of the building, which allows for truck access coming and going," Donahoe says. "Both docks have outside and inside areas for staging. This is necessary in California because of the weather conditions that can bring heat, dust and wind."
The dry storage area straddles the receiving and distribution docks for easy access to products that go from dry storage to distribution, which eliminates the need for products to pass through the production areas. The raw storage room has direct access to the ingredient control room where staff measure and weigh batch ingredients before taking them to the production floor.
The refrigerated and frozen walk-in coolers sit conveniently adjacent to the refrigerated vegetable and main preparation rooms, which are refrigerated to meet HACCP standards. Dry storage, refrigerator and freezer storage areas hold deep-reach, high-pile, pallet rack systems, which can store as many as 260 pallets at one time.
The main production floor contains two basic systems: cook-chill, liquid-cooling pumpable production and cook-chill mechanical (air) cooling or blast chill.
For the cook-chill, liquid-cooking pumpable production, staff walk onto grates that connect to the kettles and insert into one 100-gallon and two 150-gallon tilting kettles ingredients taken from the cold prep room for soups and marinara, barbecue, enchilada and other sauces as well as gravies, cooked cereals, salad dressings, chili, gumbo, jambalaya, American goulash, taco meat, beef stew, Cuban pork, scrambled eggs, and macaroni and cheese. These ingredients are cooked in the kettles.
Staff place beans and pasta, which are needed in menu items such as soups and stews, in a large basket stored on a dolly. They wheel this basket to a heavy chain and hook that is inserted into the basket so it can be mechanically hoisted up about 12 inches above the kettle rim and sent along a motorized track. It is then lowered into one of the three horizontal tilting mixer kettles filled with water for cooking. Next, the basket is hoisted up again so it can drain. When the sauce or soup requiring the beans or pasta is done, the basket is lowered into the kettle. This type of kettle was selected by Donahoe and Chris Elder-Marshall because they believe the kettles are "more efficient for this type of operation than kettles with inclined agitators, based on menu items." Then the food is bagged and chilled and held in the inventory refrigerator and used for trayline.
Once liquid in the kettles is brought up to 180 degrees F or the proper temperature, it is pumped into bags with barrier casings through a form-fill-seal machine. The liquid-filled bags are then conveyed into insulated tanks that contain cold-water reservoirs refrigerated to 34 degrees to stop the cooking process and start the rapid-chill process by reducing the internal temperature down to below 41 degrees. This chilling system is also used for menu items such as meatloaf and roasts.
Next, staff remove the cooled bags, placing them in plastic containers and wheeling them into a refrigerated food bank kept at 28 degrees F where they may stay for up to 45 days.
The dome-shaped hood covering the kettles is designed to exhaust air from both sides. It is sloped to catch condensation and prevent it from dripping back into the kettles. The dome's design allows for the placement of a hoist directly in the center of the kettles, which allows staff to work with the product baskets that are pulled in and out of these units during cooking.
Menu items that are not appropriate for the cook tanks are prepared in conventional cooking equipment. For example, conventional ovens bake chicken, chicken wings, Salisbury steak, meatballs, whole turkeys, lasagna, roasted and baked potatoes, small oven-fried potatoes, stuffed peppers and potato casseroles. Combi ovens roast meat and steam rice, macaroni and cheese, sausages, fish and beef patties that must be soft for diet needs. Steamers cook rice, eggs and beef patties. The grills cook chicken, fish and sandwiches such as Reubens and ham and cheese.
From Cooking to Holding and Plating
After cooking, these items are placed onto racks, if they weren't already on them, and wheeled into the blast chiller that takes down the temperature to 40 degrees F by mechanical air chilling. The blast chillers back up to the food bank, so racks are rolled into the food bank where they are kept for only three days.
When chilled products are needed for trayline assembly, staff bring them into a cold prep room for portioning into individual-sized containers or bulk pans. These items are next placed in mobile refrigerators until needed to assemble individual trays. Staff take some chilled products directly from the food bank to the two traylines for distribution.
The traylines contain two sides: one side contains food placed on the right side of the trays and remains cold when the trays are served to individuals; the other side contains food that remains cold on the trays throughout plating and transportation but is heated during the rethermalization process in the satellite kitchens. Because the food remains cold, staff plate approximately 10 trays per minute compared with staff at other state facilities, which plate only five trays per minute when plating both hot and cold food.
The trayline room temperature does not exceed 70 degrees F so all products can remain cold during plating. Filled trays are placed on carts that staff take into a distribution cooler for holding until released for shipping in refrigerated trucks to the satellite kitchens located a block or two away from the kitchen.
A warewasher sitting close to the traylines accepts soiled ware generated in the kitchen.
Another notable feature in the kitchen is a set of observation offices that face production and trayline areas so supervisors can observe the action at all times.
