Planning the Engineering Design of a Food Processing Facility

July 2017


Engineering design and construction of a food processing facility requires a great deal of planning. Information must be collected from many sources and combined into documents that are simple to read and share with others. Planning sessions should not involve persons that represent all aspects of facility activity. Examples are production, maintenance, supervision, sales, accounting, receiving, warehousing, distribution, human resources, management, engineering, research and development, key suppliers (products and services), government agencies, and consultants. Consultants include engineers, lawyers, insurance providers, and other specialists that may not be regularly employed by the company. For large projects, it is recommended to hold scheduled planning sessions at a convenient location that is free from distractions. It is often desirable to obtain and unrelated, third party to lead and moderate planning sessions in order to retain objectivity and purpose. An agenda should be drafted for each planning sessions.

This fact sheet lists many of the elements to consider when designing food-processing plants. Since each situation is unique, some elements will not apply and some important elements may need to be added. Relevant elements can form the basis for a planning session agenda. Elements listed are not in any particular order of importance and emphasize engineering design (not economics, marketing, logistics and other necessary inputs). Lists of design considerations are given under four headings.

  • Facility
  • Process
  • Product
  • Other

The “Other” list contains miscellaneous elements and items that can be classified in multiple categories. Where useful examples and a brief explanation of the desired input are given. For a more detailed explanation of an engineering approach to facility design for food processing, please call the author for a copy of the Oklahoma State University circular E-959, Process Engineering Method for Food and Agricultural Products.


  1. Site selection: Identify the best location(s) for the facility, considering the following factors.
  • Economic development assistance – grants or other support offered to new businesses
  • Flexibility
  • Expansion
  • Utilities availability
  • Maintenance
  • Sanitation
  • Access
  • Environmental impact
  • Zoning laws
  • Permit requirements
  • Parking for employees and delivery vehicles
  1. Existing or proposed facility size (square feet)
  • Designate size of dedicated areas (storage, cooler, processing, packing, etc.)
  • Provide a plan view of the proposed facilities layout (a scaled drawing is not necessary if dimensions are included)
  • Estimate expansions requirements (show on drawing)
  1. Provide a budget estimate for the cost of the facility
  2. Utilities: Identify source(s) and cost to provide utility service as shown in table 1. Review the impact of variable demand charges (if any) and limitations on quantity (e.g. BOD of discharge to treatment system). Consider including meters that can record utility usage to provide data for improving operating efficiency.
  3. List code and permit requirements (local, state, federal and international)
  4. Type of construction (steel frame, concrete, panel, pre-packaged, etc.)
  5. Overhead clearance available or required in designated areas (especially processing)
  6. Description of access requirements to facility and dimensions of openings
  7. Flooring, walls and ceiling in wash down and special use areas
  8. Floor drains in wash-down and process areas
  9. Type (drop-down, floor, or wall) and number of utilities connections (electric, steam, water, air, etc.) in process areas.
  10. Refrigerated storage requirement (square feet or amount of products/materials/pallets) for proper handling, rotation and placement of goods
  • Temperature
  • Raw materials (ingredients)
  • Finished product
  • Rework
  • Long-term storage requirements for seasonal goods
  • Stack height
  1. Strategy for grouping separate refrigerated areas to maximize energy efficiency, materials handling requirements, and expansion of needs
  2. Ambient temperature storage requirement (square feet or amount of products/materials/pallets)
  • Raw materials (ingredients)
  • Finished product
  • Packaging materials
  • Rework
  • Long-term storage for seasonal products (estimate)
  • Incoming materials inspection and storage
  • Wall clearance and inspection lane requirements
  • Stack height
  • Develop a strategy for grouping separate storage areas to maximize materials handling requirements and expansion needs
  1. Employee service facilities requirements
  • Drinking water fountains
  • Toilet and lavatory facilities
  • Change rooms
  • Training or classroom
  • Retiring room
  • First aid
  • Food service
  1. All warehousing and storage areas
  • Incoming materials inspection and storage
  • Truck and railcar parking and sanitation facilities
  • Wall clearance and inspection lane requirements
  • Protective guard posts for walls, doors, and equipment
  1. Cleaning and Sanitation
  • Layout
  • Materials handling
  • Grease trap location
  • Building exterior
  • Floors and drains
  • Walls and ceilings
  • Ventilation
  • Lighting
  • Pest proofing
  • Surface treatments and coatings
  • Truck and railcar sanitation
  • Wastewater pretreatment
  • Secondary and tertiary wastewater treatment systems
  1. Process electrical equipment rating (wash-down, dust proof, explosion proof, etc.)
  2. Electrical switchgear and motor control room location
  3. Emergency Power: Indicate the amount (square feet or percentage of area) and temperature of refrigerated warehouse or facility area to be protected by an emergency power source, if any.
  4. Parking and access
  • Delivery trucks
  • Truck drivers lounge
  • Railcar
  • Employee
  • Special designation (inspector, visitor, customer, etc.)

