Selecting an Engineering Firm for Food Plant Design


Selecting the right engineering firm for food plant design is an important decision that can significantly impact the outcome of your project. Selecting the right firm becomes even more difficult, given that engineering organizations in medium to large food companies have faced the retirement of vital engineering talent and have felt the push to reduce headcount over the past few years.

These challenges have generated the need to migrate traditional internal engineering services to outside engineering firms. Selecting the wrong firm can strain resources and lead to less-than-ideal project success. This blog addresses what food companies should consider when hiring an engineering firm.

Consider these questions when selecting an engineering firm:

  1. PRIOR EXPERIENCE. Does the engineering firm have prior bakery or food plant experience? Do they understand the components of sanitary design?
  2. IN-HOUSE CAPABILITIES. Do they have engineering disciplines in-house, or are they outsourcing?
  3. DESIGN-BUILD EXPERTISE. Are they able to deliver through a design-build delivery model?
  4. SAFETY RECORD. What is their safety record? Is safety embedded in their culture?
  5. Are they interested in creating a partnership with you, or are you a one-off client?

Prior Experience

The firm you select to perform engineering services should have a deep knowledge of sanitary design and understand the importance of good manufacturing practices. They should understand the importance of creating hygienic zones and airflow, balance, and quality. They must be knowledgeable about construction materials, construction methods, and be your partner in creating a sanitary environment. Focusing on this area in the design phase will pay dividends over the facility’s lifespan in terms of cleanability, reduced areas for insect harborage, and ongoing sanitation costs.

Minimizing water accumulation in a facility is important to good sanitary design, and the location of drains and proper sloping of floors to drains is critical. An engineering firm with food plant experience will understand these sanitary design elements and build them into your project.

In summary, these are the components of good sanitary design:

  • Plan up front with sanitation in mind.
  • Create distinctive hygienic zones.
  • Control flow of materials, personnel, and finished product.
  • Minimize water accumulation.
  • Focus on airflow and air quality controls.
  • Remember site design elements impact sanitary conditions.
  • Building envelope design is critical.
  • Interior spatial design promotes a sanitary environment.
  • Building components and installation practices are critical.
  • Construction methods.
  • Utility design will prevent contamination and improve ease of cleaning.

In-house Capabilities

Another area to evaluate when selecting an outside engineering firm is their ability to perform the work in-house. Many small to medium-sized engineering firms push some engineering disciplines to other firms. This can lead to coordination issues during the design and construction phases.

One area that traditionally relies on outside engineering services is the civil engineering discipline. This discipline relies on the knowledge of local requirements and relationships with building officials.

Design-Build. The engineering firm’s ability to use the design-build project delivery method is another area of consideration. This approach is often preferred because it provides a single source of responsibility and seamlessly integrates engineering with construction. Choose a firm that is well-versed in this delivery model.

Safety Record

Look at the firm’s safety record. Is safety embedded in their company culture, or is it just an area that gets attention only after an accident occurs?  Do they take near misses as seriously as an actual occurrence, or do they hope that an accident will not happen?  A firm that takes safety seriously trains its team to recognize threats, has experienced safety leaders on staff, and has a record that demonstrates its dedication to maintaining a safe job site.

Developing a Partnership

A strong partnership with an engineering firm minimizes one-off projects allowing both the owner and engineering firm to understand each other’s requirements and provides continuity. A master service agreement (MSA) can also be utilized. MSAs are contracts establishing basic terms between vendors and clients at the beginning of a business relationship. This initial agreement helps speed up the negotiations for future contracts, facilitates project management, and results in a more efficient and streamlined process. By establishing key terms upfront, later contracts can be more readily negotiated and agreed upon, saving time and money for both parties.


Take the necessary time to fully evaluate an engineering firm before committing. Do not base your decision on cost only. Seek references and interview past clients of the firm. Ask some questions, like How well do they understand the basics of sanitary design? Do they have a good track record of successful project execution, including budget and schedule?  Are they known for buying a project and making up for it with costly change orders?

These are just a few areas to consider when deciding on the right engineering partner to deliver your project. The Austin Company has a long history of delivering successful projects in the food industry.

Put our Results not Excuses™ to work for you.


Food, Bakery, and Snacks Engineering SME

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