Getting Centered

FoodService Director - What I Learned - Janey ThorntonHardin County School District's Janey Thornton, like many operators, has been struggling with rising labor costs. One way she fought back is by moving baking to a central facility. Here, she shares how she made the transition and how it helped cut costs.

FoodService Director - What I Learned - Janey ThorntonJaney Thornton has worked in the Hardin County School District in Elizabethtown, Ky., for 24 years. After state-mandated salary increases and the need for more efficient work hours, she moved all baking to a centralized location 12 years ago. Now, she shares her experience making the transition and what that has meant for her district.

“We started doing the centralized baking because we had a huge increase in salaries passed by the state for all employees. Unfortunately, the child nutrition [salary] increases were not funded by the state, so we had to find a way to offset the cost of those increases. We looked at what might be possible without offsetting the quality of what we were doing or laying anyone off.

So I did a study looking at how many labor hours we were actually spending in baking time each day. At this time we had just removed our deep fryers from all the schools [to help with wellness and nutrition standards], and oven space was at a premium. The baking of bread alone took so much time in the ovens. I found that district wide, we had a total of 140 labor hours each day. So I thought if we could bake at night at one facility, we could free up oven space in the daytime. This way, we could utilize a facility that would have just been sitting at night.

The district was building a new high school in the center of the county, and we decided to place the centralized bakery there. We could design everything up front. We have all the commodities of a centralized kitchen without the cost. The workers bake from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. We were going to have them start after school finished for the day, but the workers asked if they could start later in the night. That way, those with young children could be at home to help with homework and put them to bed and they could be there in the mornings to get them off to school. They also receive an extra 10 cents on the hourly wage for working at night.

We started in two schools and found it was a huge success. We got two old vans and rigged them up so we could send out fresh products. We already had a central storage unit for paper and cleaning supplies, so we had runs of supplies and food already being made [to the schools]; so we could better utilize these trips with the shipping of centralized baked goods. 

Before we started this, we had 12 bakers and now we are down to seven and we have 3,000 or 4,000 more kids now. We are now down to between 50 and 60 labor hours every day, even with the additional students.

This resulted in a much better product and more consistency in our food items because [the cafeteria workers] don’t have that pressure in the daytime. Before, they were doing all the baking at the individual schools. Needless to say, some of the products were much better than others. We were able to put in a couple of pieces of equipment that made the baking easier because they all used that space to cook. We can also do a lot of product development now because of the night baking.

If you are doing baked products at all, and even if you’re not, and you look at the costs of pre-made baked products, it’s very cost effective if you can utilize a facility you have and wouldn’t have to build a new one. With the cost of gasoline rising, it may not be cost effective [to centralize your baking] if the district is too large geographically. But because of all we do already and as centralized as we are, it is cost effective for us.”



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