As budgets become tighter inmate populations continue to rise and correctional foodservice operators need to enhance their menu diversity. To drive performance in this environment, these operators are turning to effective, multi-use equipment.
As the population of U.S. prisons continues to rise, so does the need for foodservice in that sphere. At the same time, though, this segment continues to deal with state and federal budget constraints. Helping soften the blow, however, is free and low cost inmate labor. But because equipment needs to be more durable and have tamper-proof features, it can be more expensive than standard models.
Correctional foodservice facilities require flexibility, since a variety of serving situations are possible. For example, while some inmates are required to take meals in their cells from a tray, others will eat with the general population in the prison cafeteria.
"[Prisons are] looking at ways to reduce costs creatively," says Barbara Wakeen, MA, RD, LD, CCFP, CCHP for Correctional Nutrition Consultants, Ltd. "[This includes] reducing calories and utilizing fortified beverages, milk alternates, nutrients, gardens and recycling as well as focusing on sustainability."
Offering cold meals in the evening, weekends or at breakfast reduces foodservice labor time, as does offering prepackaged meals to smaller facilities. "The biggest challenge in the foodservice segment is maintaining nutritional adequacy and compliance with regulations, standards and accreditations within budget and cost constraints," Wakeen says.
Many youth facilities participating in the child nutrition program are revamping their offerings based on the new USDA Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and School Breakfast Program established in 2012. This is a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the ﬁrst major change in school meals in more than 15 years.
Consistent with the 2010 dietary guidelines, the new standards provide recommendations on a number of factors, including maximum and minimum nutrient levels for calories, sodium, fat and food-group servings. Under this program, U.S. school meals must include more fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and pastas, and low- and non-fat milk. "The issues are the same, but budgets are tighter and tighter," Wakeen says. "We have to be more creative in menu, staffing and production options. Vendors are being more creative with product options."
One of the most challenging aspects of corrections foodservice is special diet requirements, which may include meals for diabetics, seniors and those following a religious diet where certain foods are forbidden.
Because of the potential for riots and food tampering, larger prisons typically only store enough food for two or three days and hold the remaining in an off-site warehouse. "What makes this segment unique is that corrections feeds consistent populations, many in large volumes, and equipment is used seven days a week," Wakeen says. "Inmate labor is used, so equipment needs to be designed to be heavier to withstand continual use and some abuse. The design shouldn't include removable parts that may break easily."
Equipment specified for the corrections segment typically includes unique features, such as tamper-proof screws and hinges that cannot be easily removed for weapon making. Other equipment, like oven and bun racks, is tack welded, fully welded or riveted so it cannot be easily disassembled by inmates.
Designers also may specify heavier gauge steel or aluminum that doesn't include loose items. Some packages include vandal-proof fasteners on panels that require special tools for removing parts. Ovens may have locking covers over the controls or alarms with panic shut-off devices. The more dangerous equipment, including fryers and broilers, may not be utilized in high-security prisons.