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Life as a prison caterer

Catering for a large and diverse prison population

In a prison kitchen, you’ll do everything you do in an industrial sized kitchen, plus so much more.

You will:

  • prepare and cook meals, making sure there is as little waste as possible
  • cater for a range of different dietary requirements
  • manage stock levels of ingredients

Band 4 catering supervisors are responsible for managing the prison catering teams. This includes allocating daily tasks, providing food safety and health and safety training. You’ll also work with the catering manager to create menus, ensuring that all special dietary requirements are catered for.

Prison catering teams work in the main prison kitchen and staff mess hall. You’ll prepare hot, cold and packed meal options. Sometimes you’ll need to do a trolley service, delivering meals to cells. But whatever the setting, quality food will always be your priority.

The logistics of running a prison kitchen on a limited budget can be a challenge, but it is never dull. You’ll need to be flexible and creative to make sure everyone gets a nutritious meal.

Coaching and supervising offenders

Working alongside and supervising prisoners, you’ll be supporting them to learn new skills. This will increase their chances of employment when they leave prison and reduce their likelihood of reoffending.

You will help offenders learn all the things needed to work in catering, including:

  • teaching them about health and safety in the kitchen
  • how to cook in bulk
  • good hygiene practices
  • how to manage ingredients and stock levels
  • the basics of how to be ready for work and put in a decent shift

You may also be part of the selection process, deciding which offenders to employ in the kitchen. Plus, you’ll be responsible for assessing their work, and writing reports for their training portfolio.

Seeing the change in the people you work with and helping them reach their goals can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Hopefully, every day we make a small difference to prisoners’ lives, giving them the skills and mentality to find a job when they leave custody.
Chris, prison caterer

Working pattern

Prison kitchens generally operate between 7am and 7pm, 7 days a week. You’ll work a 37 hour week, with your shift pattern including some weekends and bank holidays.

Work-life balance options such as part-time hours and job shares may be available, after you’ve completed your initial training. You would need to discuss with your manager whether these would be possible.


You’ll be working with and supervising offenders every day. We have training and processes in place to make sure everyone stays safe.

Prisoners are assessed for their suitability of working in a prison kitchen and are searched at the beginning and end of their working shifts.

You’ll also play an important role in keeping your kitchen, and the prison, safe. You’ll be teaching the people you work with about safe practices in a kitchen. And you’ll help search them before and after their shifts.

It can be strange adjusting to working in a prison environment. Things like locking and unlocking multiple doors to get to your kitchen each day can take some getting used to, but most of our staff find that within a few days or weeks it becomes second nature.

Sometimes, prisoners can be confrontational when they don’t like what you’re explaining to them. But I have never felt at risk. I know that if needed, prison officers are always around to help.
Mark, catering supervisor

What’s it like working as a prison caterer?

Dave’s day-to-day work

“I start work at 8am, check what food I’m preparing and any handover notes from the previous day.

We let the prisoner workers in at 8.30am. I work with a team of other caterers and we’re each allocated to a particular workstation. I’m generally on the hot meal section and start by briefing the team of prisoners I’ll be working with on what meals we’ll be preparing and what they need to do.

I’ll demonstrate any new dishes and supervise what they’re doing throughout the day. We prepare and serve lunch and dinner menus.

I work shifts – including some weekends – and depending on how my shift pattern falls, I get to enjoy 4 days on, followed by 4 days off.”

Working alongside offenders

“Before I started in adult prisons, I had a catering job in a young offenders’ institution. While I didn’t supervise offenders, it gave me experience of working in a custodial setting. I’d also previously taught cooking to young people. So, working in a prison catering role where I’d get to pass on my skills to adult offenders, felt like a logical next step.

As I’d already seen the security measures that were in place in my youth offending job, I wasn’t daunted by the idea of working alongside prisoners. I carry a radio, there are panic buttons around the kitchen if we need them, and processes to follow that keep everyone safe. I’ve never had to use any of them.”

Making an impact

“My attitude is that, while the prisoners have made mistakes that have landed them in prison, they’re not necessarily bad people. Generally, they’re happy to be working and keen to learn how to make new dishes. I enjoy seeing them becoming more confident and knowing the difference this can make.

Working in the kitchen gives them an opportunity to learn new skills they can use when they leave custody. Plus they have opportunities to get qualifications in food hygiene or study for a catering NVQ, which can increase their potential to find paid work.

Working as a prison caterer is an excellent career. I love cooking and get to combine my passion with working with a great team of people while passing on my skills to help prisoners potentially reduce their risk of reoffending. That’s a great feeling, and very rewarding.”

Read more about being a prison caterer in our blog (opens in a new tab).