Fresno Co. board OKs jail meal deal

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a new contract for preparation of jail inmate and other meals, but asked staff members to explore several issues related to food service practices.

Board members signed off on a five-year, $30.2 million deal with Aramark Correctional Services -- the existing vendor for meals in the jail, juvenile detention facilities and psychiatric units.

The new deal lowers the per-meal cost -- from $1.24 to $1.12 for jail inmates, for example -- and requires Aramark to pay utility costs associated with use of the county's central kitchen.

The approval wasn't quick. Representatives of Alliance for Quality Services, an organization that includes several labor unions, questioned some figures and whether the county would see savings promised by lower per-meal costs. The organization has focused on Aramark operations across the country.

Supervisors agreed to cap each year of the contract and didn't include a 10%, or roughly $3 million, contingency. Officials said departments would have to return to the board if costs increased.

In addition, several supervisors asked staffers to look at who is eating -- and paying -- for meals in detention facilities.

Sheriff's and probation department representatives said officers in the jail and juvenile facilities receive free meals because they are not allowed to leave. Sheriff's Capt. Jose Flores said authorities are creating a system to ensure that only eligible workers receive meals and that others -- such as court personnel -- pay for any meals.

Board members also asked staffers to determine whether Aramark is using the county kitchen for private catering jobs.

Sarah Jarvis, a Philadelphia-based spokeswoman for the company, said she couldn't determine Tuesday afternoon whether that had happened. She said Aramark will address any concerns raised by the county.