Officials mull decision on Michigan's prison food contract

After food shortages, maggots and high turnover, Gov. Rick Snyder is being pushed to terminate Aramark's contract.

LANSING, Mich.—Michigan's beleaguered prison food contractor should find out in the next two weeks whether it will be subject to more penalties or even dismissal after its first eight months were marred by food shortages, kitchen maggots and high turnover as employees were caught smuggling contraband and engaging in sex acts with inmates.

Many Democrats and a few Republican lawmakers are urging Gov. Rick Snyder to terminate Aramark Correctional Service's contract and return state employees to the kitchens, saying safety and security must take precedence over estimated contract savings of about $16 million a year.

Smuggling and fraternization could endanger prison staff, and problems with food quantity and quality — including maggots found around food in at least two Michigan prisons — have raised inmate tension levels.

The Aramark problems were documented in a series of exclusive reports in the Free Press, some of which were based on more than 3,000 pages of Corrections Department records obtained under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.

"Something different has to happen," said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. "My concern right now is not so much the money, as the safety."

But others say the problems with Aramark are overblown. And at least one key Republican lawmaker said Friday the administration should not be pressured by negative media stories into canceling the Aramark deal.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
woman sick phone bed

Our employees have paid time off, but if they don’t call in at least one hour before their scheduled shift, their PTO will be docked for the day. We also assign points for unapproved absences. Everyone starts with a freebie, and when they get to 4, then we start the disciplinary action process. When a staff member gets to 10 points, that is grounds for termination.

Ideas and Innovation
app mobile

The capacity of our dining room is 135 guests, and most evenings we serve closer to 160. At times, this led to some residents waiting for a table, especially at peak hours. Our new table management software allows diners to request specific meal times via a mobile app and allows us to space out our service, greatly reducing the wait times and allowing dining staff to prepare each table in advance of their arrival.

Ideas and Innovation
to-go coffee

We have a fixed kiosk that not only sells coffee, but also protein smoothies, grab-and-go reimbursable meals and other a la carte items. We used updated equipment like what is used in Starbucks and incorporated school colors. It is a very popular addition to one of our high schools, and we are planning on expanding it to two additional high schools.

Menu Development
sam kass talking menu directions

Sam Kass, former White House senior policy advisor for nutrition policy and executive director of the Let’s Move campaign, spoke at FSD’s MenuDirections conference in February.

Q: What’s one of the biggest food-related problems facing our country?

A: Obesity is the No. 1 threat to national security—20% of what we’re spending on healthcare is due to obesity. This isn’t a policy problem. The root of our challenge is culture, and what we value in our food. The healthy choice needs to be the easy choice.

Q: What are some important steps to modeling healthy eating and creating...

FSD Resources