IG Flags Food Safety Concerns at Federal Prisons
The Bureau of Prisons does not have a protocol to “ensure its food supply is safe and meets contractual requirements.”
A federal judge last month sentenced two Texas meat packing executives to prison after they pled guilty to participating in a scheme to sell more than 775,000 pounds of uninspected, adulterated meat—including whole cow hearts labeled as “ground beef”—to 32 federal prisons in 18 states. That unsavory anecdote was one among several cited in a Justice Department Inspector General advisory memo to the Federal Bureau of Prisons outlining food safety concerns at the agency. The bureau oversees 122 institutions housing about 180,000 inmates nationwide.
Based on several investigations where it found vendors provided some of the locations with misbranded, uninspected and altered products, the IG recommended steps BOP should take to improve contracting with food suppliers.
“Failing to proactively ensure that the BOP's food supply is safe and consistent with contract specifications and other standards and requirements and failing to document and communicate vendor performance issues potentially endanger the health and well-being of both BOP inmates and staff,” wrote Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “These shortcomings also reduce the government's ability to deter, prevent, and detect fraud, waste and abuse.”
Institutions within the agency independently procure the majority of the food items, such as produce, dairy, poultry and beef. In fiscal 2019, the agency allocated 5.7% of its budget to food products and services and served about 479,000 meals per day, according to the memo, which cited Justice Department budget documents. In recent years, the IG found a number of prisons received uninspected and adulterated meat and spices with “diluted with undeclared filler ingredients,” among other poor-quality food products.
The IG observed that the bureau:
- Has “minimal and inconsistent quality assurance inspections of food items” as prisons rely “almost exclusively on vendors' claims regarding the composition, quality, freshness, and weight of their products”
- Only requests laboratory testing of food or asks for help from the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection service when staff suspect the food doesn’t meet the contract stipulations
- Doesn’t require vendors to certify upon delivery or submission of payment that food meets contract specifications and government regulations
- Doesn’t always document or properly communicate food vendor quality issues to alert other institutions within the bureau
The IG recommended that BOP develop a quality assurance plan to ensure the food supply is safe and in compliance with contracts. It also advised the agency to remind procurement officials to report contractor and food quality issues through the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity System and the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System, and consult the federal databases before selecting vendors.
The bureau has 60 days to update the IG on the corrective actions taken or planned. BOP spokesman Justin Long said the bureau is reviewing the OIG's recommendations.