An Unexpected Foodservice Experience

By Hannah Etman and Rachel Eldering

Six months ago, the thought of interning virtually with a detention center never crossed our minds. Being a dietetic intern at a detention center comes with its own set of questions. What roles do dietitians perform in corrections? How will we be able to help? In school, we studied many aspects of dietetics, such as working at hospitals or food banks, but our profession covers so many different areas of life. Without any prior knowledge of the special needs of inmates and the unique challenges of a detention foodservice operation, we were excited to learn all we could about corrections dietetics. Our 3-week rotation took place remotely with Frederick County Adult Detention Center (FCADC). Working from home presented a unique challenge but, ultimately, we found many exciting and surprising takeaways from the experience. 

Foodservice in a corrections facility differs from other foodservice organizations in unique ways. When knives are in use, they must be secured by a “leash” to the leg of a table that is bolted to the floor so they cannot be removed. The kitchen utensils are inventoried three times a day and must be signed out every time they are in use. If a utensil goes missing the center is locked down until the utensil is found. 

FCADC has made precautionary changes because of covid-19, many of which have been in the foodservice department. There is now less staff working in the kitchen to facilitate social distancing. Due to having fewer employees in the kitchen, many meals have moved from scratch-cooking to pre-prepared foods. This can be more expensive, however, it is necessary to keep everyone safe. 

FCADC is a provider for Frederick County’s Meals on Wheels Program. The meals are prepared by two inmates with the help of dietary officers, then other inmates help them tray up the meals. They are able to serve 13 different routes and two meals daily to each client. 

Like many foodservice organizations, FCADC provides special meal options. There are medical diets, such as cardiac, prenatal, and GERD available to inmates that have medical documentation. Additionally, inmates with allergies must have them medically documented in order to receive an allergy diet. The facility also accommodates vegan, vegetarian, and religious diets, and does not serve pork for any meal. Food preferences are not accommodated due to complications that may arise from having differing meals.

Seeing the varying benefits that our projects would bring to FCADC was an exciting and rewarding part of our experience. Initially, we were tasked with creating two infographics, which we entitled The Benefits of Exercise and A Guide to Staying Hydrated. For our first assignment, we created two infographics, entitled “The Benefits of Exercise” and “A Guide to Staying Hydrated.” These were created to be displayed to the inmates through the facility’s television system and had to be designed concisely, only containing information that would be of use to the inmates. A challenge was figuring out exactly what information we had to work with—for example, we discussed foods with high water content for the hydration infographic but ultimately could only list foods served by the facility. 

Two assignments with similar objectives and obstacles were the 3-day emergency menu and the 7-day bagged lunch menu. Both required creating diverse menus out of shelf-stable products for easy service. For the emergency menu, we first planned the meals, then found the total servings of food necessary, and lastly found the required quantities of each product to be purchased. Having an emergency plan is necessary to any foodservice facility, as emergencies do happen and preparation is key. The bagged lunch menu included brainstorming different lunches for inmates to take when they leave the facility for work release or court, meaning the products had to be shelf-stable. There were other requirements to be met for each meal. For example, we could not include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, each meal was to be around 900 calories, and the meal had to be safe without refrigeration for about 4 hours. These assignments emphasized the use of creativity in menu planning as well as the importance of temperature control and shelf-stability in foods. 

Another project we were tasked with was completing the bread order for the entire facility. These orders are received twice weekly, on Monday and Thursday, and cover all of the bread items on the menu. We were provided the necessary menus and worked to figure out exactly how much of each type of bread would be required based on the projected number of servings. We had to ensure the order covered the meals for inmates, officers, and Meals on Wheels. The quantities for the officer’s meals could be tricky because the number of officers eating changed daily. We learned that it was better to slightly over-purchase rather than not have enough to feed everyone.  

Interning at a correctional facility is something neither of us would have expected prior to the internship, but we are thankful that we were given this opportunity. Having a supportive and attentive preceptor helped make this rotation as exciting and unique for us as possible—she provided great information and stories that will stick with us. We will certainly use the knowledge we gained throughout our internship, as well as into our careers. 

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