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Another good reason to stay
out of jail

Decatur facility's kitchen
receives low health score

By Chris Paschenko
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2442

The Decatur city jail's kitchen, following a recent surprise inspection, came within four points of being labeled an imminent health risk, state officials said.

Although the Department of Public Health doesn't regulate food permits for detention facilities, a 64 health rating — like the latest one issued Aug. 23 to the Decatur jail — was only points shy of a score that would close a restaurant.

ABL Management Inc. is under contract with the city to run the kitchen. The company provides and serves food at a cost $1.87 per meal, based on a 75-inmate population, City Purchasing Agent Jeff Fussell said.

Morgan County Health Department Environmentalist Jeb Beason said the score required a mandatory 48-hour reinspection, which found all the critical violations rectified.

"During the initial visit, it definitely needed some work," Beason said. "The score speaks for itself. We went back on Friday, and it looked like a totally new facility."

Beason said the list of critical violations subtracted 28 points out of 100. The violations included the presence of roaches, food held out of temperature, employees drinking in the food preparation area, dented food containers, no towels or hand washing signs, a dirty or rusted can-opener blade and a broken ice scoop.

"A majority of their stock was dented," Beason said. "The food that was out of temperature was cooler than 140 degrees, and they couldn't show a temperature time log of how long it had been out."

Inspectors also found six one-point violations, which included food debris in the bottom of the refrigerator, utensils in the food, no towels or signs posted at hand washing stations and food bins stored on the floor.

Beason said the jail dormitory had no major issues and that inspectors would return in September.

Lt. Chris Mathews, a Decatur police spokesman who also supervises the jail, said the 64 was the first score of which he was aware that was below par. The workers aren't city employees, he said.

"Since we had the score, we've been monitoring it more closely," Mathews said. "We want to make sure the food service is high quality. We've instructed (jailers) to let us know if there are any problems."

An ABL representative declined comment.

Morgan Jail gets 84

The newly constructed Morgan County Jail received the second-lowest food score among all detention facilities that operate kitchens in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties.

"There was a toxic bottle that was not labeled," said Beason of the county jail's 84 rating. "That cost them four points, and a dirty can opener blade cost five points. The kitchen was very clean, but the mistakes cost them a good score. We'll reinspect it within 30 days."

Sheriff Greg Bartlett said, "A stainless steel cleaner was in the proper area but not marked. We've also had a call in to the plumber since before the inspection to repair a leaking drain. If it hadn't been for two critical violations, we'd have scored a 95."

Environmentalist Shane Lindsey said the Decatur Community Based Facility scored a 95 from a May inspection, and Hartselle caters its food from a nearby deli, which scored a 93 on Thursday.

All detention facilities that prepare and serve food in Limestone and Lawrence counties scored above 90, officials said.

A May inspection resulted in a 98 at the Limestone County Jail, and Limestone Correctional Facility received a 93 from its last inspection in April 2005, Environmentalist Bob Smith said.

The Limestone County Jail supplies Athens City Jail with prisoner meals, and Ardmore caters its meals from a nearby caf that scored a 96 in July, Smith said.

Environmentalist Carrie Warren said the Lawrence County Jail scored a 91 in September 2005.

Tim Hatch, an environmentalist supervisor with the Department of Public Health, said state law requires inspection of all detention facilities.

"We issue jails minimum suggestive standards but are not given the authority to permit jails," Hatch said. "It's our duty to inspect kitchens, dormitories, showers and medical facilities usually once per year. We'll write a report and give it to the person in charge, which is usually a warden or sheriff."

Hatch said state health officials don't inspect federal detention facilities.

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