Family Brands RTE Meat Processing Plant

Lenoir City, Tennessee

Facility rebuilt from ground up gives increased capacity and bolsters food safety

FPE was honest, knowledgeable, hardworking, pleasant, and did their best to make sure that we ended up with the best building and equipment layout for our future.
-John Edd Wampler, General Manager

Project Highlights

  • Layout improvements enhanced flow, improved food safety and increased throughput
  • Highly collaborative project
  • Oven and intensive chillers installed for improved thermal processing

40,000

new square feet

2x

capacity increase in same footprint

20,000

renovated square feet

Overcoming design challenges following a legacy plant fire

Rebuilding a facility after a fire presents unique challenges. Overnight, the company was presented with the task of upgrading the processing operation to meet current food safety and operation expectations. The fire rendered 60 percent of the facility unsalvageable, while the remaining 40 percent — encompassing offices, raw material storage, and finished goods storage — were damaged but repairable. Thus, a plan had to be devised to utilize the remaining 40 percent while replacing the destroyed portion. 

In addition, the company had the opportunity to upgrade their processing equipment. This presented a chance to increase production and productivity. However, with every opportunity to change and improve processing methods comes the risk of changing product organoleptic characteristics, so great care was taken in working with Family Brands to select equipment that maintained the characteristics of the product that loyal and long-term customers expect. 

Food Safety and Flexibility in Production

Family Brands is a custom producer and thus needed the ability to make a variety of products and produce them in flexible quantities. Working in conjunction with everyone from upper management to the plant floor supervisors, various layout options were developed that allowed for both flexibility and food safety. This collaborative effort helped Family Brands implement new processing and production methods and eased the concern for how they could adapt to these methods. 

In addition to flexibility, a food safe product flow had to fit between the raw material storage and finished good storage structures that were not severely damaged by the fire. Our firm was able solve this issue and create a linear product flow that did not cross between raw and RTE. This flow also incorporated a rack washroom that allows for separation of dirty and clean racks, as well as an employee path that separates the raw from RTE workforce.  

Raw Processing

A layout for the raw processing of meat that allowed for equipment to be utilized between processing lines was developed. This new layout also vastly improved upon the processing capacity of the previous operation. The layout for new grinders, mixers, blenders, formers, stuffers, and linkers allowed for seamless flow from one operation to the next, as well as between process lines. 

Packaging

A variety of packaging machine styles were implemented in the design. These include manually and autoloaded horizontal thermoformer lines and bulk-pack food service lines. Some of these lines are fed by peeling and slicing lines as well. Additionally, a unique method for applying antimicrobial solutions to some of the products was devised by FPE and implemented to improve food safety and extend shelf life. 

Thermal Processing

Our firm worked with Family Brands to select new flow-through batch ovens with VFD fans to vary the volume and change the break point inside the oven. These ovens are flexible in many ways: they can utilize both natural and liquid smoke for flavoring, switch from natural gas to propane as a fuel source, and have a flat floor system that does not require a depressed pit that collects dirt and grease. Overall, these ovens increased Family Brands’ cook capacity significantly compared with the previous ovens. 

The product is moved from the ovens directly to high-intensive chillers. These chillers also utilize VFD controlled fans to rapidly chill the product, which improved food safety and drastically improved throughput.

Facility Development

Space allocation was crucial in this project, as the given space needed to accommodate not only the production and packaging operations but offices, break rooms, locker rooms, restrooms, electrical and water supply rooms, rack washrooms, and space for future production growth. This challenge was solved by optimizing space allocation of each room individually, and then modifying the allocation to fit within the confines of the overall floor and equipment plant. This back and forth, push and pull of functions and areas led to an optimization of each function and the entire layout.

Permitting

Rebuilding a plant that dated back at least 50 years brought the challenge of determining what must be upgraded to meet current building code and what could remain untouched. Working with local code authorities, we were able to develop a sensible plan to safely and cost-effectively upgrade the facility without sacrificing important upgrades for life safety and ADA feature.

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