Maggots, mold and dirt reported in Weber jail food

Sunday , January 14, 2018 - 5:15 AM11 comments

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

Over the past three years, Weber County Jail inmates reported maggots, mold, and dirt in their meals, and health inspectors cited the food service contractor with an unrelated series of critical violations, according to county records.

Inmate grievance reports and complaint investigations by Weber-Morgan Health Department inspectors verified at least four instances of adulterated food, starting with moldy bread in April 2015.

Health investigators following up on anonymous complaints twice reported maggots in meals, once in November 2015 and again in May 2016. In December 2017, an inmate reported finding dirt in his food and a jailer would not give him a replacement serving.

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A November report of an inmate finding a goat head sticker in an inmate’s meal apparently could not be verified, said Lt. Josh Marigoni, spokesman for the Weber County Sheriff’s Office’s corrections division.

The reports were gathered with a series of public records requests after an inmate’s mother contacted the Standard-Examiner, which over the past two years has been reporting on Northern Utah jail conditions. Utah’s jails reported 24 deaths in 2016, apparently the most on record, and officials have noted higher volumes of inmates suffering from opioid addiction and mental health problems.

Five times during semi-annual inspections in 2015-17, Weber-Morgan health inspectors said the Weber jail’s food service operation lacked a certified food safety manager. That’s considered a “critical violation” of state law, meaning the issue is “more likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination or illness,” according to the Weber-Morgan Health Department website.

Other critical violations included workers with expired food handler permits and potentially hazardous food not kept cold enough.

In Davis County, the health department investigated a complaint by an inmate kitchen worker that Davis jail inmates were served food from bags with a picture of a pig and a “not for human consumption” label. 

Health inspectors docked Davis jail’s food service operation for at least two critical violations including: not properly separating raw animal foods from ready-to-eat foods, and not properly refrigerating produce. Non-critical violations included: not rinsing utensils and equipment of cleaning chemicals after washing, and storing food boxes near the restrooms.

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The Weber and Davis jails use the same food service contractor, Trinity Services Group, based in Oldsmar, Florida.

The company is one of the nation’s largest corrections food providers, feeding 470,000 inmates in 44 states, according to its website. It reports annual revenue of more than $500 million and says it serves a quarter of a billion meals a year.

Trinity’s competitively bid contract with Weber County, signed in 2015, is a three-year deal worth an estimated $1.32 million a year, according to the county’s quarterly transaction records.

The contract allows Trinity to bill the county $1.017 per meal.

Davis County and Trinity in 2016 signed a five-year agreement worth more than $1 million a year to the vendor.

The contractor bills Davis County on a sliding scale of $1.10 to $1.30 per meal, based on the size of the daily inmate population.

Trinity also bills Davis County $3.11 per meal supplied to the county’s Meals on Wheels and elderly nutrition programs.

The Weber jail gets a health inspection twice a year. Michela Harris, Weber-Morgan’s environmental health director, said the site’s inspection results “seem pretty benign.”

Story continues below photo.

“It’s difficult because what inspectors see is a snapshot in time,” Harris said. “We try to go at times when food is being prepared, heated and cooled, and try to see the processes. But what happens on one day may not happen the next, and vice versa.”

She said the food service manager registration violations were due to a couple of permit expirations and managers not having followed up with the health department after completing certification training.

Having a trained and certified manager is vital, she said, because “extensive oversight is really important” to ensure clean food service operations. In cases of ongoing, critical violations, the health department has authority to seek monetary penalties or order the locations closed.

“Really, we don’t try to go down that road,” Harris said. “The goal is to keep it open and keep it safe and educate the workers, and generally we get that done,” Harris said.

NUTRITIONALLY ADEQUATE

Chief Deputy Sheriff Kevin Burton, who just retired as Weber’s jail commander, said nine complaints about food quality have been received from inmates over the last several months.

Tracking complaints is one way the jail staff judges the contractor’s performance, Burton said.

“With Trinity, we feel like we’ve had pretty good service,” he said. “They communicate with us on menus and interact with us in the community.’’

Trinity caters and helps pay for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals at the Marshall White Center and the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, jail officials said.

“Most inmates, and myself included, would not select off the (jail) menu if they had a chance,” Burton said. “But it is nutritionally adequate.”

