Correctional Kitchen Operations

Kettle tools for food service

Kettle Tools for Food Service Operations

Kettle cooking in corrections is a staple for food production and serving. Obviously, the amount that will need to be prepared is usually in huge proportions. Even in smaller, local jails, food preparation is typically done at large scale. Do you or does your corrections facility use kettles to prepare inmate meals? It probably does, and if you are looking to learn more about correctional quality kettle tools, you have come to the right place.

Minimum Security Correctional Facilities or Restaurant

Kettle tools should be durable enough for your food service operation and you will know by daily use and the level of wear and tear you see on your tools. Minimum security correctional facilities as well as restaurants that only use their kettle once a day or a few times a week can get away with using lighter weight tools like these medium duty kettle tools. Another benefit to the medium duty kettle tools is that they are easier to handle because of the lighter weight which is why we recommend them for juvenile and women’s facilities. These tools come at a lower price point and have enough durability to get the job done consistently, but aren’t suggested for operations where inmates abuse equipment such as breaking up frozen foods with the end of the kettle tool. Check out more information on these and all of our kettle tool grades below:

Heavi-“er” Duty Kettle Tools

Not that the previously mentioned kettle tools are flimsy or anything but our Cook’s brand heavy duty and extra heavy duty kettle tools are what you want if your tools are being used over and over again throughout the day or in an environment where the inmates are hard on the equipment. Are you somewhere in-between? You should be just fine with the heavy duty kettle tools. All of these lines have an oar shaped handle for superior grip when working with extra heavy foods. The main difference between the different lines is going to be the gauge of the 304 stainless steel handle (11 gauge for the extra heavy duty, 16 gauge for the heavy duty and 18 gauge for medium duty), tool length (36 or 48 in.) and in some cases the widths of the heads.

Whether you’re a correctional facility of any size or a restaurant interested in finding the perfect kettle tools for your food service operation, has the perfect set for you.

The 3 Most Important Tips for Selecting an Insulated Tray

When it’s time to select an insulated tray for your facility, there are three critical components that must be considered:

1. What is your menu like?

Tray configurations can range from 3-6 compartments depending on your menu (4 and 6 being the most popular). Begin by analyzing your menu for a month to determine the biggest serving sizes and type of food served. Next, decide if you want two items to share the same compartment or if you want each item to have its own compartment.  Then, if the inmate receives a spork with every meal, decide if the spork will have its own compartment or be placed in a compartment with other food (normally, dry food, like bread). Check out the 4 compartment Gator Tray or Grizzly Tray for ideas of this style of tray. If a dedicated flatware compartment is important, check out the 6 compartment Gorilla Tray or Marathon Tray.

2. How do you serve your inmates?

Do the inmates eat in the dining room or in their pods?  For pods, insulated trays or heated carts are necessary to maintain food at the proper temperature.  If you are re-therming in the tray, you will need trays that tolerate a wide temperature range, like the Cook’s Flex Trays.  Its temperature range exceeds 450 degrees F. Check out the video below to see them in action.  If you are serving in a dining room, we recommend a standard, co-polymer 6 compartment tray.

3. How do you transport your meals?

Do you prefer to transport in an open cart or enclosed cart?  Are your required to deliver the meal with hot food above 140 degrees or does the food need to be above 140 when it leaves the kitchen?  Two shelf or flatbed carts provide economical transport of insulated trays.  Trays transported using this method generally hold temperature for 30 minutes.  Enclosed carts will hold temperature slightly longer, especially when transporting outside.  Cook’s has a wide range of two shelf carts, flat bed carts and enclosed carts.

Cook’s has an extremely deep assortment of insulated trays to meet all of your correctional serving needs, for more information visit the Tray Buying Guide or check out the best meal trays for Correctionals.

CCP – Critical Control Point

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) establishes minimum internal temperatures for cooked foods.

