Dining Services Executive Chef Matt Rapposelli said the first phase of the upgrade was to expand the shipping and receiving docks at OU's Central Food Facility, which is the main receiving point for the university.
He said the most difficult aspect of the first phase was that the Central Food Facility had to continue operations during the dock expansion.
The next phase, which begins this fall, is a cook-chill operation that includes new cooking, chilling and packaging equipment.
"We'll be processing a higher volume of food in the kitchen," Rapposelli said. "The vegetable prep area and bakery will be reworked to become more efficient and produce less of a (carbon) footprint."
Rapposelli said some of the vegetable preparatory equipment the facility currently uses was purchased in the 1970s.
The new cook-chill equipment will produce higher volumes of food more consistently, Rapposelli said.
Efficiency has been a big word for OU Dining Services in the last few years, the chef said. "Anything in the budget has to generate money and savings," he explained.
According to the National Association of College and University Food Services' key benchmarking statistics for the 2008-09 academic year, OU Dining Services has fared well in recent years in terms of efficiency and its monetary contribution to the university.
It earned the designation of one of the most efficiently operated college dining services in the nation for the 10th year in a row.
OU Dining Services' prime costs were 8.8 percent below average when compared to the most efficient schools, and its food and beverage costs were 9.4 percent below average when compared to those schools.
Dining Services had a higher than average percentage of full-time management employees (17.6 percent) than the most efficiently operated schools (15.6 percent). Sales per OU management employee were more than $1.1 million, compared to $784,607 for the most efficient schools.
OU Dining Services' contribution to the university was 5.9 percent above average when compared to the most efficient schools.
Approximately 34 percent of the NACUFS membership, or 193 colleges and universities, participated in the benchmarking survey.
About four years ago, the OU bakery began the transition from purchasing what Rapposelli called "par-baked commercial items" to making more breads, pastries and desserts from scratch. The bakery now is an authentic scratch-bakery, he said, with about 98 percent of the baked items used on OU's campus being made from scratch right in Athens.
"We don't have the ability to make (some items) from scratch because (the university goes) through so much," Rapposelli said. "There's no garbage, no chemicals that you get in commercial baked goods."
The Central Food Facility purchases large volumes of produce from local farmers, he said.
Some equipment, such as a high-speed meat and cheese slicer, enable employees to efficiently produce foodstuff in less time.
OU Dining Services, which provides approximately 3.2 million meals per year, is the biggest employer of students on campus, hiring more than 1,000 students at an average rate of $7.50 per hour to work in its dining halls and Central Food Facility.
The facility also has about 20 full-time employees, and Rapposelli said he expects new work to be created with the facility's expansion.
The cook-chill operation alone will be run by three employees, but the chef said he's unsure exactly how many new jobs will be created.
"We'll have the equipment and ability to utilize more local produce," Rapposelli said. "It's a cost-effective process."
He used the example of shelling green beans, which would cost more in hand labor than to buy commercial-grade products. The new equipment will make the process less time-consuming and more efficient, he said.