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Food Package Guide for New York State Correctional Facilities

This guide was created using Directive #4911 with additional input from incarcerated people and their family & friends.

It is being regularly updated. Please email your suggestions to:  prisonfoodstories@gmail.com

The Basics

At most correctional facilities, individuals are allowed two food packages per month, and the combined weight cannot exceed 35 pounds. Food packages received both from visitors and through the mail are included in the two-package limit; for this reason, you may want to check with the person you're making a package for that he or she hasn't already met that limit during the month you're planning to bring or mail a package.

You cannot simply drop off a package at the facility at any time - it must be brought during a visit, and only for the one person you are visiting. If you cannot visit, mailing a package is also a great option. Details about mailing packages are included further down in this document.

Plan to always consult with whomever you are considering making a food package for to determine (1) if they are okay with you bringing or mailing a package and (2) what items they would like to receive.

Directive 4911

Prohibited Items/Ingredients

  • Alcohol

  • Poppy seeds

  • Dry fruit (ex: trail-mix with raisins in it)

  • Hot/spicy peppers

  • Frozen foods (refrigerated foods are allowed)

  • Homemade foods

  • Restaurant, deli, bakery foods

  • Root vegetables except carrots and beets

  • Foods that require cooking before consumption, unless the only cooking required is microwaving (ex: a bag of uncooked rice would not be allowable, but a pouch of microwavable rice, such as “Ben’s Original Ready Rice” would be)

Notes on Packaging

  • Avoid glass containers

  • All items must be commercially packaged in airtight hermetically sealed containers impervious to external influence (e.g., sealed cans, heat-sealed plastic bags, vacuum-sealed pouches, vacuum-sealed plastic jars, glue sealed paper or cardboard boxes with the inside product being hermetically sealed, etc.)

  • Containers with paper, plastic, or foil seals are not allowed (ex: Pringles chips, coffee creamer with a plastic seal)

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are an exception - they do not need to be in sealed containers

Information About Specific Foods

Anecdotal List of Approved & Denied Items

Beverages/Liquid: including concentrates, must be in cans, pouches or boxes only; max. size 32 oz. each; note: some facilities may not allow any liquids in a can or box

Bread: must be "double-bagged/wrapped" - when you open the bread bag, the slices should be also sealed within a plastic wrapping

Breakfast Cereal: not allowed (ex: Cheerios, Chex)

Butter/Margarine: not allowed

Canned Food: maximum size 16 oz each; must not require cooking (per manufacturer's label), but microwaving is allowed

Candy: must be fully sealed (ex: buy a sealed bag containing individually sealed “fun size” candy)

Cheese: sliced or chunk allowed, commercially sealed; do not purchase cheese that the grocery store cuts and wraps in-house

Chocolate: avoid anything with “chocolate liquor” as an ingredient

Coffee: sealed ground coffee is allowed; cans of pre-made coffee (ex: cold brew) are not permitted in some facilities

Condiments: 16 oz maximum; no hot sauce

Dried Coffee Cream: 16 oz maximum

Eggs: fresh not allowed, powdered eggs are allowed (ex: OvaEasy)

Fruit: avoid dried fruit (see note below on raisins); fresh fruit is allowed

Granola/Cereal Bars: cereal or nut bars are allowed (ex: KIND, Nutrigrain - avoid those with dried fruit ingredients); protein bars (ex: Quest, Pure Protein) are not allowed; avoid anything that specifically advertises the word “protein” on the box (ex: KIND Protein bars)

Herbs (fresh): not allowed

Meat: must be ready to eat, not raw (ex: pre-cooked in a can or refrigerated, dry, smoked, cured, cold cuts); cold cuts need to be sealed by manufacturer, not wrapped at a grocery deli counter

Milk: in a can (condensed, coconut) is okay at most facilities but not Fishkill

Maple Syrup/Jam/Honey: not allowed

Nuts: should not have shells

Oatmeal: allowed in most facilities - avoid those with dried fruit mixed in

Oil: not allowed

Pastry/Bakery Items: have to be commercially sealed, not in a bag from your local bakery

Protein Powder: not allowed

Raisins: maximum 2 oz per package (avoid buying granola bars, trail mix, etc that includes raisins as an ingredient)

Rice/Pasta: microwavable/steam bags allowed; those requiring cooking on the stovetop are not allowed, but can be purchased through the commissary in some facilities

Seafood: it must be ready to eat (cooked, cured, smoked); no shells

Snacks: potato chips, pretzels, crackers, cookies, and other similar items (or combinations of approved food items) are allowed

Soup: must be in a can, not a box; no powdered soup mixes

Tea: herbal and flavored tea allowed; no loose tea; no tea labeled as being for any treatment or cure, "for medicinal purposes" or "as a dietary supplement," etc. is allowed

Vegetables: fresh, that do not require cooking (except in facilities that allow cooking); no root vegetables except carrots and beets (no potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, etc.); no corn

Yogurt: not allowed

Commissary Food

Fishkill Commissary Sheet (June 2021) 

When putting together a food package, you may want to consider what is available in the commissary - the prison “store” where individuals can make purchases if they have funds available. The list below is based on what was available at Fishkill Correctional Facility in June 2021. Items available in the commissary may vary slightly based on the facility. You will notice the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, making those a great item to prioritize for food packages, if the individual you’re making the package for is interested!

