Barbara Holly: Making Corrections

At the official retirement party held recently for Barbara Holly, co-workers gave her a cake bearing her “mug shot” and the inscription: EOS 1-31-05. Usually applied to inmates, that could only mean, “End of Sentence, January 31, 2005.”

For Holly, it marked the final day of a 24-year-long career in correctional foodservice—the first 16 at Tutwiler Women’s Prison in Wetumpka, AL, and the past eight as foodservice administrator for the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC), based in Elmore. She also ended a term as president of the American Correctional Food Service Association last summer.

In recent years, despite working under major budgetary constraints and a bid process that
almost always favors the acceptance of the lowest cost product even though it might not be the best tasting, Holly has implemented numerous cost-cutting measures without sacrificing quality—all the while paving the way for a smooth transition for her successor.

Yet, she’s not fading from the scene entirely: she’s already creating an in-service food handling safety course that she’ll soon conduct at prison and jail facilities throughout the state.

Eight-year hitch: Holly took over the state director’s position in 1996, assuming responsibility for the feeding of 26,000 inmates daily. Then, raw food cost per-inmate-day was about $1; today, it’s about $1.12. Considering the steady increase in food costs over the past eight years and increases reported by other state DOCs, Holly is more than satisfied with this figure.

The overall food budget for Alabama state prisons in 2005 is approximately $3.4 million, with an additional $416,000 earmarked for small wares such as cups, foil and kitchen gloves, plus an unspecified amount from the general fund for equipment replacement.

Holly looked closely at the 32 facilities within the department (including two without kitchens that receive satellite meals), and thus began her cost-cutting campaign. And based on her experience as a statistical analyst for the Air Force prior to working in foodservice, she has always been at home working with figures.

“We were baking our own bread which cost us 47 cents a pound, but day-old bread costs us 38 cents a pound,” she notes. “We even have one facility that makes over 400 sandwiches for bag lunches. So we got out of the bread business. If we had a central bakery with proper transportation, it could be a good practice—but we couldn’t afford it.”

Almost all food is prepared from scratch in the facilities’ 30 kitchens. To convince her to purchase a prepared product is not an easy sell. “It has to save me money or time in my kitchen—time that can be used for preventative maintenance or cleanup,” she contends. For example, she recently introduced a protein entree meal made from textured vegetable protein (TVP) that costs 12.9 cents per meal, to replace chicken and rice or chicken and noodles that costs 15.5 cents per meal made from scratch.

A $26,364 entree: Each time the TVP entree is served to the 26,000 inmates in place of those two chicken dishes, the department saves $676. Since it’s menued three times in a cycle throughout 13 cycles in the year, that’s a savings of $26,364.

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