NGO: Akshaya Patra helps in School Lunch Program
The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that provides the mid-day meal programme to Government school children across India. With the vision that ‘No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger’, Akshaya Patra today feeds over 1.4 million children across 10,845 Government and Government aided schools across the country. The organisation is currently working towards fulfilling its mission of feeding 5 million children by 2020.
Inspired by Srila Prabhupada, the Foundation’s first kitchen was started in the year 2000 feeding just 1,500 children across 5 schools in Bangalore. Today, following a Public-Private Partnership model, Akshaya Patra runs kitchen units in 24 locations across 10 states of India.
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The Foundation follows two models of kitchens – centralised and decentralised. Centralised kitchens are large, highly mechanised units fitted with state-of-the-art equipment, that allows food to be cooked efficiently, hygienically, and with strict adherence to quality norms. These kitchens can produce food on a large scale, often producing 100,000 meals in just a few hours. An interesting feature at most of the centralised kitchens is the roti (Indian flatbread) making machine, capable of producing up to 60,000 rotis in an hour!
Akshaya Patra has 22 centralised kitchens, of which 10 are ISO22000:2005 certified, while the rest are awaiting certification. The Foundation runs two decentralised kitchen units. These are set up in remote locations where poor road connectivity and lack of infrastructure prohibit constructing a massive centralised unit. These decentralised kitchens are run by members of local women self-help groups, trained under the supervision of Akshaya Patra personnel. Through these kitchens the ladies enjoy permanent employment, greater economic independence, better social standing, and even serve as an example to future generations of women in the area.
An easily identifiable facet of Akshaya Patra is the meal delivery vans, affectionately called the ‘Blue Buses’. These vans are specially customised to carry the nutritious mid-day meal safely to schools in the region. Fitted with their signature honeycomb structure that prevents the food from spilling, the vans are designed with a puffed body that reduces a loss of temperature, and insulated against dust. As part of the organisation’s food safety measures, each vehicle is sterilised with steam before loading the food vessels for delivery.
Maintaining proper quality and food safety is crucial at Akshaya Patra. At every stage of the operations process quality measures are implemented to make the food as safe, nutritious and tasty as possible. In the pre-production process, Akshaya Patra implements Supplier Quality Management Systems (SQMS) to the supplier selection to ensure that only qualified suppliers are partnered with for the programme. Once the raw material is sourced from the supplier, the organisation uses a First In First Out method to make sure that all perishable items are used efficiently.
Even within the kitchen, all vessels are made with 304 grade stainless steel, the best for cooking and storing food. At all the kitchens the staff also follow stringent safety protocol like wearing gloves, face masks, hair caps, gum boots and other protective gear. They follow proper hygiene practices like taking daily showers and frequently washing their hands in addition to other practices listed out in the hygiene charts placed around the kitchens. Besides this Akshaya Patra also organises regular training sessions for employees, receives feedback on the food from schools and undertakes improvement strategies like Kaizen, Six Sigma and CI projects.
Akshaya Patra has been recognised as an example for food safety, and has received the CII National Food Safety Award two years in a row (in 2013 and 2014). The Foundation has also been nominated and represents itself at the National Steering-cum-Monitoring Committee on the Central Government’s mid-day meal scheme. Between August 2013 and March 2014, Akshaya Patra provided training on food quality, safety and hygiene to over 1,000 cook-cum-helpers in 14 states across India, on invitation by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD). The Foundation has been held up as an example of operational excellence on an international arena with case studies conducted on it by the London School of Business and Harvard Business School.