WASHINGTON, March 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. Bureau of Prisons lacks policies to safeguard against serving potentially contaminated food to its inmates, a problem that led it to buy substandard products including whole cow hearts disguised as ground beef, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found.
In a new report made public on Tuesday, Inspector General Michael Horowitz faulted the BOP for not having “a protocol in place to ensure its food supply is safe” and failing to “properly document or communicate food vendor quality issues.”
As evidence of the problem, Horowitz pointed to multiple criminal cases filed against food vendors since 2014.
One case in 2018 involved a food vendor who was accused of selling adulterated spices that were diluted with undeclared filler ingredients to the federal prison system.
Another case from last year involved two individuals who pleaded guilty to charges they had sold the BOP $1 million worth of adulterated meat, including whole cow hearts that were labeled as “ground beef.”
“The BOP should develop a quality assurance plan...to mitigate the risk that a vendor could deliver a substandard product,” Horowitz wrote.
In fiscal 2019 alone, the BOP served 175 million meals, or nearly 479,000 meals per day, for its 180,000 inmates. Food and food services accounts for about 5.7 percent of its $401 million budget.
A spokesperson for the BOP did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Horowitz’s findings.
His report represents yet another management headache for the BOP’s newly minted director Michael Carvajal, who was tapped by Attorney General William Barr just last month.
The BOP, with 122 institutions nationwide, has struggled with staffing shortages and tight budgets throughout the Trump administration.
It came under scrutiny in February 2019 after its federal jail in Brooklyn suffered power supply issues, leading to freezing jail cells for days.
Then in August, its federal jail in Manhattan found itself at the heart of a criminal probe after financier Jeffrey Epstein died of suicide there while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
Two corrections officers were later charged with falsifying records to cover up their failure to monitor him. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Nick Macfie)