FSE Precision Digital Thermometer

FSE Precision Digital Thermometer

It is important to remember that these values can be superseded by state or local health code requirements, but they cannot be below the FDA limits.  Temperatures should be measured with a probe thermometer in the thickest part of the meats, or the center of other dishes, avoiding bones and container sides.  Minimum internal temperatures are set as follows:

165 degrees F (74 degrees C) for 15 seconds:

  • Poultry (such as whole or ground chicken, turkey, or duck)
  • Stuffing
  • Stuffed meats, fish, poultry and pasta
  • Any previously cooked foods that are reheated from a temperature below 135 degrees F (57 degrees C), provided they have been refrigerated or warm less than 2 hours
  • Any potentially hazardous foods cooked in a microwave, such as poultry, meat, fish or eggs

155 degrees F (68 degrees C) for 15 seconds

  • Ground meats (such as beef or pork)
  • Injected meats (such as flavor-injected roasts or brined hams)
  • Ground or minced fish
  • Eggs that will be held for a length of time before eaten

145 degrees F (63 degrees C) for 15 seconds

  • Steaks and chops such as beef, pork, veal and lamb
  • Fish
  • Eggs cooked for immediate service

145 degrees F (63 degrees C) for 4 minutes

  • Roasts (can be cooked to lower temperatures for increased lengths of time)

135 degrees F (57 degrees C) for 15 seconds

  • Cooked fruits or vegetables that will be held for a length of time before eaten
  • Any commercially processed, ready-to-eat foods that will be held for a length of time before eaten.

In addition, hot food must be held at a minimum internal temperature of 135 degrees F (57 degrees C) if it is not immediately consumed.  The temperature must be checked every 4 hours or else labeled with a discard time.  Although monitored hot food can be held indefinitely in this way without a food safety concern, the nutritional value, flavor and quality can suffer over long periods.

You can find more helpful cooking information in the resource section of the Cook’s Correctional Buyers Guide which is available for viewing on


Hints for Tray Assembly Lines


Cook’s Correctional Tray Assembly Line

Pre-portioning meals on insulated trays for delivery to pods or units is efficient and economical.  Yet it’s amazing how many tray assembly operations end up inefficient because of the order of foods on the line.  Hot foods should go on trays last, not first.  Start with room temperature foods like bread and rolls, and next add cold foods.  Last, add the hot portions.

Ideally, cold food should be kept below 40 degrees F and hot food above 165 degrees F.  Minimize the distance a worker has to move food from well to tray.  Be sure to keep the conveyor line moving fast enough to keep workers busy with no time for mischief.

Here are some easy to follow guidelines for your conveyor line set-up:

  • Allow 30” per worker for adequate shoulder space.
  • Using 16” wide hot and cold steam tables keeps workers close to the conveyor
  • Pitch the conveyor line ¼” per 1’0” from the head of the line to the end.
  • Cover hot food after portioning as quickly as possible to keep heat in or store trays in a heated cabinet.
  • Since cold trays chill hot food fast, keep trays in a warm tray washing or other area.
  • Always strap together for transport to retain temperature.

When planning your line, use this guide to steam table pan portion capacities:

  • 2 ½” D Full Size Pan:  9 Quarts = (72) 4 oz. portions
  • 2 ½” D Half Size Pan: 4 Quarts = (32) 4 oz. portions
  • 4” D Full Size Pan:  15 Quarts = (120) 4 oz. portions
  • 4” D Half Size Pan: 7 Quarts = (56) 4 oz. portions
  • 6” D Full Size Pan:  22 Quarts = (176) 4 oz. portions
  • 6” D Half Size Pan: 10 Quarts = (80) 4 oz. portions

If you’re looking for additional capacity guides you can go to the resource section at the back of the Correctional Buyers Guide (click here to view the catalog online).  You can also contact your Cook’s Correctional Sales Representative for any help you may need with

Marketing Manager, Cook's

Candace Meneou

New hope for damaged steam table pans!

CaterSeal Steam Table Pan Gasket

CaterSeal Steam Table Pan Gasket

If you are tired of damaged steam table pan lids raise your hand!

If you are tired of noisy pans rattling as you transport them through the kitchen Raise your hand!

If you are tired of your portion utensils falling into your pans of food, one more time, Raise your hand! 

We are pleased to introduce you to the new CaterSeal Food Pan Gasket!  New to Cook’s Correctional, the CaterSeal Food Pan gasket is here to help and solve this problem for you.  Just wrap the CaterSeal gasket around your steam table pan and lid and your operation has improved instantly.  No more mess from spillage and easier clean up in your foodservice operation.  You’ll also improve the efficiency of your serving line because the gasket is a barrier to steam escaping from the gaps between pan and well. 

You can now put your hands down, no more rattling, denting, spilling or noisy pans!

