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Q&A: Shane Phillips, operations manager Florida Department of Corrections, Tallahassee, Fla.

Preparing 90 million meals annually from 123 on-site kitchens on a government budget, the Florida Department of Corrections has had to get creative. To feed its approximately 90,000 inmates, the foodservice program prepares 230,000 meals per day from these on-site kitchens.

FL-DOC-4Steam kettles are a main component in Florida DOC’s from-scratch foodservice program.Recently, the department began a pilot program with Trinity Services Group to prepare these meals at its Jefferson, Tallahassee, Marion, Gainesville and Hardee facilities through July of 2017. A contract was also established with Cheney Brothers Inc. for vendor food products and delivery services through September 2019. "We're the third-largest DOC in the country, behind California and Texas," says Shane Philips, operations manager.

Phillips spoke with FE&S about the various aspects of Florida DOC's foodservice program and what makes it unique.

FE&S: Your organization recently instituted a new prototype foodservice program. Has this been successful?

SP: Our brand-new prototype program from Trinity is about a year old, and since we don't have enough data in yet, it's too early to determine whether it's successful. We also implemented it in phases, and it was fully executed at seven facilities last October. The goal is to see if there will be any cost savings from utilizing a privatized model. The contractors have brought us new menu ideas and enhancements, while also streamlining the way we serve meals. We've learned a lot from them. At the same time, we're fortunate to have many dedicated staff members looking for new and innovative ways to implement menus and making sure equipment is operating properly.

FE&S: Typically, correctional institutions utilize inmate labor for foodservice programs. Is that the case at the Florida DOC?

SP: Yes, we utilize inmates in all of our correctional kitchens statewide to cook meals. A typical facility is assigned 100 inmate workers to provide meal service. The inmate work schedules are assigned in two shifts, with 30 inmates assigned per shift. The additional inmates assigned are rotated in for inmates who are ill or have scheduled time off. We have a total of 620 foodservice positions statewide that are spread out amongst our 123 kitchens. We also have statewide nutritionists that analyze our menus and dieticians to ensure menus are being implemented appropriately and that inmates are getting the proper nutrients and calories on a daily basis.

FE&S: Budgetary concerns are high on the list of challenges for corrections foodservice operations. What steps has your organization taken to help control costs?

SP: About 10 years ago, the Florida DOC developed a robust farm program that has cut food costs statewide. Eight million pounds of produce is produced annually on 60 farms throughout the state, which saves us between $5 [million] and $6 million on food costs each year. The program delivers 150,000 pounds of fresh vegetables weekly to our institutions and receives donations of approximately 400,000 pounds a year. Depending on the season, this may include cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, sweet corn and squash. Farms are self-operated with department staff, including inmates who plant and harvest the crops. Menu offerings are not based around this produce, although we will utilize our farms' produce to substitute items on the menu that would otherwise be purchased from a contractor.

FE&S: With such a large operation, is the menu standardized across the entire program, or are there variations to the offerings?

SP: We have our own standardized statewide menus, which are on a four-week cycle that meets the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences. Each meal includes a meat or a meat product entree with a choice of an alternate nonmeat entree that accommodates vegetarian and religious diet restrictions. The menu, including portion sizes, is specifically designed to meet the 2,691 daily caloric requirements for moderately active adults and is reviewed and approved by a registered dietitian. We also utilize 15 therapeutic diet menus for 3,600 inmates and a religious diet menu for 10,000 inmates. Both the department's foodservice operation and contractor-provided foodservice operation utilize the same menus statewide.

FE&S: What are the most popular menu items?

SP: Lunch and dinner offerings are interchangeable. For example, we may offer sloppy joes for lunch one day and dinner a few days later. Our most popular item is the baked chicken dinner, which consists of a chicken leg quarter, rice, carrots, bread, pudding and a beverage. We also provide various patty sandwiches similar to burgers, including zesty and country versions. Casseroles are another lunch and dinner favorite. Breakfast is typically traditional items, such as oatmeal, grits, eggs, breakfast sausage and hash browns.

FE&S: Are you planning any menu changes for your operation?

SP: We have a committee that meets annually to talk about menu changes. The current plan is to add new food items to make our offerings more heart healthy and appealing. This includes incorporating more fresh fruit. We're also changing up some of our recipes, including oven frying our chicken instead of baking. We don't utilize fryers, so we're having to adapt our recipe for this menu item accordingly.

FE&S: Does each location have production facilities, or do you utilize a central commissary for food production?

SP: We have kitchen facilities at all of our locations, and these are cook-service or from-scratch operations. Food is prepped by inmates about two hours before meals are served. A typical back-of-house setup includes steam kettles, griddles, convection ovens, tilt skillets, mixers, coolers, freezers and dishwashers.

FE&S: Describe the logistics for inmate dining.

SP: Dining areas are large in most cases, seating up to 150 inmates. We'll do callouts for those eating from the various menu types, consolidating those who require special diets.

FE&S: Safety is an issue at correctional foodservice operations, since it's primarily inmates who are working in the kitchen. What steps are taken to prevent equipment tampering?

SP: All of our equipment comes retrofitted for the correctional segment, so the proper safeguards are already in place. This includes locks on refrigerators and freezers and shatter-resistant glass on our convection oven doors. We also employ a robust monitoring system to prevent tampering. This requires department staff to utilize tools and equipment checklists on a monthly basis, which ensure units are operating properly.

FE&S: What is the biggest challenge your operation is currently facing, and what are your plans to overcome this?

SP: One of the biggest challenges we face is keeping our foodservice equipment updated and running. We don't always have adequate funding to purchase new state-of-the-art equipment, since our budget is limited. The state legislature has been a great partner, so we're hoping for more money in the future to do bigger and better things.