News Releases

Corrections’ Dedicated Food Service Team Plans Menus a Year in Advance – November 1997

Imagine you’re the team of California Department of Corrections’ (CDC) food managers, It’s Thanksgiving Day and 150,000-plus inmates are wondering, “Where’s the turkey?’

What do you do? For starters, you order 77,000 pounds of turkey. Then stuff the turkeys with 51,000 pounds of dressing, and start them baking. Next, whip up 38,000 pounds of salad, 51,000 pounds each of potatoes and yams, and top it off with 300,000 dinner rolls.

That’s a Traditional Thanksgiving CDC-style.

And that’s pretty typical for a holiday meal in a California prison. While this is more sumptuous than on average days, inmates receive heart-healthy, well-balanced, tasty meals three times a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

“As your food service program goes, so goes your institutions said CDC Food Administrator Don Barker. “Feed them a wholesome diet, food that’s good for them, and food that tastes good.”

Barker heads up CDC’s food service programs from headquarters. He oversees more than 1,000 food service employees, including 33 food managers, in institutions statewide.

Standardized menus for CDC meals are planned, reviewed and modified a year in advance by a team of food managers and dieticians. The final menus are then distributed to food service managers in each of CDC’s 33 institutions, who use them as the basis for their programs. The team uses American Dietetic Association Guidelines and the recommended daily allowances established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council.

All three meals are filling, well-balanced and reasonably priced. The meals add up to about 3,200 calories a day for men and 2,900 calories a day for women.

On a recent day at Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP), the prison served fresh fruit, dry cereal, boiled eggs, fried potatoes, biscuits with whipped butter and jelly, and milk for breakfast. The brown bag lunch included one bologna and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cookies, a package of shelled sunflower seeds, an apple and fruit punch. For dinner, the institution served coleslaw, turkey ala king steamed rice, seasoned peas, a dinner roll with whipped butter, a brownie and punch.

Food managers can modify the generic menus to meet local needs. The menus also can also be modified to support dietary needs of inmates with medical conditions or special religious requirements.

MCSP is one of the 21 CDC institutions that uses the “cook chill” process. In the cook chill process, food is prepared conventionally and then quickly chilled to 34 degrees, just above freezing, in large walk-in compartments. It is stored for up to three days, the temperature is checked and rechecked to make sure it stays at 34 degrees, and then it’s “rethermed” before it is served.

In cook chill prisons, food is cooked conventionally in a large main kitchen. Reheating takes place in satellite kitchens spaced near housing units in the institution. A separate kitchen provides food for the prison’s infirmary. The satellite kitchens are staffed by minimum to maximum security inmates who work under the watchful guidance of custody and food service staff.

The cook chill process is safe too. According to Dan Duarte, a Supervising Correctional Cook at MCSP, the prison has had only one outbreak of a food-borne illness in the ten years he’s worked at the prison. One reason is that food temperature is checked and checked again before, during and after it is cook chilled. The prison makes up sample trays of the prepared food which are kept refrigerated for 72 hours after the meal is served. Should any inmates come down will a food-borne illness, the samples are tested for contamination to isolate the cause of the illness.

Quality Control

Inmates have some input into the quality and selection of the foods they eat. They may file an inmate grievance form, if they disagree with what is served or how it is served. And their comments are taken seriously.

Two meal sample reports also are completed for each meal – one by an inmate and one by an officer – to ensure that quality meals are being served in CDC’s prisons. The officer in charge asks for volunteers to taste the meal and fill out the form, which includes sections to comment on the cleanliness of food service workers, delays in serving, and whether there were sufficient dishes and silverware. There is room at bottom of the form for additional comments. Ultimately, the warden receives a copy of the sample report.

Recipes to feed from one to 10,000

CDC recipes are based on modified military recipes, and the items are not measured in cups or teaspoons like mom’s recipes are.

>The recipes can be computed for any number of inmates, from 3,500 on up to 10,000 if necessary.

CDC purchases the vast amounts of food products it needs to feed its institution population from a variety of sources – among them, the Prison Industry Authority (PIA), a multitude of food contractors, and the USDA. MCSP is also home to PIA’s meat cutting plant, which produces 40,000 pounds of meat a week for CDC institutions, camps, veterans hospitals, state hospitals and California Youth Authority facilities. PIA also runs a coffee grinding plant at MCSP and runs bakeries and dairies at several other CDC institutions.