Correctional Kitchen Equipment
With over 2 million inmates to feed nationwide, kitchens in correctional facilities have some unique challenges to overcome when it comes to finding the right equipment. Prison kitchen equipment must produce high volumes of food, fall within the facility's budget, and be secure enough for use by the inmates, who often make up much of the kitchen staff and have full access to kitchen equipment. There are no federal regulations regarding correctional kitchen equipment, but many manufacturers offer special versions of equipment made for use in jails and prisons.
Because most prison kitchens use inmate workers for at least part of the required labor, secure equipment is of utmost importance. Any piece of equipment brought into a prison kitchen must have durable construction, no easily-removed parts to get taken or lost, and no exposed parts that can be broken off. These correctional packages are also sometimes called security packages or security hardware kits. Some of the features that may be included in these packages are:
- Tamper-Proof Screws: These screws have heads that prevent the screw from being removed except by a special tool that is usually provided with the equipment.
- All-Welded Construction: Welded construction is more durable, and welded joints and hinges can support more weight.
- Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel: Security packages often include the unit being made with thicker, stronger steel than the usual equipment to be able to withstand more abuse.
- Solid or Mesh Covers: To prevent tampering, correctional packages often offer covers over lights, fans, or control panels.
- Flanged Legs: This type of leg has a flat portion of metal with holes in it that stick out of the bottom of the leg, allowing the equipment to be bolted to the floor.
- Locks: Locks on doors and access panels help limit access to critical components to those who are authorized to do so.
If a product you're looking at doesn't have any of these listed as an option, speak to your project manager or customer service agent; many companies offer some kind of security package despite not listing it in catalogs or websites.
Other Equipment Considerations
While every facility has its own unique challenges to face, some issues are universal across every prison kitchen. As you choose the equipment to use in your correctional facility, these are some things you will want to keep in mind.
- Output: As prison populations continue to grow1, correctional kitchen equipment must continue to meet increased demands for output. How output is rated will depend on the specific type of equipment you're comparing, but keep in mind that overall output is determined by more than just a piece of equipment's capacity. The size and design of a refrigerator or freezer's compressor will contribute to how quickly it can pull down food temperatures, the BTUs of an oven will define how much it can cook at a time, and the horsepower of a mixer or blender will determine how much food it can process at once. Take the time to learn about the commercial kitchen equipment you're purchasing or speak with a knowledgeable customer service agent to make an educated decision.
- Ease of Use: This factor is even more important in jails than prisons. Prisons usually hold long-term inmates, while jails more often hold prisoners for a year or less. This means the inmate labor in the kitchen is constantly cycling out, with little opportunity for extended training. Equipment needs to be simple to learn and use, with intuitive controls. Additionally, units with more bells and whistles often have more parts to break, which isn't practical in an environment like a prison kitchen.
- Energy Efficiency: The increasing population in prisons has the side effect of requiring budgets to stretch farther, so energy efficiency is a big deal in correctional kitchen equipment. While these pieces may cost a bit more up front, energy-efficient equipment can pay for itself quickly and save you money in the long run in utility costs.
- Sanitation: Food safety is very important, especially considering that such a large number of people are fed from these pieces of equipment. However, in many cases the measures that must be taken to make these units safer or tamper-resistant may make the unit harder to clean and sanitize, and may even invalidate models' NSF certifications. For models that are customizable, this trade-off should be considered on an individual basis, but in most correctional institutions, security will take priority.
Common Equipment in Correctional Kitchens
Below are some of the most common pieces of equipment in prison kitchens2 and some information on how they might benefit your facility.
- Commercial kettles are large pots heated by direct steam, electricity, or gas, and enable you to cook as much as 150 gallons at a time. These are ideal for soup, chili, and sauce.
- Blast Chillers are made to quickly bring food temperatures down to safe storage temperatures. They are commonly used in cook-chill cooking methods, in which food is prepared ahead of time, often in a commissary kitchen, then reheated for consumption. In a prison, that can mean the night shift does the prep work, while the mealtime staff needs only to retherm and serve.3
- High-speed ovens and commercial microwaves are both quick ways to rethermalize food in cook-chill operations. The ovens and higher-powered microwaves can also cook many types of food from raw.
- Convection ovens cook slower than high-speed ovens or microwaves, but offer high-capacity options and are ideal for baking and roasting.
- Walk-in refrigerators and freezers offer bulk cold storage, a necessity in a high-volume environment like a prison kitchen.
- Commercial mixers are essential in high-volume food prep for mixing ingredients in large batches. Attachments are also available for grinding meat, chopping vegetables, whipping, and kneading dough.
- Commercial dishwashers make the cleanup after serving hundreds to thousands of meals quick and easy. For high-volume locations, a conveyor dishwasher is ideal, and a dish table can increase its effectiveness by giving you a convenient location for scraping and rinsing dishes before they are washed and sanitized.