Brian Richardson

Brian Richardson


Food for thought: Tray Delivery Carts (part 3 of 3)

Cook's Aluminum 40-Tray Delivery Cart

Cook’s Aluminum 40-Tray Delivery Cart

This is the third and final post (in this series) on Tray Delivery Carts and things to know or think about prior to purchasing.  Our first blog post was on the questions we ask our clients before recommending or quoting carts (click here for Part 1).  Our second blog post was on general facility and cart questions that should be answered before making a purchase (click here for Part 2).  This post is going to cover some of the various cart options available to you that you should consider as you review your Tray Delivery Cart options.

1.  Will you be holding or transporting things on the top of the cart?  You can find carts that offer a sheet pan rack for 18″ x 26″ pans.  These can be open, enclosed and even insulated.  You will want to think through how many pans you would want to carry and the spacing.  If you do this, you need to also consider how much space you will need above the cart to fit the rack.

Rather than product on sheet pans or in steam table pans, will you be transporting Beverage Servers?  You’ll want a rail on the top of the cart to keep them in place.  You also want to consider how tall the cart is because someone needs to be able to put the fully loaded beverage servers on top of the cart.  If you have a five gallon beverage server – it will weigh 40 lbs. fully loaded, as a gallon of water weighs 8 lbs.

A rail can keep wash racks in place too, if that’s how you’re transporting tumblers or mugs.  A top rail can be three-sided which allows you easy access to load the top of the cart or it can be four-sided which keeps things in place more easily.

2.  Will you be doing any assembly at point of delivery?  You may want to consider a work shelf option.  These are available in pull out or flip-up styles.  You will need to consider where you would like it located on the cart, the size and the height you want it to be above finished floor.

3.  Are you purchasing heated carts?  If you are, do you want a thermometer on the outside of the cart that tells you the internal temperature of the cart?  This is a really good idea because then you’re not opening the door and letting the heat out in order to make sure it’s at temperature. Consider how many thermometers do you want on the cart and where you want them to be.

A nice option to consider is a cart with a removable heater because it can extend the life of the cart.  By removing the heater before you wash the cart you minimize potential for damage to the heater.  Additionally, with a removable heater – if the heater goes, you can replace it pretty easily.

4.  Have you experienced damage in your facility from carts or have specific failure areas on your current carts?  You may want to review options for special bumpers beyond the standard 1″ vinyl.  You may also consider wear plates, which are extra stainless.  Be sure to specify where you need these to be located.  There are also options for a top bumper which adds additional protection to walls and cart.

5.  Do you want to gang carts together?  A tow hitch can be used to create a string of carts.  Tow hitches can be ball style, pin or ‘C’ Clamp.  If this is a new option, you’ll want to consider who will actually tow – is it the inmate or the staff, and how many carts will be towed at one time.  Keep in mind that there is typically NO warranty beyond towing ONLY two carts at one time.


6.  Do you have any special considerations regarding the doors?  There are options like a magnetic latch which helps to keep heat in by closing and sealing the doors.  Do you want your  door pulls to be flush?  This can ensure there are no handles to get in the way in tight spaces.  A special transport latch will keep the door latch covered so that it stays closed. You may need to specify a security latch or locking latch so that you don’t have any concerns about contamination during transport.

Meal Delivery Carts are a large investment for the correctional kitchen and they will impact your meal serving operation significantly.  Any time you spend before hand making sure you get what you need, what you want and what will work is time well spent, and possibly dollars not thrown away.  If you need help with on carts or other equipment, all the Cook’s Correctional sales reps are trained on our products we have lots of experience that we’re ready to share with you.

Marketing Manager, Cook's

Candace Meneou

Food for thought: Tray Delivery Carts (part 1 in a series)

Cook's Brand TDC1914SS Stainless Steel Tray Delivery Cart

Two-shelf Stainless Steel Tray Delivery Cart

One of our goals at Cook’s Correctional is to be experts in the field of equipment and supplies for the correctional kitchen. That is one of the top ways for us to bring value to our conversations with you.  We need to know what choices you have, what products work and what doesn’t work in corrections, what products offer the best durability, what products are the best economic value, and in general what products are out there that can help you get the job done safely.   Our entire organization has gone through product training to emphasize its importance.

