"Our experience was absolutely phenomenal… I couldn't be happier. We got 100% of what we wanted."
When the health department inspector did a final review of Federal Way Schools new 35,0000 sq. ft. central kitchen, the response was, “Wow. Wow. Wow,” says Mary Asplund, Director of Nutrition Services for Federal Way Schools in Federal Way, WA. Such a reaction was just what Asplund envisioned when she approached Food Plant Engineering about building a commissary to serve her district’s 38 schools and 21,554 students, many with restricted diets. Asplund wanted to avoid the engineering snafus she had encountered while directing an earlier remodeling project for another school district.
Also, sanitation was top priority for the district, so she insisted on involving experts who understand the nuances of cleaning a commissary kitchen. “I knew Food Plant Engineering had been designing USDA food plants. This background and industrial engineering experience was easily transferable to a school environment,” she says. “It was an extremely good fit.”
Asplund notes that the district’s needs are significant, yet administrators have a responsibility “to be good custodians of public dollars.” Thus, practicality was essential in the commissary design. “This kitchen is built out of ordinary materials,” she says. “It’s not a fancy building,” yet every portion is easily cleaned. Utility piping—drops, equipment points, runs—is positioned unobtrusively for optimum sanitizing.
Another bonus? “Despite really, really complicated energy requirements, Food Plant Engineering made it easy to operate,” she says of the kitchen, from the careful placement of each drain to the flow pattern of product and personnel. Mechanical rooms, refrigeration areas and electrical services are ideally located for maintenance. “And we can plug in food carts practically anywhere,” notes Asplund. Extra space was creatively allotted for dry storage, and room for future truck bays for the district’s new mobile feeding busses was also built into the commissary's design. Federal Way’s central kitchen can flex and adapt to multiple applications, says Asplund. “The potential for growth is phenomenal,” she says.
"Food Plant Engineering has a special dedication to special diets,” states Asplund. (She shares this commitment. In fact, Asplund was awarded the Food Advocate of the Year Award from the Food Allergy Initiative in 2010 for her efforts in providing custom-made meals for students with food allergies, intolerances and diet restrictions.) In this commissary, preparation areas for custom meals are dedicated, yet streamlined for efficiency. Storage areas are also thoughtfully designed to prevent cross contamination. These areas are sanitized independently from the rest of the building as well.
Though Food Plant Engineering is based in Cincinnati, Ohio and Federal Way is on the West Coast, the distance “didn’t matter,” says Mary Asplund. The company’s food plant engineers were readily available at all times. “It’s not a large world. Anyone looking to hire Food Plant Engineering should know that they are perfectly postured to travel,” she says.
“Our experience was absolutely phenomenal,” says Asplund. “I do not have one criticism of Food Plant Engineering,” Asplund says, adding, “I couldn’t be happier. We got 100% of what we wanted.”