Magazine article Corrections Forum

Food Service: DOLLARS & SENSE

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Food Service: DOLLARS & SENSE

Article excerpt

FOOD SERVICE OPERATIONS are always tasked with doing more with less. When budget cuts are necessary at an institution it seems that the food service operation is usually the one area that takes the hit-either by reduction in staff or reduction in the food budget, says Tim Thielman, CFSM, CCFP, lieutenant, Ramsey County Community Corrections, Minn., and president, Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates (ACFSA) International. "Being one of the most potentially volatile areas of an institution it is important for administrators to consider this when making budget cuts. Subpar food products will negatively impact inmate moral and jeopardize the safety and security of the entire institution to include staff safety. Moreover, food budgets are being impacted more than ever with the growing number of food allergies, therapeutic, and religious diets in the inmate population."

Having well-trained food service personnel is a very important aspect of a successful operation, he adds. "Allergies, religious diets, and food safety should be at the top of the list as well as the safety and security aspects of working in a correctional environment. The cost in keeping food service staff well trained is considerably lower than the cost of a potential lawsuit from a foodborne illness or failure to provide a special therapeutic or religious diet."

Doing more with food for less money is a problem that has stymied correctional food service professionals for years, says Rick Pedi, founder, Aggregated Menu Power, a start-up that is attempting to transform how the correctional food service industry uses food, through the connectivity of modern information networks. With more than $2.7 billion of food purchases each year, the industry faces unrelenting taxpayer pressure, he notes, yet the operator community is technologically blocked from making significant progress against its Number One challenge: How to create meals that significantly reduce food costs and comply with nutritional regulations, while making sure that menu changes do not cause problems.

"We are in the process of working with a community of jails to set up a database of menu-making knowledge for the industry. We are trying to amass jails that represent approximately $30 million in annual food purchases. We estimate that our services can generate a 20 percent reduction in food costs," Pedi says.

He explains, "These cost reductions are made possible by our proprietary NutrientMass Utility technology which cuts through conventional food-classification thinking and solves the puzzle of how the economics of nutrition actually work in meal and menu design. Aggregated Menu Power is a food-cost reducer that aggregates the industry's vast quantities of menu data and uses new menu science and data analytics to create a wide variety of food costreducing services."

"Whether you buy top shelf food items or budget-saving substitutes, food that is served at poor temperatures kills the quality," says Rob Zachrich, president, JonesZylon. "Since most correctional facilities transport meals from a central kitchen to the housing units I see a trend in corrections food service of moving toward heated food carts for this very reason-better quality meals. A heated cart has a higher upfront cost but will allow you to use lower cost dinnerware and save operational costs each year."

Effectiveness and efficiency can be impacted by using the right cart to transport the meals, he says. Factors to look for are: right capacity so only one cart is needed per housing unit, proper security features for minimal staff supervision, high correctionsgrade durability so it stays in service and not in maintenance, compatible dinnerware that works correctly with the cart.

"The main obstacle that I see to investing in the right cart is the budget; or at least the timing of the budget," Zachrich observes. "One solution would be to lease/finance the equipment so that it can be purchased with daily operational funds. …

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