Archive for Saturday, May 25, 2002

Jail hunts for bargain food vendor

May 25, 2002


New menus at the Douglas County Jail already are saving about $25,000 a year  one cup of coffee, hard-boiled egg and bologna sandwich at a time.

Now officials are counting on new vendors to free up even more cash.

Beginning June 1, all inmates at the jail and some detainees at the Douglas County Youth Services detention center will get their three square meals a day from supplies provided by Allen Foods Inc. and Sara Lee Corp.

Allen will provide all the meat, produce, dairy products, restaurant equipment and dry and frozen goods for the 400 or so daily meals. Sara Lee will handle the breads.

The companies will take over for Lady Baltimore, the jail's current food supplier, which provided the only other competitive bid for the 12-month contract.

The average cost for last year's meals was $1.59, down from $1.99 a year earlier, Sheriff Rick Trapp said. Dropping some meat offerings and trading brand names for generic labels had helped trim about $25,000 in financial fat from the food program.

This year, Trapp said, he's hoping the new vendor arrangement will make the financial picture even more appetizing, with average meal costs dropping to $1.40 or $1.50.

"They're not gourmet meals," Trapp said, "but they're adequate."

The latest food contract is based on a company's own supply costs.

Lady Baltimore, for example, said it would provide food for 9 percent more than its own costs. Although Allen Foods offered a larger markup  9.9 percent for all categories except produce, which was set at 15 percent  it countered with cheaper supply costs.

To make sure Allen Foods' offer made sense, county officials used numbers from the proposed contracts to compute costs for the jail's April menus. Lady Baltimore would have cost $11,588, while Allen Foods would have billed $11,030.

"It's the best we can get," Trapp said.

The jail's kitchen prepares breakfast, lunch and dinner for the building's own inmates, plus selected meals for juvenile detainees at the detention center in North Lawrence.

Just as last year's cost cuts were made without sacrificing required calorie counts for inmates, Trapp said, the upcoming shift in vendors shouldn't be all that noticeable to those eating the food.

Food director Linda Grant is counting on that being the case.

"Food is one of the most important things for the inmates," Grant said. "They all look forward to it. They can time it like clockwork, and they know they'll get something to do. It gets pretty boring up there, I'd imagine."

Inmates eat well, Grant said, but don't mistake the grub for fine dining. A typical breakfast consists of juice, coffee, milk, corn flakes, pancakes and a boiled egg; dinner might include a turkey sandwich with bacon.

A rare bonus: cake with pink icing on Valentine's Day.

"It's nothing too elaborate," she said. "It's hospital-type food."

Jail officials intend to keep their eyes on the new vendors' services, to be sure there aren't any new ways to secure even more savings from the food program.

Jackie Waggoner, the county's purchasing agent, said she would check with officials from the Lawrence school district and Kansas University about their logistics and efficiencies of their food arrangements.

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