One of the items that is somewhat unique to corrections are tray delivery carts.  While hospitals and other institutions may use tray delivery carts, the products they choose aren’t the same as what is used in a jail or prison.  When we work with a customer who is looking to purchase a new cart, we start by asking them questions about their facility.  It is by knowing how they will use the cart that we are able to best help them get the right product for the job.  Here are the questions that we start with when we are exploring a new or replacement cart purchase with a customer:

1.  What is the security level of the facility?  A higher security level speaks to a need for a more durable cart.

2.  How many inmates are housed at the facility?  This helps us to determine the cart capacity needed.

3.  Feeding method and location?  Knowing the feeding method helps us to determine the best type of cart for your operation.  Do you need a heated tray delivery cart or is an unheated or flatbed cart going to work?  When we ask about location it helps us to determine what features may best suit your operation. If you’re transporting these carts outside and over rough pavement it will influence your caster choice.

4.  Do you have any issues with your current meal delivery process?  This is a great time to evaluate how the cart may be affecting your entire process and if you can improve the efficiency of your operation by changing the cart type or possibly another component of your meal delivery process.

Purchasing a new tray delivery cart type will often affect your entire operation, it’s that important of a component.  It’s also a significant investment, so it’s worth taking the time to evaluate if you’re purchasing the best product to meet your needs.  In our next post, I’ll talk about more ‘specific’ cart questions that you should consider.

Marketing Manager, Cook's

Candace Meneou

5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Cook's Correctional Kitchen Equipment and SuppliesReprinted with permission from Summer 2014 INSIDER Magazine, the Official Magazine of the Association of  Correctional Food Service Affiliates.  By Linda Mills, MBA, RD, FADA Corporate Dietitian – Community Education Centers.

Food costs continue to increase and food budgets continue to decrease in many cases.  Fiscal health of food cost control is not cutting corners.  It is keeping a tight control on food costs.  So where can you find extra money?  Often the answer is right in your operation.  Have you looked at food waste recently as a source of losing money?

Over ProductionDo you know how much food is needed for a meal?  How many people are you serving?  What is the portion size?  How many ounces are in a pan?  How are recipes scaled to provide the necessary quantity?  These are just some of the questions related to over production that a manager needs to consider.  Yes, you want to have a little extra, but what percentage over is reasonable to allow for spillage in your operation?

Over Portioning — This is a universal issue.  Is the proper serving utensil being used.  Is the staff trained to know what portion goes with each color scooper or ladle?  Are portions served level or heaping?  When portions are heaping, what is the chance you will run out of food or need additional food for the meal?

Not Following Recipes — Typically the cost of a recipe is determined when a menu is developed to make sure the menu is within budget.  The cost of the recipe is determined using specific ingredients and specific quantities of those ingredients.  When standardized recipes are not followed there are a number of potential issues related to the cost.  Is the correct product used for that recipe or is the product used more expensive?  Is the correct quantity of an ingredient used?  If not, over or under purchasing may occur.  Both of which can impact the bottom line.

Not Rotating Stock — We have all heard of FIFO — First In, First Out.  However, FIFO may not be happening all the time in an operation and result in spoilage.  Proper rotation of all food items will prevent wasting money with the need to throw out an item because it is rotten or out of date.  It will also help determine if the order guide needs to be adjusted so less of an item is needed to adequately prepare the menu.

Time and Temperature Abuse — Time and temperature abuse will result in the need to throw out food.  Lack of controls and follow-up with time and temperature standards in an operation can be very costly.  It most likely is a result of staff not properly doing their job.

The Bottom Line — Any and all of these practices can result in throwing money down the drain and having a negative impact on the bottom line of an operation.  What will you do TODAY to stop throwing money down the drain?

Linda Mills, MBA, RDN, FADA

Linda Mills, MBA, RDN, FADA


Cost Savings Tools to Manage Portion Control

Cook's Brand 630-609 AC 10 oz. Disher

Cook’s Brand 10 oz. Disher


In these days of leaner budgets, we’re all looking to reduce costs.  Most of you are serving inmates for somewhere less than $1 per meal already and reducing that even more is a challenge.   But like Barry Martin, food service administrator for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, you are striving to shave costs.  Mr. Martin was recently featured on in an article titled Prisons, Jails Change Meals to Meet Budgets, Stay Within Guidelines.    Along with food substitution and purchasing savvy as covered in an article posted on Cooking in Corrections that was written by Linda Mills, of CEC International, you can also maximize your budget with proper portion control.

