In early 2017, Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections (PDOC) entered into an “innovative” agreement with private food service vendor Aramark. State officials claimed the $154 million contract would save taxpayers an estimated $16.6 million over its three-year term.
The contract is unique in that Aramark will not control staffing, meal service or menus in Pennsylvania’s 26 prisons. Instead the company shall provide food procurement, and use its purchasing power and technology to improve food service operations.
While the prison system will maintain operational control of its kitchens, Aramark will manage food purchasing, logistics and inventory. The company said it was “excited about this innovative public-private partnership that will help the DOC better manage quality and nutrition while delivering millions of dollars in savings to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth,” said Karen Cultes, an Aramark spokesperson.
The contract was somewhat surprising in light of Aramark’s history of overbilling when it provided the PDOC’s food service operations over a decade ago. [See: PLN, June 2006, p.25]. It was also disappointing to local food suppliers and dairies that previously had contracts with the prison system.
“A lot of companies in Pennsylvania relied on that,” said John Friedmann, president of Karetas Foods. “More than $100 million in contracts, and everyone was just left out in the cold, period. The profits went to Aramark and their contractor.”
“Everyone should have the opportunity to bid on these” prison food contracts, added Craig Marburger, vice president of Marburger Farm Dairy. Before the Aramark contract, the PDOC purchased milk from 19 dairy farms in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey.
Aramark does subcontract with Texas-based Dean Foods, which has four dairy distribution centers in Pennsylvania that process and package milk.
“I suppose that is good news for those farmers shipping their milk to be processed by Dean,” said Carissa Itle Westrick, director of business development at Vale Wood Farms. But it is “bad news for other dairies, and the Pennsylvania farmers who ship milk to them, who previously had an opportunity to bid on the business for these institutions.”
The PDOC’s contract with Aramark includes two one-year renewal options. Given the company’s dismal performance in other jurisdictions, notably Michigan and Ohio, it’s at least for the best that Aramark is not involved in prison menu planning or food service. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.40; Feb. 2017, p.48; Dec. 2015, p.1]
Sources: www.post-gazette.com, www.philly.com, www.phillyvoice.com
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