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National Restaurant Association - Virginia inmates receive ServSafe training

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Virginia inmates receive ServSafe training

The Virginia Department of Corrections has cooked up a plan to help prison inmates re-enter society. The plan involves instruction and certification in food-safety courses that could lead to employment in the restaurant industry.

The program, which incorporates the teachings of the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe food safety training and certification program, rolled out last May and has been completed by approximately 300 inmates scheduled to complete their sentences in one to three years, said Mark Engelke, state director of food service for the Department of Corrections.

He noted that the program is part of the Virginia Adult Re-Entry Initiative, a mandate from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office to reduce recidivism throughout the state. In order to help ensure a positive outcome, inmates are trained so they can find work following their releases from prison. Engelke added that the first step in achieving that goal was forging an agreement with the Virginia Hospitality Association to purchase ServSafe materials, such as the books and exams that make up the program’s curriculum.

"We got a contract with the association to buy nearly $100,000 worth of ServSafe materials, with the goal of certifying 1,200 offenders by December," he said. "We taught the program to our staff in three days, but found that with the inmates a four-day course was better."

Some inmates can do five days, and others take eight three-hour classes, depending on the facility and how it can accommodate offenders and get them in and out of the classrooms in a tightly controlled area.

The director of foodservice said offering the course to inmates is far more cost-effective for the state than paying for incarceration.

"We invested $97,000 [in textbooks, certification exams and instructor resources], but it costs $24,000 to house one offender in Virginia for the period of a year," Engelke said. "If we can help five offenders go out and get jobs and be productive members of society that would pay for the initial investment.

"Offenders have a hard time finding jobs because there is a stigma attached to them. We think giving them ServSafe certification will help."

So far, 41 minimum and maximum security units across Virginia offer ServSafe courses to inmates, said Engleke.

Classes are taught by ServSafe certified instructor/proctors. Instruction is presented through various methods, including verbal, video, PowerPoint presentations and interactive activities. When the courses end, proctored exams are administered. If inmates pass those tests, they receive ServSafe certificates, which are good for up to five years.

Restaurant employers are eligible to receive tax credits if they hire former offenders, Engleke said. One of his next goals is to host a job fair for former inmates and invite restaurant companies to participate in it.

"Knowledge is priceless," he said. "We’re trying to educate offenders, offer resources of in-depth foodservice knowledge, experience and certifications. We’re striving to [teach] offenders and provide awareness to employers regarding the benefits of employing [them]."

The ServSafe Food Safety Training Program leads the way in providing up-to-date, comprehensive educational materials to the restaurant industry. Accredited by the American National Standards Institute Conference for Food Protection, ServSafe training and certification is accepted in all states.


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