To understand the impact portion control can have, consider this scenario:  if you are feeding 300 inmates and you reduce the cost of each meal by just a penny, you would add $3,285 to your bottom line every year.  Having the right size serving every time ensures that you’re not giving away pennies with every tray.  To help you get portion sizes under control, we’ve rounded up the TOP TEN portion control tools for the correctional kitchen:

  1. Rite-size 8 oz. Disher – made for heavier, sticky foods and great for starches like mashed potatoes, rice, macaroni and cheese or casseroles.  Heavier foods with appropriate nutrition at low costs.
  2. FMP FIFO Portion Control Bottle – want to cut costs quickly, stop buying prepackaged condiments and dispense perfectly measured portions directly into trays with the Portion Pal.  Dispenses portions from ¼ to 1 oz.
  3. FSE Pancake Dispenser –uniform pancakes every time.  Dispenses as little as ½ oz and up to 3 oz of batter.
  4. Revolving Dough Cutters – precise cutting of biscuits or rolls with minimal scrap.
  5. Cook’s Brand Cake Marker – sheet cakes are cost-effective but not if you have to throw away the ends because the pieces aren’t evenly cut.  The Cake Marker ensures every piece is identical in size, every time.
  6. ISI Flex-it Measuring cups – we like these for corrections because they are made of silicon, like the Flex trays, so they cannot be broken or shattered.
  7. Vollrath  EZ Dishers – available in a 6 oz. and 8 oz. size, with a spring free, inmate-safe design.
  8. Carlisle Measure Mizers – ideal for the serving line, in 1 oz to 8 oz. sizes. Flat bottom design easily spreads sauces or toppings. Long or short handle and solid or perforated bottoms.
  9. Cook’s Brand Square Rite-Size Servers – perfect for use with Flex trays or trays that have a square or smaller rectangular compartment.  Stops the practice of ‘topping-off’ a serving because food fell outside the food compartment to decrease waste.
  10. Edlund Poseidon Digital Scale – we selected this scale because you can total submerge it to keep it clean and this scale will re-calibrate itself to ensure accuracy.

    Marketing Manager, Cook's

    Candace Meneou

Fiscal Health – The 5 Rights of Purchasing

Cook's Correctional Pancake Batter Dispenser

Consistent portions help you control costs and make better purchase decisions.

Reprinted with permission from Spring 2014 INSIDER Magazine, the Official Magazine of the Association of  Correctional Food Service Affiliates.  By Linda Mills, MBA, RD, FADA Corporate Dietitian – Community Education Centers.

Food costs continue to increase and food budgets continue to decrease in many cases.  Fiscal health or food cost control is not cutting corners.  It is keeping a tight control on food costs throughout all the phases of food service — purchasing, delivery, inventory, menu planning, preparation, and service.  So where can you find extra money?  Often the answer is right in your operation.  However, the source of the money is often overlooked.

Purchasing is the first function to evaluate.  Are you purchasing the right product, of the right quality, received at the right time, at the right price, from the right supplier?

Right product — Are you purchasing the product with an eye on the price?  When lettuce doubles in cost, do you look for alternatives for salads which are less costly?

Right quality — Are you purchasing the best product for the intended purpose?  For example, why buy more expensive peach halves when less expensive sliced or diced peaches would be appropriate for the peach cobbler recipe?

Right time — Over and under purchasing is a common mistake which results in a loss of money.  Under purchasing can mean higher cost for the product, the use of a more expensive product to replace the missing product, or increased labor costs.  Over purchasing increases the risk of theft, and increases the possibility that food will spoil before it is used.

Right price — When you realize that the purchase price per unit is not the determining factor in choosing a food item, the next step is to evaluate how many edible portions are produced and service.  Often the lower-priced products actually cost more because they have a lower yield.

Right supplier — Do you use a prime vendor?  If so, when was the last time you checked the prices between your prime vendor and other multi-line vendors?  If you get too comfortable with the relationship with your prime vendor and do not regularly shop around, you may not be getting the best prices after a period of time.

Any or all of these practices can result in throwing money down the drain.  More practices to stop throwing money away will be in the next issue of Insider.

Cook’s Correctional is a proud supporter of the ACFSA and we will be at the upcoming 2014 International Conference in St. Louis.

Linda Mills, MBA, RDN, FADA

Linda Mills, MBA, RDN, FADA