Fundamentals of Prison Kitchen Design

Posted by Patrick Maness +

Every sector of the food industry has its own unique set of challenges. From the outside, many people tend to think these revolve around food; after all, that’s the business we’re in. But we all know restaurant owners need to do far more than maintain an exciting menu or source the right ingredients. Finances, marketing, permits and managing multiple relationships with vendors, customers and employees are the realities of this business.

Many of the challenges restaurants deal with are multiplied in a cafeteria setting. Anyone who’s worked in a school cafeteria — or gone through the line, for that matter — knows there is always the possibility of a food fight or some reckless kid breaking down and causing a scene. At the same time, you’re working under strict nutritional guidelines and budget constraints.

Imagine if all the potential behavior problems in an ordinary cafeteria arose on a regular basis and you called that a good day. What if the small fights and complaints erupted into violent confrontation and abusive diners? Take the worst customer-service experience you’ve had to deal with and add a high degree of danger and the potential for bodily harm: That’s the situation found in many correctional facilities.

Running a cafeteria in a prison or a jail is another ball game. The difference isn’t just in the front of the house, but extends to the back as well. To understand this more clearly, let’s look at what makes a kitchen in a correctional facility unique.

Special layout

Because correctional kitchens often employ inmates, many safety and security measures need to be taken into consideration. One of the most basic design considerations is to eliminate blind corners and make sure there is a clear line of sight in the kitchen. This means there can be no space between appliances, and no places for inmates to hide or go out of sight.

In addition to making sure the activity of the inmates can be constantly monitored, a continual concern in correctional facilities involves inmates hiding or stashing food or other objects that can be used as currency. A way some facilities have dealt with this issue is by placing the cooking and prep stations within a wire cage. Inmates working in the back must “check into” this cage, which allows officials to more closely monitor what goes in and what comes out of the kitchen.

Modified equipment

Each manufacturer is different when it comes to developing equipment. Most offer what is called “correction packages,” where kitchen appliances and equipment have been modified from civilian models to be suited for use in correctional facilities. It’s up to the manufacturer to decide what needs to be modified, and to what extent. Some of the main differences involve making everything much more durable and reducing the movable or detachable parts.

The reason for what may seem like an excessive amount of caution is that in correctional situations, even something as seemingly harmless as a loose knob can be turned into a weapon. In designing equipment suitable for correctional facilities, manufacturers must think like a prisoner.

“You have to remember, prisoners have nothing but time on their hands and can be very creative,” says Rob Moak, the senior vice president of sales for Gill Marketing. “You have to figure out how creative they’ll be with the products.”

Obviously the inherently dangerous items, such as knives, must be used under strict supervision. Most often, knives used in the kitchen must be checked out from the chef’s office and secured with a metal leash.

Once you step outside the kitchen, utensils used by inmates need to be made with special materials. For example, because inmates can melt conventional plastic and shape it so it hardens into sharp and dangerous weapons, utensils must be made from a special type of plastic that stays soft once it is melted.

Food production and service

How food is produced for inmates varies from facility to facility. Some rely entirely on food that has been prepared and cooked at a central kitchen. Others might do a combination, with a portion of the food prepared, blast-chilled and stored in-house and a portion coming from outside facilities. A few have gardens, so that prisoners can eat the food they grow.

How food gets delivered and stored in prisons and jails is interesting. Food is received and held in facilities “outside the wire,” meaning beyond the prison or jail gates. Inmates only have access to one or two days’ worth of food at a time. This is because in the event of a riot, a lack of food will force the inmates to negotiate.

No matter the food delivery or production system in place, prisons and jails must adhere to a set of nutritional standards. Just like for students in schools, inmates must be served a certain amount of grains, protein and vegetables at each meal.

Manufacturers and consultants

Designing and constructing a kitchen for correctional facilities is a matter of detail. Often, it’s the little things that can make a big, even life-threatening, difference. If you've never worked in a prison or jail environment, you would never think to consider these factors. To learn more and find the necessary assistance, get in contact with TriMark and ask about our consulting services today. Our experts have years of experience and can guide you through the ins and outs of a safe, efficient correctional kitchen.

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