One hundred percent handmade foodstuffs are enjoying such popularity amid food safety concerns that prison inmates who make the food and supplied it over the Lunar New Year netted “red envelopes” in the range of NT$22,000 to NT$30,000 (US$726 to US$991), according to local media reports.
The Chinese-language United Daily News reported on Monday that the best-selling prisoner-made foodstuff was soy sauce made at Pingtung Prison.
Prison officials were quoted as saying that more than half a year ago, the production line for soy sauce was at its peak, producing nearly 50 tonnes worth of soy sauce per month.
The closely monitored fermenting period and the all-manual production process meant that the prison was unable to step up production for the Lunar New Year period, the report said.
On average, Pingtung Prison inmates received red envelopes over the Lunar New Year matching the annual salary level of many freshly graduated college students, it said.
Quoting officials from the Agency of Correction, the report said inmates were entitled to red envelopes over the holiday due to the fact that the prison’s management funds came directly from the prisoners’ labor.
By law, the funds can only be used for training inmates or improving facilities, and there is no requirement for the funds to be turned in to the central government, the report said.
According to the media report, some business owners saw an opportunity for safe food after recent food scandals and placed huge orders — running up to NT$2 million — with the Greater Tainan Prison two months before the Lunar New Year.
The edible oil incident, in which manufacturers mixed several low-grade oils and sold it as extra virgin olive oil, and the Top Pot Bakery chain incident, where the chain used additives in what was branded 100 percent handmade bread, were the two most prominent food scares last year.
Inmates worked overtime to deliver orders for egg-rolls, and the funds they received — which are usually about NT$6,000 to NT$7,000 per month — reflected their extra effort, ballooning to NT$16,000 per month, the report said. Even inmates less skilled in baking received NT$8,000.
Greater Taichung Women’s Prison’s handmade chocolates were nominated as one of the top 10 inmate-made foodstuffs, with inmates receiving an average of NT$8,000 per month.
The Greater Taichung Mingte Prison is known for its free-range chicken meat, with the prison able to allow its chickens to run around and “exercise,” the United Daily News report said.
Exercise toughens the meat, in contrast with imported chicken, and is considered by Taiwanese as more delicious.
Taitung County Prison’s chicken, while not as popular as Mingte Prison’s, was also a greatly favored delicacy, the report added.