Distribution of Meals
Refrigerated trucks carrying carts of trays arrive at the satellite kitchens about one to one and a half hours before meal service. Carts are plugged into a docking station that keeps the trays cold until a timer directs it to begin rethermalizing the hot food for 50 minutes for breakfast and 60 minutes for lunch and dinner. (Because of the facility's population, docking stations and station panels must be attached to walls with security bolts.) Each residential building has two meal services for each meal: breakfast service is at 7:30 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.; lunch at 12 and 12:30 p.m.; and dinner at 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. Staff serve trays to individuals and make coffee at the units.
"With this system, all the portion sizes are consistent," Elder-Marshall says. "Some of the individuals initially complained because they were accustomed to receiving larger portions if servers had extra food available. This whole system was designed not only for tray service, but also for special patient events. The equipment gives us the ability to provide cook-serve menu items, as well."
After each meal service, staff collects trays and places them back in the carts, which are wheeled into the trucks and transported to the main kitchen. "Trucks never go out or back empty," Elder-Marshall says.
Carts and soiled ware, including trays, are brought to areas near the distribution dock. "Now there is only one dishwasher in the main kitchen versus dishwashers at each satellite kitchen, which saves labor and water usage," Ahmed says. The 22-foot-long dishwasher handles 9,000 pieces per hour.
Quantifying the Project's Efficiency
The new system's notable savings include approximately $100,000 for supervisors in annual labor costs. In the old system, seven days a week, staff preparing breakfast and lunch arrived at 4:30 a.m.; another shift started at 8:30 a.m. for dinner. Now, Monday through Friday, staff work from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. and not on holidays. One-half of the foodservice staff (six FTEs) that had been working in production were moved to the service side (trayline and dining room service). The old system required three supervising cooks; the new system requires one.
In addition to labor cost savings, the new operation realizes other savings that total tens of thousands of dollars annually. For example, energy-efficient kitchen equipment conserves water and electricity usage by up to 30 percent; 75 percent of the work space is lit with daylight, which reduces the need for artificial light, and a cool roof reflects heat and sunlight, thereby minimizing the amount of energy needed to cool the building. Other eco-friendly facets of the building that contributed to LEED gold certification include using environmentally safe refrigerants to reduce chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the HVAC system; recycled carpet materials and low-emitting paint and other building materials to conserve natural resources; recycled water for irrigation; and green cleaning products that meet the health code requirements and stay within the facility's operational budget. In addition, recyclables are stored, collected and turned into post-consumer products; and ozone depletion is minimized by eliminating the escape of harmful gases into the atmosphere. In the parking lot, trees were planted so in five years they will shade 50 percent of the parking space (keeping cars cool so they won't require as much air conditioning to cool off).
"When the building project was conceived, we intended it to be energy efficient," Ahmed says. "When meeting LEED silver certification became a criteria, we had to backtrack a little for putting in changes such as a cool roof that reflects sun rays to keep the building cooler during the summer, low-flow restroom fixtures and greater use of recycled materials in carpets, modular systems furniture and others. But the changes in design cost us only $40,000, which is a relatively small adjustment considering the scale of the project. We eventually earned LEED gold certification."
The project team is pleased with the overall efficiency of the foodservice operation and reports success in great part because, as Elder-Marshall says, "staff never has to backtrack from delivery to dish- and cart-washing and trash removal." After the project's completion, the team produced a lessons-learned document that included recommendations such as adding 20 square feet to the prep room and perhaps 10 feet to the back dispatch dock to eliminate congestion. Another challenge was writing specifications that weren't too generic but allowed three manufacturers to bid based on the state's requirements.
In addition, Elder-Marshall recommends staff involvement in selecting equipment. "I brought several staff members to The NAFEM Show to inspect equipment so they could help make the selections," she says. "We also took advantage of training opportunities by every manufacturer and the gas company, whose facilities are nearby. Many of us worked seven days a week for six weeks to get this up and going."
With all this documented information about the equipment and other facets of the kitchen, this project most likely will serve as a model for future California Department of Mental Health kitchen projects.
The California Department of Mental Health's Metropolitan State Hospital's central kitchen and six satellite rethermalization kitchens opened July 10, 2009. The central kitchen occupies 27,000 square feet and produces three meals per day — or 2,100 meals per day — in addition to food items for nutrition breaks. The kitchen has the capacity to produce 6,000 meals per day. The six service satellite rethermalization kitchens each occupy 500 square feet and serve 700 individuals. Nearly $1.9 million will be spent annually for food and nonfood items for 2,100 daily meals. Staff includes 110 full-time equivalents. The kitchen operates from 5 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Menus follow U.S. Dietary Guidelines and State of California Title 22 regulations for balanced nutritional care. The building budget for design and construction was $30.5 million, which included $20.5 million for the construction of the kitchen and renovation of the satellite kitchens. The equipment investment was $5.5 million. Website: www.dmh.ca.gov