Vegetables: kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, chili w/ beans, corn, instant mashed potatoes, crushed tomatoes, fresh onions, fresh garlic, pickles, green olives

Fruit: fruit cup

Beverages: juice (grapefruit, orange, cranberry, lemon), Maxwell House coffee, Taster's Choice instant coffee, decaf coffee, hot cocoa, Hawaiian Punch mix, ice tea mix, tang mix, peach drink mix, tea bags, herbal tea, Gatorade, water, Pepsi/Diet Pepsi, ginger ale, Mountain Dew, and other assorted sodas

Seasonings/Sauces: mayo, BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, relish, hot sauce, soy sauce, salad dressing (ranch, Italian), salsa squeeze, garlic powder, adobo, sazon, oregano, Mrs. Dash blend, sea salt, flour, tomato sauce, tomato paste, margarine

Meat/Fish: chicken franks, Vienna chicken sausage, chicken breast pouch, hot & spicy wings, fried chicken, pepperoni, sliced pastrami, sliced turkey, spam singles, roast beef pouch, salami sausage, turkey sausage, jac mack, clams, tuna, fish steaks in hot sauce, pink salmon, oysters, octopus

Pasta/Rice: elbow macaroni, mac & cheese, rice, spaghetti, ziti, boil in bag rice, chicken rice a roni mix

Breakfast Foods: honey, honey nut cereal, berry krunch cereal, fruit loop cereal, generic syrup, pancake mix, quick oats, oatmeal variety pack, grits, strawberry toaster pastry, egg substitute

Sugar: white granulated sugar, light brown sugar, artificial sweetener

Soup: vegetable cup soup, chicken noodle soup, shrimp soup

Snacks: white cheddar popcorn, pretzels, sour cream and onion chips, shabang chips, nachos, hot pork rinds, ripple potato chips, cheese puffs, whole enchilada mix, honey roasted peanuts, trail mix, cheese crackers, saltines, Keebler snack crackers, honey graham crackers

Spreads: grape jelly, marshmallow creme, peanut butter

Dairy Products: powder creamer, french vanilla creamer, sweet condensed milk, coconut milk powder, powder milk, cream cheese, grated cheese, sliced American cheese, shredded mozzarella cheese, Velveeta cheese

Bakery Products: cosmic brownies, assorted cheese danish, creme cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cream-filled cupcakes, swiss rolls, iced oatmeal cookies, oatmeal cream pies, zebra cakes, honey buns, assorted mini donuts, apple Nutri-Grain cereal bars, assorted fruit pies, hoagie rolls, wheat bread, plain bagel, cinnamon bagel, flour tortillas

Ice Cream: Breyer’s Vanilla, Breyer’s Strawberry, Breyer’s Butter Pecan, Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Money, Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough, Perry Nutty Cone

Candy: Milky Way, Butterfinger, M&M Peanut, Snickers, Now & Later, sour balls, peppermints, Halls Mentho-Lyptus

Bringing a Food Package on a Visit

The order and exact procedure may vary slightly based on the facility.

  1. Arrive at the visitor's processing area and check-in with a correction officer. You will provide your ID (driver’s license, passport), the name and DIN number of the person you’re visiting, and what your relationship is to that person (friend, parent, spouse, sibling, etc). You will have your picture taken.

  2. Next, you will give your food package to the staff. The most common variations of this process are detailed below. Along with your package, you will need to fill out a form that asks for your full name and home address, as well as the name and DIN number of the person you’re bringing a package for.

    1. Go to the food package processing area, generally a separate line, where a different officer will inspect your bags of food. Accepted items will be put into a large bag that your loved one can pick up after the visit from the package room. You’ll receive a receipt paper that you will need to give to the person you’re visiting so that they can pick it up. Rejected items will be given back to you, along with the bags that you carried the food in with. You can use a visitor’s locker to store these items until the end of your visit. Bring a few quarters with you to use for the lockers.

    2. You will place your packages into paper bags when you enter the processing area, and it will be inspected in the package room while you are on your visit. (You will not be present for the inspection.) Rejected items will be returned to you when you exit the visiting room. Facilities with this arrangement tend to process visitors much more quickly.

  3. Go through the metal detector. Be prepared to remove your shoes, empty your pockets, etc. (similar to TSA at the airport). You can bring 1 credit card, a small amount of cash ($20 limit), and your photo ID into the visiting room. It’s a good idea to bring both cash and a credit card because the vending machines are often broken and only able to accept one form of payment. Officers will let you go back to your locker to store any items that you cannot bring inside with you.

  4. Your loved one can pick up their package after their visit with you.

Mailing a Food Package

If you can't drop off a food package during a visit, you have the option of sending food items through the mail. Packages must have a return address on them that includes the sender’s first and last name. Don’t forget to include the recipient’s full name and DIN number. You may choose to:

  1. Put together your own package of foods that you purchased and send it directly to the facility. You can use USPS, UPS, or FedEx.

  2. Order food from an approved prison care package vendor, such as Walkenhorst’s or Emma’s Premium Services, to be delivered to the facility. Prices for items are higher than you will pay at a grocery store, but it may be a convenient option.

It’s helpful to let the recipient know the weight of the package you’re sending so that they know how many more pounds of food they are eligible to receive that month. If you’re mailing the food, you can ask for the weight at the post office.

If you plan to mail fresh fruits or vegetables, try to select those that won't spoil quickly. Mail carriers will discard packages if they see any liquid leaking from the box. Additionally, if the package room at the facility is busy, it could take a few days for your loved one to be called to pick up their items.

Prison Food Stories

We’re collecting stories about what it’s like to eat in prison and we’d love to hear from you! Our goal is to create a website full of stories from incarcerated people and their families/friends as a way to document current conditions and advocate for changes.

Prison Food Stories, PO Box 252, Raritan, NJ 08869

OR

prisonfoodstories@gmail.com

Note: Any stories published online will not include full names in order to protect your privacy. Please include with your story a note of how you would like to be referred to - for example: “AZ, Green Haven Correctional Facility”

The Full Story

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