DUNCANVILLE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
(top) one of two cafeterias in the new Duncanville high school just before lunch; (above) FSD David Binkle discusses the new facility; (below) the same cafeteria moments later.
A finishing kitchen in the high school; one of nine main serving lines during lunch; the impinger oven used to prepare pizza.
NO WAITING. A grab-and-go deli display with pre-packaged food serves students who do not want to wait in line.
I have seen the future of onsite HACCP—at least a good part of it—and it is moving along quite well, thank you, in the kitchens, serveries and central production center of the Duncanville Independent School District in Dallas, TX.
There, FSD David Binkle can monitor the critical control point temperatures, holding times and other data points of steam kettles, ovens, warming cabinets, combi ovens, reach in coolers and freezers at remote locations throughout the district. He does all of this from a standard Windows PC he calls the "virtual production station" in his office.
Polled data from all these points is automatically collected, graphed and charted 24 hours a day. That permits real-time process oversight of the district's new state-of-the-art central production facility and the finishing kitchens at four different schools. Within two years, the district has budgeted to connect the equipment at a total of 21 locations into this network.
But there's a lot more to Duncanville's food safety program than its online control system. Because the central commissary processes raw meat and poultry, it is constantly monitored by permanent, onsite USDA inspectors each day under FSIS regulations.
And because it also produces food for out-side sales (e.g. other schools and some retail sales), it is inspected regularly by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
Further, because the production facility has been identified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a regional disaster relief site, it is required to meet additional bio-terrorism security regulations, including monitored entries and extensive electronic camera surveillance. All of these systems have been put in place over the past five years, part of a major school system upgrade and bond issue approved by the district in response to its rapid school-age enrollment growth over the last decade.
The combination of a need for a new central production facility and high school, the availability of financing to fund them and the presence of a foodservice director who champions both operational efficiency and food safety set the stage for what could well be a model for foodservice operations throughout the onsite community.
An Early Interest in Central Production
With his obvious fondness for the technical side of things, you probably wouldn't guess that Binkle began his career as a chef on the fine dining side of the industry. A certified executive chef (CEC) and certified executive pastry chef (CEPC), he originally earned his bachelor's in health education from Oklahoma Panhandle State.
It was after a few stints in fine dining, and having started a family, that Binkle moved into onsite, working as a regional manager for Morrison's healthcare division. That's where he developed an early interest in central production and first got involved in managing formal food safety programs. (In particular, Binkle credits training courses taken from consultants Peter Healy and Dr. Peter Snyder as having had a major influence on his views of HACCP).
In 1995, Binkle joined Dennis Barrett at the Dallas Independent School District at a time when that district was exploring an ambitious plan to build a major central production system. When that plan was abandoned in the late 90s, Binkle applied for and was hired for the top foodservice job at the nearby Duncanville ISD, once again intrigued by the challenge of building a state-of-the-art central kitchen.
A once nearly rural area, the district now incorporates portions of Dallas, Cedar Hill and DeSoto as well as Duncanville. Today, with an ethnically mixed student base, about 60 percent of its meals qualify as free or reduced under the USDA school meal program.
At the time, the district was served by a 50-year old cook-serve kitchen that had been modified in the 1970s to produce cook-chill product. Food production facilities were stretched to the breaking point in trying to serve the needs of the fast-growing district, which underwent significant enrollment growth in the 1990s.
"The writing was on the wall," Binkle recalls. With nearly a third of Duncanville's 36,000 population under the age of 19 and with the district's enrollment growing at 15-20 percent a year, it was already planning a $220 million bond issue to fund new facilities.
Binkle saw an opportunity to upgrade the district's food production systems to make them more efficient, more flexible and more technically sophisticated in terms of both operations and food safety.
The Six Sigma approach
When Binkle came to the district in 1999, it was already providing some outside food production to other schools. "We didn't have a wholesale food license at the time, and I immediately applied for one," he recalls.
"After it came up for renewal a year later, the state came out to do an inspection and found we were not in full compliance for that kind of license; that was one of the factors that led us to a full scale review. The former superintendent and I began talking about these needs as part of the major investments that were planned," he says.
At the time, the main kitchen was connected to the district's original high school and operated separate warehouse and distribution facilities.
"Operations were really 'all over the place.' Our plan was to integrate production, ware-housing and distribution into a single facility, unconnected to the high school. We wanted to expand food production capacity both for our expected enrollment growth and to offer to other organizations. That also offered a way to improve our overall food quality and achieve greater economies."
"We sold the board and the community on this program and facility partly on the value of food safety and its importance to the children of this district," he adds. "The community was very supportive of that goal. At the same time, there was a clear under-standing that the program had to be structured to pay itself off."
