Like many districts, St. Paul Public Schools uses a centralized kitchen facility to realize efficiencies of scale in its meal production operations. The district’s facility dates to 1981, when it purchased a former grocery distribution center that includes 30,000 sq.ft. of dry storage, 21,000 sq.ft. of cooler and freezer space, a 2,400-sq.ft. loading dock with 10 bays and 10,000 sq.ft. of production space (plus another 8,000 sq.ft. that accommodates, among other things, the nutrition department offices).
The huge storage space allows bulk shipments that increase efficiencies. SPPS buys all commodities in full truckload quantities directly from USDA. They range from proteins like ground beef and diced chicken to cheeses, salsa and canned fruits.
The purchasing system is a combination of line item bidding and prime vendor contracts. There are annual contracts for large volume items, which may be renewed up to three years if terms and conditions remain the same.
Nutrition/Commercial Services Director Jean Ronnei says she has found the line item bidding process to be cost-effective, especially for large-volume purchases. Many of the items purchased in large quantities are delivered direct from the manufacturer, with the distributor handling the paperwork.
The district is proud of the “from-scratch” philosophy its centralized kitchen allows it to maintain. Sauces, lasagna, chili, taco meat, meatloaf, pizza crust, and various other baked goods (breads, cookies, fruit crisp, etc.) are all made at the facility.
The production area includes one 330-gallon and three 80-gallon steam kettles, a tumble chiller, horizontal wrapper and, for the central bakery operation, an automated bread dough divider/rounder, a proofer and a series of convection ovens. Items are cooked to inventory according to standardized recipes, bulk-packed and delivered cold to school sites in components, where they are assembled, rethermed, and served. Warewashing is done at the school sites.
Deliveries are made daily over seven truck routes for the next day, with orders placed through a web-based order/inventory system. Each grade level serves a uniform menu to maximize efficiencies.