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From Uncle Phil's, to students, with love

By Olivia Braude
On April 3, 2014

Garde Manger: Keeper of the food. It is the room where Miami University's Demske Culinary Support Center makes the tasty and convenient Uncle Phil's Express items found at most of the dining and market locations on campus.

The organized chaos begins in the chilled Garde Manger room at 4 a.m. with the preparation of 200 yogurt parfaits to be delivered in time for the breakfast rush on campus, Adam Hamilton, chef for culinary programming, said.

For the next six hours, the team at the Demske Culinary Support Center works to assemble, package and label the 16 different items in the Uncle Phil's Express line.

"There are multiple steps. It's not just 'take a bowl, put the salad in it, put a lid on it, sticker it and here you go,'" Hamilton said.

The sandwich wrapping and labelling process for the Uncle Phil's sandwiches is reminiscent of the famous "I Love Lucy" scene in the episode "Job Switching" where Lucy and Ethel unsuccessfully try to wrap chocolate as it soars across a high-speed conveyor belt.

The Uncle Phil's sandwich wrapping contraption requires the skill of three or four workers who operate like a well-oiled machine to wrap and label the sandwiches as they come through at the speed of about 1.5 seconds per sandwich, Hamilton said.

As Uncle Phil's Express' Ham and Swiss on Rye sandwiches fly down the conveyor belt, a wrapper is heat-sealed around them before quick workers snatch the items for labelling: placing one on the front, one on the back.

The entire process, for more than 100 sandwiches, takes mere minutes, Hamilton said.

Luckily, the workers at the Culinary Support Center are more skilled than Ethel and Lucy and no sandwiches pass by without proper wrapping and labelling.

Hamilton said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires Uncle Phil's Express products to have a label with ingredients listed in descending order. It also requires a warning label stating that the facility uses peanut products.

Nutritional information, such as calories, fat content and protein content are not labelled on Uncle Phil's Express products.

However, Hamilton said, that information can be found at Miami's Dining Website. The Culinary Support Center enters the ingredients of their items into a system called Foodservice Suite (FSS), which generates a rough estimate of a recipe's nutritional information.

"Once we have a recipe put in and we have the ingredients defined, it will actually give us a nutritional breakdown," Hamilton said.

The nutritional information for each item in a recipe is found on its packaging label, company website or the US database. It is then entered into the FSS before appearing on Miami's dining website in the form of a handy nutrition fact card, junior nutrition major Jillian O'Neil, a student worker at the Culinary Support Center, said.

The nutrition fact card found on the dining website uses symbols such as a carrot if the item is vegetarian and a milk carton if it contains dairy. It provides the calories, fat, carbs, protein and sodium per serving size along with a list of ingredients for students with health concerns or special diet needs.

Rebecca Coats, a sophomore Nutrition major, works at the Culinary Support Center finding and inputting information for not only recipes in the Uncle Phil's Express line, but all the dining hall on campus into the FSS to update Miami's dining website.

"Lately I've been working on a lot of recipes from Maple Street since that just opened this year and they have a lot of new recipes to be added. However, all the food items sold in the markets as well as the recipes for the dining halls are in FSS," Coats said.

And if they are not in FSS, it is Coats' job to find them in the Culinary Support Center's warehouse or email the manufacturer to get the proper information into the system so that it can be added to the website.

"The dining website is also nice because health-conscious students are able to look up the calories, protein, fat, etcetera for the recipes served here," Coats said, "It's really the students' personal decision to make healthy choices from the options and the tools that they are given."

In addition to finding the nutritional information, Miami students are involved in the extensive food making process at the Culinary Support Center. A few students work as student managers and help with various tasks including marking the Uncle Phil's Express items with expiration dates, Hamilton said.

Standing in a freezer surrounded by mounds of freshly cut fruits and vegetables, Hamilton explained how the Culinary Support Center cuts and processes the produce used in the Uncle Phil's Express items and the dining halls on site.

"We process all the food in our vegetable processing room, then we assemble all the foods and turn them into salads," he said.

The Uncle Phil's Express items are all made-to-order, the Director of Procurement and Purchasing, Jon Brubacher, said.

The Culinary Support Center receives around $10 million in food, Brubacher said, but after including convenience store items and beverages, the total is closer to $16 million per year.

A large amount of the purchased food visits the Garde Manger room before being shipped out as an Uncle Phil's Express item.

"On a busy day, there are literally a couple thousand items that come out of here," Brubacher said.

This includes an estimated 9000 pounds of meat per week and one million pounds of fresh fruit per year distributed among the Uncle Phil's Express items and the dining locations.

Starting March 7, the Culinary Support Center marked select Uncle Phil's Express items with QR codes for students to scan and win prizes such as Rec passes in honor of March being National Nutrition Month.

The codes are found on the salads, the fresh fruit bowl and the veggie and ranch combo, Hamilton said.

All four salads, five sandwiches and seven snack items in the Uncle Phil's Express line are stacked on blue crates in the Garde Manger room, waiting among the hustling white lab-coated and hair-netted workers, to be transferred to a cooler before being delivered to campus.

Looking around the enormous facility, the noise of the hectic Garde Manger room behind him, Hamilton said, "It's a really special place. A lot of people just don't realize what we do here."

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