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Aramark, which has served rotten food in other states, could win $9M Denver jail contract

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The Denver County Sheriff’s Department wants to hire a private company, Aramark, to serve meals to its inmates. But inmates in Jefferson and Arapahoe county jails — not to mention state prisons across the country — have complained of Aramark’s rotten and expired food, food that’s been stored at improper temperatures and too-small portions.

The sheriff’s department said Denver’s jail and downtown detention center don’t have enough low-level offenders to work in the kitchen, which is why they asked for bids this spring. Aramark won the $9 million, two-year proposed contract that starts July 1 and ends June 30, 2023, according to city documents.

Two Denver City Council members say they will examine the company’s history before they vote whether to approve the contract. Just this year in Mississippi, the state ended its agreement with Aramark, something Michigan did in 2015.

In a presentation to the city council earlier this month, Denver Sheriff’s Department’s Chief Vincent Line praised Aramark for how it treats its employees and said it focuses on “culinary excellence.” Line, who previously worked with Aramark during his 19 years at the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, said he was unfamiliar with the widespread complaints about the company and had not personally seen any issues with its work.

“I certainly have confidence in our ability to oversee what is occurring with food service,” Line told The Denver Post. “I have no concerns moving forward.”

If the council approves the contract Monday night, the Philadelphia-based Aramark will serve an average of 1,380 inmates each day and handle the management and supervision of all facets of food service in the county jail and downtown detention center. The proposed contract requires Aramark to meet basic health standards and portion sizes, but it does not specify what actions can be taken by Denver officials or inmates if those requirements are not met.

Track record is spotty

Aramark has had problems in jails across the country. The Michigan Department of Corrections fined the company hundreds of thousands of dollars after reports that staff had improper contact with inmates, served rotten food crawling with maggots or food that had been thrown in the trash, and gave inmates cake that had been partially eaten by rodents. State officials in Mississippi hired a different food vendor this year after reports that Aramark served rotten and spoiled meals.

Similar reports of unsanitary conditions and poor food storage surfaced in New Jersey and maggots were found in Aramark’s food in two Ohio prisons. One 2009 prison riot in Kentucky also reportedly stemmed from Aramark’s food as well.

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