Cook/Chill Centralized Food Service in Corrections
By Louise E. Mathews, Chief of Food Services, San Diego County, California, Sheriffs Department capacity of 2,345. In 1989, these facilities were holding up to 4,500 inmates-and the numbers were climbing-giving San Diego the dubious distinction of being the most overcrowded system in the country. To determine more effective ways of handling the increasing number of inmates, the county commissioned two external feasibility studies (1985 and 1989), as well as an internal study. With respect to food service, the findings of all the studies supported the creation of a centralized cook/chill system for the county’s facilities. There are two basic methods of cook/chill: cryo-vat (tumble chilling), and blast chilling. Cryo-vat processing. In cryo-vat (tumble chill) processing, liquid or viscous products such as sauces, soups, stews, cereals, and salad dressings are prepared in specially equipped kettles and then pumped through a three-inch hose into polyethylene bags (usually twogallon bags). The bags are vacuumsealed and transferred to the chilling unit, either manually or by conveyor belt. The chiller is a perforated drum that rotates in a tank of circulating ice water. The bags of food are tumbled in the ice bath until their temperature is below 38 degrees. The cryo-vat process gives the product a shelf life of thirty to forty days. Blast-chilling. Other foods, such as baked chicken, meat loaf, lasagna, and hamburgers, are cooked and then placed on carts in two-inchdeep pans and rolled into a “blast” chilling unit, which resembles a roll-in refrigerator box. The unit has the ability to rapidly circulate cold air around the pans until the food temperature has dropped below 38 degrees. Blast-chilling gives the product a shelf life of four to five days.
read, gruel, and water used to be the staples of correctional food service, but today a great variety of high-quality food is available, thanks to such technology as food factories, computerized menus, robot delivery systems, and centralized “cook/chill” processing. Several factors underlie the need for corrections to try new, more efficient approaches to food service. These factors include jail crowding; the rapid growth in demand for food service; increasing food, labor, and supply costs; a shortage of trained personnel; and an increasing number of food service-related lawsuits throughout the nation. Crowding was a primary reason for changes in San Diego’s food service
Cook/chill is a technique for preparing food in large volume that extends its shelf life while maintaining product quality. Food is cooked conventionally to pasteurization temperature then chilled rapidly. The food is stored in a temperature-controlled environment above the freezing point (from 32 to 37 degrees Fahrenheit) and then reheated immediately before consumption. Rapid chilling inhibits the multiplication of bacteria, thus retarding the deterioration of food that occurs at normal temperatures.
system. San Diego County’s seven facilities were designed for a legal
When the food products are needed, they can be transported to the facility, where they are heated and served. A more efficient alternative to shipping food in bulk is to
prepackage individual entree servings on trays before shipping. Reheating is done in special “rethermalizing” units. These units bring food to the proper temperature
and then stop heating; the units are portable and do not require a hood and ventilation system. The advantages of cook/chill processing are outlined in Table 1.
Table 1. Advantages of Cook/Chill Food Processing
Production staff can concentrate on specific tasks throughout the day with little or no peak meal-time tension. In most systems, seven days’ food can be prepared in a four- or five-day kitchen work week. Agencies can keep key cooking staff to a minimum by using relatively unskilled...
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