Tuesday, September 05, 2000

Kenton jail kitchen hires adviser to gain efficiency

Fiscal court to hear from consultant

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — When Kenton County Jailer Terry Carl took office in January 1999, the food was so bad he refused to eat it.

        But now Mr. Carl and members of his staff are regular visitors to the jail kitchen.

        “If we can't eat it, we don't serve it,” said Col. Rodney Ballard, the jail's chief deputy. “I sample the food here every day.”

        Now, the jail's baked goods are such a hit that an independent consultant recently recommended the institution consider selling them to the public.

        Cost, however, remains a concern. Even with new purchasing contracts that have helped cut the weekly food budget by nearly half, the Kenton County Jail's annual food budget of $310,000 remains one of its top budget items — just below salaries and benefits.

        To remedy that, the jail recently hired a consultant to evaluate its food service.

        Ginger Gray, who heads food services for Kenton County Schools, will discuss her findings at to night's Kenton Fiscal Court meeting.

        Ms. Gray, who is a food services consultant to institutions, spent 120 hours observing meal preparation at the Kenton County Jail. She sampled the food, perused invoices for the past year, reviewed menus, and talked to kitchen staff.

        Overall, Ms. Gray, hired at $25 an hour, found that the food service staff was doing an outstanding job, she said. She found a dedicated, cost-conscious staff, and meals that were “well planned and well prepared.”

        Some of her recommendations that the jail has already put into practice include using smaller ladles to better control food portions, and writing menus on a monthly cycle instead of a weekly one. The latter will make purchasing more uniform, help track purchases, and save the food services manager time, Ms. Gray said.

        The jail also is investing in containers to store small amounts of food that normally would be tossed out.

        “In our business, if you're feeding 400 people a day, and you've got five pounds of macaroni and cheese left over, that's scrap,” Col. Ballard said. “Instead of throwing it away like we've done in the past, we'll store it. (New prisoners) in intake wouldn't have eaten yesterday's meal, so we'll serve it to them.”

        While some taxpayers probably would like to see inmates get by on bread and water, that can't be done for legal, as well as practical, reasons, Col. Ballard said. He added Kentucky's corrections regulations require that inmates receive 2,400 calories a day.

        “The bottom line is, no matter what institution you're in, if inmates are happy, they're easier to deal with,” Col. Ballard said. “If they're well-nourished, they behave better.”


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