Jailers supervise meal service and sometimes eat the provided lunch — other methods of quality control, Burton said.

“We serve 3,000 meals a day, and to have four complaints (of tainted food) in 2 1/2 years is a pretty good record,” said Burton’s replacement, Chief Deputy Kevin Burns.

DETAILS OF COMPLAINTS

On April 15, 2015, the Weber health department got an anonymous complaint that said, “Moldy bread is being served on multiple occasions and other food is bad, making prisoners sick.”

A health investigator talked to the Trinity food manager, who said: “They did have some moldy-tasting mix.”

The case was closed after the manager said the staff “checks all food when it arrives; they try to check all product.”

Inspectors looked into another anonymous report on Nov. 23, 2015.

“They were given beans with pork for dinner over the weekend and it was full of maggots,” the incident report said.

Two or more jailers saw the specimens in the food, the investigator said. One officer “saw small white things that he thought were weevils, smaller than a grain of rice.”

The food was thrown out and no pictures were taken.

“They could have been bean embryos,” the investigator wrote.

On May 19, 2016, health inspectors took an anonymous report, another one claiming fly larva in the food.

“Inmates being served casseroles (rice and noodles) with maggots (possibly weevils?),” the report said.

The incident sheet said the incident was confirmed and the case was open, but no conclusion was reported.

Asked about the tainted-food complaints, Marigoni said he could not find additional documentation of any jailers’ reports on the incidents.

“We certainly don’t want to be serving food that is not good,” Marigoni said, adding that good food helps keep inmates happy.

During a tour of the jail on Friday, Jan. 11, Marigoni pointed out the inmate kitchen staff preparing meal trays for the next day’s breakfast. The inmates were supervised by Trinity’s food service manager. Marigoni said the manager inspects every serving tray before it’s delivered to an inmate.

Davis County’s food sanitation program logged a report Dec. 7, 2016, by a former Davis jail inmate who had worked in the kitchen preparing and serving food.

“Kitchen staff was instructed to feed the inmates food that came from brown bags with a picture of a pig on the bag with the statement, ‘not for human consumption,’” the report said.

The inmate said jailers told him to file a formal complaint “but nothing was done.”

The health inspector called a Trinity manager.

“He stated the concern has been brought up but has not found where the wording ‘not for human consumption’ is coming from. He assured there is no product coming into the facility that has this wording.”

Marigoni said he fielded a similar complaint from some Weber inmates a few years ago. He asked the inmates to show him the food boxes, and Marigoni recalled they were labeled “for institutional use only.”

A Weber jail inmate, Alan Rod Palmer, filed two food grievances in 2017 that jail officials determined were founded.

On July 15, Palmer reported he was served “watered-down” food and skimpy portions, including “runny mashed potatoes, cold water for the beverage and one slice of bread instead of two.”

“The kitchen has been going through a new transition,” the jail response said, thanking the inmate for being patient.

On Nov. 22, Palmer reported he took a bite that had a “chunk of dirt.” He spit it out and asked for another tray. The jailer did not replace the meal.

Palmer wrote that “botulism is formed from soil” and he was concerned by the unsanitary food and unresponsive staff.

“I have looked into your complaint and I find the housing staff should have given you another tray,” a jail official wrote to Palmer, adding the staff had been counseled and “steps have been taken to make sure this does not happen again.”

Marigoni said jailers never saw any dirt in Palmer’s food, but the staff should have taken his word for it and given him a fresh meal.

Shortly after his complaints, Palmer took a plea deal related to a slew of drug-dealing charges and is now housed at a state prison.

TRINITY TROUBLE ELSEWHERE

Trinity Services did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.

The company has run into trouble with officials in Michigan over maggots and dirt in prisoners’ food, according to the Detroit Free Press. One incident involved a report of inmates being told to sort a bag of rotting potatoes to discard the ones with maggots.

Weber County Clerk-Auditor Ricky Hatch said he had heard of no complaints about Trinity’s contract performance. He said the contract followed a multi-step bidding and approval process.

In Davis County, Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch had a similar response.

Koch said state law allows his office to initiate financial audits only.

“Any performance audit would have to come through the (county) commission,” he said.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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