San Francisco provides healthy meals to County Jail inmates 

click to enlarge Crops grown in San Bruno by at-risk youths under the Garden Project could soon be feeding County Jail inmates. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Crops grown in San Bruno by at-risk youths under the Garden Project could soon be feeding County Jail inmates.

San Francisco's penchant for healthy diets and locally grown foods apparently even extends to its incarcerated residents.

Inmates in the County Jail system are eating low-sodium meals, and soon they also could be consuming locally grown foods such as Swiss chard, kale and broccoli — all in the name of health.

"We implemented a healthy-heart menu to help combat some of the inmate obesity issues that we've been seeing due to an overly caloric meal combined with a sedentary lifestyle," said Bree Mawhorter, the chief financial officer of the Sheriff's Department, which runs the jails.

Each meal will cost The City an average of $1.56 under a proposed five-year, $19.7 million contract with Aramark Correction Services, a Philadelphia-based company. There is an average of 5,743 meals served daily. Inmates are entitled to three meals per day, but they sometimes receive "double rations" for picking up extra tasks such as cleaning or painting, according to a report by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose on the proposed contract. That works out to about 3.8 meals per inmate daily.

When factoring in the jail staff's average of one meal per day at $3.24 apiece, the report said total costs are about $3.3 million annually for inmate food and $622,348 for staff meals.

The minimum requirements of the menu are to provide the general population with heart-healthy, low-sodium meals, defined as totaling about 2.5 grams of salt per day. The contract also requires a minimum of two servings of fresh fruit daily, which must include oranges, apples and bananas.

Mawhorter said The City is negotiating with Aramark to use fresh local produce grown under The City's grant-funded Garden Project, a vocational program where at-risk youths provide gardening services and what's grown is harvested and supplied to various local outlets. The program's website said the garden produces a variety of vegetables, such as kale, Swiss chard and broccoli, which is then distributed by community centers.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Susan Fahey said food nutrition will remain a focus at the jails.

"Increasing the quality and nutritious value of the food served in the jails is an ongoing and important issue" for Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, Fahey said. "Looking to the future, the sheriff has encouraged locally based, large organizations to consider offering the service of providing food to the jail system."

The contract also allows inmates to work in the jail kitchens and obtain a certificate that, once an inmate is released, can be presented to food providers around the country as proof that the person is qualified to work in a professional kitchen. For this effort, Aramark would provide a $20,000 grant annually under the contract.

Aramark has provided food service at the jails since 1996. The Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the new contract Tuesday.

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