To help do that, the $10 million facility was designed with capacity beyond that needed for the Duncanville schools alone. There were numerous charter and parochial schools and summer feeding programs in the area that Binkle saw as potential customers for that capacity. He also thought some opportunities might exist to provide packaged product to retail grocery and club-type stores.
When combined with revenue earned from the 800-1,000 events that the district caters each year, Binkle believes such operations will contribute significantly to the forecast pay-back of his share of the bond issue within a 60 month period. (In fact, the department has already negotiated contracts to supply about 350,000 meals to other entities in area USDA summer feeding programs.)
"In the initial planning stages, we did a "Six Sigma' production study of the department and a full manufacturing site location study as preparation for getting the necessary approvals from state and federal governments," says Binkle. (Six Sigma is a highly disciplined approach to efficiency analysis popularized by Motorola in the 1990s and widely used in manufacturing industries).
Binkle had been interested in Six Sigma for some years. "The part I find most interesting is the emphasis on establishing your outcomes before you start," he says. "It is much like the goals of the HACCP process.
"We developed specific production targets—meals per labor hour, meals per day, total FTE counts, production per sq.ft, and so on. Then we looked at the whole operation as a process that flowed continuously through the facility, like an assembly line. You don't want it to stop and go.
"We looked not only at meal production, but at the whole picture. When products or ingredients are delivered, you need them to move directly into the facility, with no chance of cross-contamination, no backflow movement, no double-processing or double material handling. It is a matter both of warehouse logistics and process flow logistics."
Also, because food is a perishable product, "its process flow can be more complicated that that used in manufacturing a screw or a widget," Binkle adds. "Holding time constraints are very important, as is temperature control in different rooms. Your air systems have to be isolated: the bakery must be kept hot and humid; the packaging room must be consistently refrigerated; and so on."
That same kind of systematic view over-lays the way Binkle has sought to manage the department's HACCP program throughout the district's 21 other school buildings.
"Think of the kitchen as a central hub, with spokes going out to the different facilities," he says. "Of the 21 spokes, five have been integrated into the control and monitoring system used for the kitchen so far; the rest will be added over the next few years, as older equipment is replaced or modified. (For the time being, non-connected locations are being monitored and logged manually to fulfill HACCP requirements).
Binkle expects to finance the additional costs either through another bond issue or via lease-buy contracts for the necessary components. When completed, his goal is to make the system fully automated (see sidebar).
A Complex Permitting Process
As plans moved forward, the school sought the necessary building permits from the city of Dallas and then applied for a license as a manufacturing facility. At that point, an unexpected complication occurred.
The district was contacted by the Department of Homeland Security through its regional office, which wanted to make the school a disaster relief site. "The department notified it had jurisdiction over disaster relief in North Texas and that in order to qualify for our license we would have to meet additional security requirements," says Binkle.
Those requirements included monitored entries, specific kinds of fencing and the installation of 16 electronic surveillance cameras focused on the production flow areas within the facility, as well as digital backup of the footage to be retained for a period of a year.
After adapting building plans to meet those requirements, foodservice applied for a wholesale food license because it intended to produce food for sale on a retail basis. That requires periodic inspections from the Food and Drug Administration through the state Department of Health. Finally, because the production facility processes raw meat and poultry, processing it as "ready to eat," it also required meat safety assurance through USDA in what is formally called a "grant of inspection."
"Had we just designed the facility to produce our own school lunch, it all could have been handled through city health inspectors and we would not have needed all these permits," Binkle acknowledges.
"But we saw outside sales as important to financing the program. We also saw the additional scrutiny as a way to ensure the program had very tight food safety standards that go well beyond the minimum. In fact, they did not really add much in the way of additional costs because the federal government pays the cost of having the USDA and state inspectors on site during regular, 40-hour-per-week operations."
Completed a year ago, the new production facility is a stand-alone building on about 60 acres of property that also has a middle school on the northwest quadrant. The rest of the acreage is intended for the longer term and will eventually house bus maintenance facilities and another school.
In addition to meat fabrication, vegetable prep and cook-chill equipment, the production facility also features a full-scale bakery operation and a highly flexible packaging line that lets it unitize meals and snacks in a variety of container and compartmentalized plate sizes. Key production areas include:
The baking operation, where the district bakes its own hamburger and hot dog buns, Kaiser rolls, coneys, cakes, cinnamon rolls and pastries, some of them for outside sale. Equipment includes a dough divider, a four-burner range with oven, a donut fryer,two rack ovens, two dough rounders, a tumble chiller, 20-qt. tilt kettle, 60-gal. steam kettle, mobile pan racks and sheeters and two 80-qt. mixers.