Table 1. Utility source, availability, capacity, fee, and rate

(provide contact name and phone number)
Hook-up Fee
Natural Gastherm$/therm
Watergal.$/1,000 gal.
Sewagegal.$/1,000 gal.
Solid wasteN/A$/cubic yard


  1. Describe the value-added products to be processed. An example is provided in table 2. Include future requirements.
  2. Process organization and flow
  • Materials flow (product, waste, rework, packaging, ingredients and intermediates) and storage
  • Personnel flow
  • Data collection and manipulation
  1. Provide recipes and examples of product/packaging materials if available
  2. Regulatory requirements for products (local, state, federal and international)
  3. Describe the level of process automation desired for the facility (e.g. manual, semi-automated, or fully automated)
  4. Describe the level of packaging automation desired for the facility (e.g. manual, semi-automated, or fully automated)
  5. Describe the carton or case requirements for products
  6. Describe the image desired for the facility (e.g. state-of-the-are, modern or utility)
  7. Provide a budget estimate for capital equipment expense
  8. Is used equipment acceptable/desired? If so, state any specific areas in the process where used equipment is unacceptable
  9. How will ingredients or raw materials be delivered to the facility (delivery size, pallet or container size, stacking specifications, temperature, frequency, supply capability, and plans for handling)?
  10. How will packaging materials be delivered to the facility (delivery size, frequency, pallet dimensions, stacking specifications, case size and plans for handling)?
  11. How will finished goods leave the facility (frequency, pallet requirements, wrapping, coding, and handling requirement)?
  12. Technology
  • Process equipment
  • Materials handling (pneumatic conveying, bucket elevators, augers, conveyors, gravity slide, etc.)
  • Control systems for process and environment (degree of automation)
  • Quality assurance (in-house systems)
  • Research and development
  1. Expansion capability and space availability
  2. Flexibility (changeovers, seasonal packs or products, and future upgrades)
  3. Reliability of equipment (lifetime requirement)
  4. Waste treatment, handling, disposal, and recovery
  5. Sanitation standards
  • Housekeeping
  • Raw materials handling and storage
  • Processed and finished product handling and storage
  • Waste handling procedures
  • Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs)
  1. Sanitary facilities
  • Cleaning and sanitizing
  • Methods required
  • Systems needed
  1. Personnel safety
  2. Environmental safety
  3. Product and process safety
  • Metal detection
  • Line magnets and strainers
  • cGMPs

Table 2. Description of product, production rate and package

 Production Rate
Example I: 1 cc capsule of pure emu oil (red or green)250 caps/min500 caps/min250, 500 and 1,000 caps.
Plastic bottle with cotton insert and shrink band
Example II: 1cc capsule of pure emu oil (red or green)500 caps/minn
phase II
1,000 caps/min
phase III
Same as example I
Example 111: 5cc capsule of emu oil and aloe (blue and brown)250 caps/min500 caps/minMini 50 count and Jumbo 5,000 plastic bottle with heat-activated foil seal


Describe the value-added products to be processed as shown in table 2. Describe the physical properties of ingredients, intermediate and final product(s) (include or forecast ingredients in future plans). Intermediate products may be important in cases where physical properties of the intermediate are unique when compared to the ingredients and final product. Examples of descriptive terms follow:

  1. Common name of ingredient, source or specification
  2. Density (weight per volume)
  3. Corrosive nature
  4. Viscosity (indicate temperature or range of temperatures)
  5. Sensitivity to air
  6. Sensitivity to temperature
  7. Sensitivity to moisture
  8. Sensitivity to materials (contact)
  9. Requirement for agitation or mixing
  10. Dustiness
  11. Flammability
  12. Volatility
  13. Reactivity
  14. Bridging
  15. Abrasive nature
  16. Toxicity
  17. Freezing point
  18. Boiling point
  19. Rheology
  20. Particle size
  21. Stiffness
  22. Thermal conductivity
  23. Electrical conductivity
  24. Specific heat

Other design considerations

Food and Drug Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, or applicable regulations

Local state and federal permits (construction, business and environmental)

Local labor groups and labor statistics

Local cropping practices and soil types

Local weather patterns

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program

Test kitchen (product development) requirement

Research and development laboratory and/or pilot plant

Seasonal processing requirements

Softened water requirement

HVAC system pressure and balance for sanitation, and process and odor control

Lighting requirements

Energy and process materials recovery

Return on investment

Environmental safety (chemical handling, storage, and disposal)

Tim Bowser
FAPC Food Process Engineer


DASNR Extension Research CASNR
OCES  Contact
139 Agricultural Hall
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078