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Food Service Programs Provide Nutritious Food and Valuable Experience

April 24, 2020

By Rachel Noll

DOC Communications

incarcerated individual's hands place calzones on a tray

CI foods follows exact recipes and processes to ensure consistency in finished products. (Tim Kelly, DOC Communications)

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The Department of Corrections (DOC) food service programs provide cost effective, healthy and quality meals to the 16,596 incarcerated individuals in the state’s 12 correctional facilities. These food service programs adhere to the Dietary Guidelines of America and all mainline menus comply with the Governor’s Executive Order 13-06 (pdf), which requires state facilities to provide healthy foods.

Providing nutritious foods and lifelong experience

Correctional Industries (CI) is a unique blend of business and government, using private industry tools and techniques to provide a public service. Thousands of incarcerated individuals gain work experience and training as they produce high quality, competitively priced products.

“I view this operation as a place to help individuals develop pride, self-worth and skills that are transferable to the marketplace,” said Michael Cline, Correctional Industries Food Factory Operations Manager. “The foundation of the training program is built on the philosophy that individuals take the skills they are taught with them into the community. I hope they are able to build a level of confidence they have never had before.”

Thanks to community partnerships, incarcerated individuals with experience working in CI food services have the opportunity to successfully reintegrate into society and engage in training, education or employment upon release. One community partner, FareStart, provides eligible individuals with an opportunity to participate in a 16-week culinary training program while also receiving housing and career assistance and, according to FareStart, 91 percent of the program’s graduates have jobs within 90 days of finishing the program.

Centralized system provides consistent quality and reduces waste

Corrections’ food systems use standardized recipes for consistent quality. This reduces the “haves” and “have nots” across the state’s 12 facilities allowing for the meals provided to remain equitable regardless of where they are served. CI also provides 35 different menus statewide that allow individuals to have religious or medically necessary meal alternatives.

The centralized system helps estimate a predictable yield for recipes, which reduces the amount of leftover waste due to overproduction. This also helps reduce shortages on the serving line, ensuring everyone receives the appropriate amount with a consistent nutrient content. It also helps ensure that nutritional values per serving are valid and consistent so regardless of where the recipe is prepared, the food is the same. These standardized recipes also guarantee that meals served comply with DOC’s nutritional guidelines that adhere to the Dietary Guidelines of America.

Economies of scale and a ‘just in time’ supply chain via the food factories can help save on costs for storage and preservation of raw material. When the processes are centralized, it’s easier to create efficient purchasing procedures. This allows CI the ability to utilize labor efficiently and reduce training costs.

“Our objectives must aim far higher than just managing operations; they must involve the establishment of principles of performance, cultivate growth and promote change for the better,” said Cline.

Working together to provide healthy food

CI, food services at facilities and incarcerated individuals all work together to prepare healthy foods that will provide proper nutrition to those incarcerated. Corrections’ food services administrator and a dietician review and approve dietary allowances annually to ensure that they meet national and statewide requirements while incarcerated workers receive experience working in a kitchen with life-long training that can assist in finding work when they release.

“Foods manufactured and supplied by CI to DOC facilities are a vital element to maintain consistency of menu items and nutrition statewide,” said Bryan King, DOC Food Service Administrator. “This allows DOC to achieve and maintain compliance with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) and fulfill the Governor’s Executive Order 13-06. Incarcerated individuals assist with food manufacturing and food service within DOC. In turn, they learn to model pro-social behaviors associated with work ethic and employment.”

Since the 1990s, Corrections has implemented standardized menus, healthy practices, and uniform nutritionals (e.g., reduced fat and sodium, higher fiber) to enhance the health and well-being of the incarcerated population including;

  • Eliminating use of deep fryers and grill-fried meals and replacing them with baked, roasted or steamed meals
  • Making half the plate fruits and vegetables
  • Making at least half of the grains whole grains
  • Using non-fat and low-fat (1%) milk
  • Serving 11 oz. of seafood weekly
  • Serving more beans, which are a natural source of fiber and protein
  • Reducing the number of sugary desserts

In October 2019, the Washington State Department of Health worked with DOC to release a “train-the-trainer” toolkit with a step-by-step guide to help individuals train others about the new healthier menus and posters to help incarcerated individuals make better choices in the commissary.

Additionally, DOC regularly polls incarcerated individuals and takes suggestions from tier representatives and others on foods to remove from the menu and requests to add food to the menu.

Corrections continues to work hard to ensure that meals served to the incarcerated are healthy and consistent, while providing training and work experience to the incarcerated who assist with food services.

“Correctional Industries food programs hope to create an environment where the incarcerated population has opportunities to grow and change for successful reentry,” said Jamie Dolan, Assistant Director, Correctional Industries.