Approximately 30 inmates from the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson are suffering from a gastrointestinal illness, which could be related to maggots and fly larvae found in a food line, said Russ Marlan, spokesman for the Department of Corrections.
The prison discovered fly larvae and maggots Friday night about two inches from where the serving trays sat, Marlan said. The next day, dozens of inmates were complaining of vomiting, upset stomachs and diarrhea.
The food and dining facilities are managed by Aramark which took over the food service contract in December, eliminating 370 jobs in the process.
Since December, Aramark has fired an employee for being drunk on the job and another was caught smuggling marijuana into the prison.
Marlan acknowledged the transition has been tough for a completely new group of employees -- some of whom had never been inside a correctional facility for sure -- but the period of leniency is nearing its end.
"They're now into the seventh month of this contract," he said. "We're kind of through the transitionary period now and we're going to aggressively monitor all elements of the contract beginning July 1."
Marlan acknowledged there has been improvement in Aramark's performance since December and he still believes the company is the right one to save Michigan taxpayers money. He stopped short of saying Aramark is "on the hot seat," but placed the blame squarely on the company's shoulders.
"The sanitary conditions are their responsibility," said Marlan. "It's their obligation under the contract to have a clean and sanitary kitchen environment. So certainly the presence of the maggots is something that would fall under their responsibility."
Aramark defended itself Monday afternoon.
"There are no facts that show food played any role in the illnesses reported over the weekend or is connected in any way to today's pest issue," Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said in an emailed statement. "This issue was discovered prior to any food being served on the serving line. We immediately notified the DOC maintenance department which will make all necessary repairs to the serving line."
When asked if Aramark was still the best company for the job in Jackson, Cutler replied, "Yes, we have been providing quality service to hundreds of correctional facilities around the country for almost 40 years."
Representatives from the unions that lost out on the prison contracts say they knew something like this would happen. AFSCME Council 25 Legislative Director Nick Ciaramitaro says the missteps were predictable.
"It's happened before," he said. "Aramark is a national corporation. I've seen states and school districts fire them in other places. We should never have done this in the first place."
Mel Grieshaber, executive director for the Michigan Corrections Officers union, told News 10 last month of the union's dissatisfaction with Aramark.
"When you have problems with food, problems with contraband, with employees who are over-familiar with prisoners, that's bad in an institution," he said. "So we are worried."
Last week, the Department of Corrections threatened to cancel its contract if something isn't done about constant food shortages and menu substitutions.
"They've been fined, we've issued them numerous letters about contract compliance," said Marlan. "So I think they're to the point now in their contract where we expect and I think the citizens of Michigan expect them to follow the elements of their contract, to do what they're supposed to do under the contract."