Emergency Procedures – What Will You Do, What Will You Do?


Emergencies are definitely not a laughing matter! These unforeseen events (serious weather, fire, power outage, flooding, sewage backup, hazardous material spills, chemical/biological/radiological emergencies national emergency, civil disorder) can ruin a food service facility, if procedures are not already in place to handle them properly. Some, all or none might apply but all must be actively considered.

So what are the first steps? While every plan must be specific to your facility, don’t reinvent the wheel: wherever possible use available resources. See the resources listed below, visit the internet sites and then adapt the guides to meet your facility’s specific needs.

Make a list of possible emergencies. Brainstorm with your staff and consult your food service neighbors about things that might go wrong. Then look at your facility to see how you will prepare, alternative procedures which will keep your facility operating.

Develop a directory of contacts so you can immediately determine the severity and duration of the problem and how it might affect your operation. Note that both factors are vital to determine the relative public health risk so health authorities can determine whether your facility can continue to operate. Train employees to recognize and immediately report problems in the facility and to stop work until the problem’s severity can be accessed.

For example, in the event of a power outage, employees should recognize unsafe temperatures and immediately report the problem. The food temperature logs can be used to see when the problem occurred and its severity. Then, determine: is there access to a generator for electric power, a dry ice supply for a failing refrigerator, or licensed neighboring facilities to temporarily store food safely? Calling the utility company will determine the length of the power outage. If it is short term, you may be able to continue operation.

If the problem is a lack of hot water, options might be using single service articles and limiting the multiple use utensils needed for food preparation, then, instead of using the dish machine, using the three compartment sink for chemical sanitizing. Heat up water in a coffee maker to fill the sinks and using a container with a spigot for handwashing, followed by hand sanitizer. Again, this will be conditional on a short term problem and prior approval by the health authority,

Note that some problems will be too severe or long term to allow solutions of this sort and every facility will have different needs. The health codes define an imminent health hazard where food service must immediately stop operation. Full service restaurants may have complex menus and food preparation where short term corrections simply will not apply.

Many of these possible problems are addressed in the resources listed in this article. The important point is to list the problems and procedures for addressing them before they occur. Then send your assessment to the health authority so they have it on file. In the event of a problem, your inspector will see that you are proactively addressing the issue.

The Conference for Food Protection has published an emergency plan at this link:


The Purdue University guide can be loaded from the following link:


The Michigan Department of Agriculture guide can be loaded from this link: https://www.michigan.gov/mdard

Again, as always, my thanks for reading! Please comment!  David     Purdue Emergency Plan