Mega kitchens and its technology

‘Wow!’ was my first reaction when I was acquainted with the service and operational scale of The Akshaya Patra Foundation, an NGO in India.

This is Santa Sikha…

The core cause of this charity is to provide freshly cooked wholesome school lunch to children studying in government and government-aided schools. It has been recognised as the world’s largest NGO-run Mid-Day Meal Programme and has also been featured as one of the eight Indian game changers in the inaugural edition of Innowin (India’s first magazine dedicated to innovation). This nudged me to delve into the details of the organisation’s history and the dynamism behind its expansion.

In June 2000, Akshaya Patra took its first step towards implementing the Mid-Day Meal Programme in schools. It served mid-day meals to 1,500 children across five government schools in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Since then, government partnership and support from corporate and individual donors, the NGO gradually started treading in the path of growth and expansion from one location to 36 locations, one state to 12 states, from 1,500 beneficiaries to over 1.7 million beneficiaries, and from 5 schools to over 14,000 schools. And, this scale of cooking and feeding is done on every single school day. But, how does the Foundation manage such large-scale cooking?

Cooking the rice in large cauldrons

Akshaya Patra harnesses the potential of technology in cooking and delivering meals. All the centralised kitchens of the NGO are highly mechanised units with the capacity to typically cook up to 100,000 meals. The kitchens are equipped with rice cauldrons of at least 500 litres capacity, dal/sambar cauldrons with the capacity to cook 1200 litres to 3000 litres, trolleys, rice chutes, cutting boards, knives and other similar equipment.

Roti cutting machine

Since roti (Indian flatbread) is a staple item in the North Indian menu, the North Indian kitchens are equipped with roti making machines, with the capacity to roll out up to 200,000 rotis from 6000 kilograms of wheat flour.

Filling the food in stainless steel containers
Loading the containers to food delivery van

The cooked meal is packed into 304 food grade stainless steel containers and transported via conveyor belts to be loaded into customised and GPRS enabled meal delivery vehicles. All the equipment including delivery vans is sanitised thoroughly to maintain hygiene and cleanliness at all stages of meal preparation and delivery. Kaizen, Continuous Improvement Projects and Six Sigma methodologies are an integral part of Akshaya Patra operations. Alongside regular technological interventions, the NGO has also adopted green initiatives such as biogas plant, briquette boiler, and solar power in some of its kitchens to reduce carbon footprint and operational cost.

Cognizant of the mid-day meal benefits: increased attendance and retention of school children, improved health, concentration and activeness among children, and improved socialisation among children, Akshaya Patra strategically expands its reach every year. In the year 2017, they flagged off centralised kitchen facilities in:

Additionally, the NGO has recently launched a pilot in partnership with the Government of Karnataka to include millets in the school lunch programme with an aim to improve the nutritional intake of the beneficiaries. Initially, 1,622 beneficiaries across 10 government and government-aided schools will receive millet-based dishes like upma, bisibelebath, sweet and khara pongal twice a week in addition to the existing mid-day meal menu. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) will be the knowledge partner guiding this approach. Click here to read more about this initiative.

In view of the above, I realised that a lot is happening in this NGO in Bangalore, and all for the benefit of children. I also realised that there is a lot of scope for each of us to get involved with the cause. Hence, I appeal to all readers to visit www.akshaypatra.org and at least begin reading about their humongous task and mission.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation is an NGO in India for children provides mid-day meals for 1.7 million children across 12 states. https://www.akshayapatra.org/