Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Concern for Inadequate Facilities at Camp

I received this comment and plea for assistance from Jennifer last weekend. I'm posting part of my email response so others can benefit from her concerns.

Jennifer said...
I am have committed to cooking on a mission trip for about 125 people. That part does not scare me as much as the limited facility. One residential kitchen/fridge/stove. One large charcoal grill. My goal is to try to nutritionally enhance the kids in the week we are there (Appalachian Mountain kids). Got any suggestions?

Hi Jennifer:

It sounds like it'll be a worthwhile trip. You'll be richly rewarded by you're service to the children and their adult leaders. Of course, like anyone who volunteers in a camp setting, you won't be rewarded in cash or other tangibles. The reward comes in the satisfaction that you've donated time to improve someone's life.

You concerns are well-placed. Like you, I have concerns about the food preparation and storage facilities at the camp site. Few residential kitchens are designed to serve 125 people. It's going to be very difficult to feed that large of a group from a four-burner range, home oven and a five to eight cubic foot refrigerator.

Here's my discussion of the food safety concerns that I see from the limited information that I have:

Limited refrigeration--You'll be hard-pressed to store sufficient potentially hazardous food in a normal home refrigerator for even one meal. All potentially hazardous food (PHF) must be stored under refrigeration at 41-deg or lower. In California, PHF is "food that is in a form capable of supporting rapid and progressive growth of infectious or toxigenic microorganisms that may cause food infections or food intoxications." Just about all perishable foods fall into this definition.

Limited cooking facilities--You'll have a difficult time cooking for a large crown without the barbecue grill. It may be doable with the BBQ, but you limit the menu to grilled food for the week (and I'm not saying that's a bad thing). Four burners and a small oven limit batch size. Smaller batch size means that it takes longer to cook a meal.

A spaghetti sauce and pasta meal, for instance, for 125 persons will require about 6 gallons of sauce and 10 pounds of pasta. You could simmer the sauce in a 40-quart saucepan, but that's too big for a standard home range top burner.

So you must divide the sauce into two stockpots. You'll need at least two 20-quart stockpots for the pasta as well (or boil the pasta in two batches, consecutively). This leaves you no room for a vegetable and anything else, like dessert sauces, that need cooking on the range.

Transportation to and from the market--Transportation is always a big concern because PHF will be in the temperature danger zone from the time you leave the market until you arrive at the kitchen. This could be an hour or more up hot, mountain roads.

And then you need someplace to store this food once you off load it into the kitchen. I always recommend using one of the large foodservice houses, like Sysco or US Foodservice, if they'll accept your business. Of course, they're often reluctant to make one-time deliveries to remote locations.

No hot holding equipment--Inadequate hot and cold holding of PHF is always a concern in any kitchen. This concern is diminished if all your patrons eat within a 30 to 60 minute window in a single dining area. You could use the range top or oven to keep food warm, especially is a meal is delayed. But remember, you already have limited resources.

No facilities to properly cool and hold leftovers--Children can be finicky eaters. You'll run out of food one meal. Then they'll act like frugal eaters the next. So, you must be ready to deal with leftovers. This means you have to have adequate equipment and/or sufficient qualities if sanitary ice to cool food quickly through the danger zone (135-deg down to 41-deg). Then after cooling, you need a refrigerator that will hold the food at 41-deg or lower.

No ice-making facilities--Ice is a wonderful commodity when you have limited facilities. You can use to cool a battery of ice chests and cold salads and other cold menu items on the serving line. Without a commercial-grade ice maker, you're going to have to purchase ice in bulk from a local market or food service vendor.

The big issues that you need to resolve now are limited refrigeration, limited cooking resources and transportation. The remaining issues will resolve themselves (within reason) if you solve the primary issues now. I'll list some recommendations in a second email within a day or two.

I don't want to discourage you from making the trip. You just have a few challenges that must be addressed before you arrive on site. You should be successful if you can implement a few forthcoming recommendations (extra refrigeration or ice chests, extra cooking equipment, frequent purchasing to limit storage of food and a menu tailored to the facilities).

Thanks for writing,

Steve Karoly

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