COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio's prisons agency is developing plans to invite local health inspections of each prison's food service operations in the wake of complaints about problems including maggots in kitchen areas, a corrections spokeswoman said Friday.
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Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said work on the plans began Thursday. Asked about the timing and details of the inspections, she said the plans are still being finalized.
A private vendor, Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services, took over the job of feeding inmates last year. Aramark and the prisons department have said cleanliness in the food service operations is a shared responsibility.
"We continue to work with our partners at Ohio DRC to serve safe, nutritious meal to offenders at the state's 26 correctional facilities. ... The DRC notified Aramark that it is looking at all areas, including facilities and infrastructure issues, that are not under Aramark's responsibility," Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said in a statement Friday.
The state has twice levied fines against Aramark. Most recently, it cited unacceptable food substitutions and shortages, continued staffing shortages and sanitation issues including maggots in food service operations at multiple prisons.
"The issues found to date are both the responsibility of Aramark and the state," Smith said by email. "DRC will continue to work with its own staff and Aramark staff to ensure sanitary conditions in all its facilities."
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Prisons Director Gary Mohr recently told a prisons oversight committee that those problems were limited to a handful of prisons and that Aramark has saved the state $13 million since September.
Aramark has defended its record, and its president, John Hanner, told the committee that food delays and substitutions have been rare. The company also has suggested that allegations against it have been spread by the union because of the workers displaced when it began handling the prisons' food.
The state levied a $142,000 fine against Aramark in April and a $130,200 fine late last month. Aramark has not filed a response to the latter fine with the department, Smith said.
On Friday, Michigan officials imposed a $200,000 fine against Aramark, citing unapproved menu substitutions, inadequate staffing and employee misconduct.
A statement from Hanner said the company appreciated Michigan's recognition that both sides made mistakes and that Aramark was found to not be responsible for suspected food poisoning and maggot problems.
Associated Press writer David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.