Free School Meals Policy Requires Kitchen Improvements

Simon Guild
More than 2,700 schools in England will need to improve their kitchens to satisfy the requirements of the universal infant free school meal policy.

The Children and Families Bill places a legal duty on state-funded schools in England (including academies and free schools) to offer free school lunches to all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2. This duty will come into force from September 2014, imposing significant financial and time pressures on local authorities to meet the catering demand.

Kitchen improvements will range from the addition of small appliances through to full refurbishments that will include the installation of new ventilation systems. The government has made available both capital and revenue funding to local authorities to finance the necessary improvements and maintenance.

Health and safety is a principal consideration for schools looking at increasing the cooking capacity of their current kitchen facility with a range of legislative requirements to be taken into consideration. Where meals are being cooked on-site, duty holders within local authorities, schools, academies and free schools are responsible for ensuring that a risk assessment of the food preparation process including the kitchen equipment is carried out and a safe working environment provided.

Health and safety is a principal consideration for schools looking at increasing the cooking capacity of their current kitchen facility...

In a kitchen environment, especially where gas burning appliances are used, ventilation is extremely important for safety and for staff comfort. The Building and Engineering Services Association (B&ES) provides a definitive guide: Specification for Kitchen Ventilation Systems DW/172 (PDF, 165KB), incorporating legal and standard requirements for compliance. B&ES also sets standards for ductwork servicing and maintenance. Duty holders need to comply with these standards.

It’s important to note that the aforementioned standards do not require the make-up air to be tempered. However, if those specifying the system choose to not temper the incoming air, this may result in discomfort for staff using the kitchen during the cold winter months, or in the heat of summer. It’s much better to incorporate temperature control within the supply air.

A properly designed and fully specified system, with a record of its design performance characteristics, as required by DW/172, will make it considerably easier for owners, caterers and gas engineers to assess whether the ventilation system has been appropriately designed for the load in use.

Gas Safety Regulations require that, before using gas appliances, the effectiveness of the ventilation system is tested and proven to be working correctly. This is achieved by interlocking the air supply to the gas supply. This safety feature needs to be an automatic shut-off as manual bypasses are not permitted.

All catering staff who use gas equipment should be trained in how to use the particular piece of equipment and how to carry out visual checks for obvious faults. This includes damaged pipework and connections, inoperative flame failure devices (these shut off the gas supply automatically if the flame disappears), missing restraints on equipment, inoperative locks on castors of mobile equipment and smells of escaping gas. All staff should be familiar with what to do in these situations, as outlined in HSE Catering Information Sheet No 23, 07/13 (PDF, 192KB).

The feasibility stage of a kitchen upgrade scheme should also consider:

  • the space available with regards to the existing and planned additional number of appliances
  • adequacy of welfare facilities for large numbers of catering staff
  • plant manufacture lead time
  • gas and electricity supplies
  • the likelihood of asbestos containing materials
  • head height clearance once the canopy has been installed
  • ongoing maintenance costs
  • disruption to the catering service if the work were to be completed within term time
  • load bearing capability of roofs or intermediate structures
  • listed buildings or those located in conservation areas

As many system build schools have limited structural capability, a structural engineer’s input will be necessary and in some instances significant structural support works for additional loads may be required.

Faithful+Gould’s constructive expertise can be applied to all stages of a kitchen refurbishment project.

When installing full ventilation systems, planning permission for any external plant, e.g. air handling units, may be needed. The planning application may need to include specialist acoustic projections of the installed plant. Conditions applied to the planning permission can pose unexpected limitations or additional costs to the project.

Faithful+Gould’s constructive expertise can be applied to all stages of a kitchen refurbishment project. We deliver innovative solutions to meet restrictive programmes and demanding budgets. Our fully integrated project management service includes necessary site investigations, developing designs to suit specific situations resulting in cost effective and ultimately successful project delivery. Public sector bodies have instant access to our complete suite of professional services through a single appointment using the Scape contract agreement.

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