The refrigerated packaging room, located centrally to receive goods from meat and bakery production, produce processing and the deli prep area. It packages a wide range of items, including chef's salads, sandwiches, fruit plates and hot-plated meals.
The deli production/prep room, which operates in two shifts. During the morning, it is set up to process fresh produce; then, halfway through the day, the room and equipment is completely broken down, sanitized and re-assembled for an afternoon deli production shift. Equipment includes mobile slicers, prep and assembly coolers and a refrigerated holding unit.
A main production kitchen for cook-chill operations, with steam kettles, horizontal agitators, pasta baskets, a tumble chiller, ice builder, and vertical incline conveyor.
Central warewashing, with dish machine, cart wash unit and facilities for sterilizing all production equipment used on the site.
Distribution from the production facility and warehouse to the 23 school sites is handled daily with a fleet of six refrigerated trucks that range in size from a small utility truck to a 24-ft. "bobcat."
The operation was designed to enable several other major economies over time. For example, by consolidating milk delivery so it comes directly to central refrigerated storage, Binkle estimates the department saves about five cents per 8-oz. carton of milk in terms of its landed cost. A central warehouse that stocks 1200 SKUs enables a significant amount of purchasing direct from manufacturers as well as efficient handling and distribution of USDA commodity products.
Under the Big Top
Meanwhile, the new Duncanville high school that opened in 2004 is the second largest one under one roof in the country, and efficiency was also a clear priority when it was constructed. The school presently serves 4500 students from two separate cafeterias and they are sized for an eventual enrollment of 6,000. Presently, high school students are served over three, half-hour lunch periods.
The larger of the two cafeterias has nine serving lines. Its salad bar is double sided with central aisle re-stocking to enable faster, continuous throughput. A separate grab-and-go deli line with pre-packaged food serves students who want as little a wait as possible.
All the emphasis on efficiency has not compromised the district's commitment to nutrition goals. All of its cafeteria offerings qualify as reimbursable components if selected as part of a USDA school meal. And two years ago, all vending was eliminated from district facilities and no carbonated beverages are sold on campus.
"There is a strong community focus on establishing good student health and wellness in our district," Binkle says. "The over-whelming priority the district has placed on food safety—and its role in the health and safety of our community's children—is part of this same commitment."
Architect: SHW Architects & Planners
Foodservice Consultant: JMK Food Facility Design
Engineers: Estes, McClure & Associates
General Contractor: Hunt Construction Group
WHAT'S IN THE NETWORK
Central Production Kitchen
18 Elementary Schools
Deli Production/Prep Room
3 Middle Schools & 1 Alternative School
Refrigerated Packaging Room
Main High School
Managing the HACCP Mix
In many ways, Binkle has found himself looking to be "ahead of the curve" in terms of actual HACCP-monitoring capabilities available in the foodservice marketplace. While many manufacturers tout their equipment's compliance with the NAFEM protocol (the industry's kitchen networking standard for two-way data communication between PCs and production equipment), few offer systems that can manage other manufacturers' equipment along with their own.
Production in Duncanville, like that at most operations, involves a mix of old and new equipment made by about a dozen different companies.
"You find there is often a disconnect between the vision expressed in some equipment literature and the reality when it comes time to integrate all of your processes," Binkle observes.
"I have learned to be skeptical of many claims. You hear a lot of 'We can do that, but are still developing the systems you will need.' So tying everything together has been a real challenge."
As presently configured, the Duncanville operation relies on two primary monitoring systems. One is based on the Intellistation software application developed by E-Controls for Alto-Shaam, used to manage Combitherm ovens installed in finishing kitchens of many of the Duncanville schools. The other is the EKIS software package offered by Electrolux that monitors its air-o-steam combi ovens and other equipment such as the freezers and reach-in coolers located among the facilities.
There are various types of sensors at each distributed point in the system, connected via NAFEM protocol data ports. In some cases, secondary sensors provide duplicate "verification" data required by HACCP to confirm that primary sensors are operating correctly.
Both systems run concurrently and regularly poll all the equipment to which they are connected, updating the master logs and charts every 15 minutes. Although Binkle primarily manages these systems from a PC in his office in the central kitchen facility, most of the remote sites also have monitor stations that are connected via the network.That means any part of the system can be monitored from any other part of it, and that when variances are flagged, Binkle can check the cause from any of these remote locations.
When combined with the various sensors, wired and wireless network connections and other devices used to tie everything together, Binkle says the total control system had a first cost of about $1 million. (He notes that a significant portion of that cost would have been required even if the equipment had traditional control systems.) Among other capabilities, the system will let foodservice: