Food Manager

Kitchen Nightmares: Learn How to Prepare for a Foodservice Emergency

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Trust20 Contributors • 6 minute read

You know it’s important to be prepared in the face of an emergency, but it’s easy to let that essential prep work go undone in the face of the relentless to-do list while running a food service business. We’re here to give you a step-by-step plan to help you and your team feel confident in the face of anything that comes your way (except for Godzilla; we do not have a plan for that). 

In this article, we will give you some advice in the areas listed below–feel free to jump around to the sections you need the most. 

How to safeguard your establishment 

How to protect staff and customers

How to ensure business continuity during a crisis 

How to handle allergic reactions 

What to do in the event of a shelter-in-place order

What is an emergency? Here’s what you should prepare for 

Trust20’s Food Manager Training and Certificate defines emergencies as imminent health hazards, including fire, flood, gas leak, extended interruption of water/electricity, foodborne illness outbreak, sewage backup/gross unsanitary occurrence, misuse of poisonous/toxic materials, and more. 

Those are some of the first things that come to mind when you think about an emergency, but we want to make sure you and your team are also as prepared as possible for the more unusual situations that might come your way.

How to safeguard your establishment 

First and foremost, be sure you’ve taken care of key basics. You should have all staff properly trained in food safety and handling, and their training should be up to date. Have a system in place to ensure you don’t miss any important renewal dates. 

You also want to be sure you’re following all relevant laws for your establishment, have the proper safety equipment located onsite, and regularly conduct inspections of and maintenance for all necessary kitchen and safety equipment. 

Be sure to address the general requirements for your physical space. For example, is there plenty of room for customers and staff to exit your establishment in case of a fire? Could tables and chairs be better arranged to help the flow of foot traffic? Are any additional exits blocked because they’re being used for temporary storage? Don’t let that become a habit! 

How to protect staff and customers 

Have a plan, and practice your plan.

Create an emergency preparedness plan that includes contact information for emergency response teams, evacuation routes, and guidelines for your team to follow during different types of emergencies. Be sure every team member knows where this is located so they can access it quickly in case it’s needed. For a physical guide that lives onsite, consider how you can make it more emergency-proof; can the materials it's made of be fireproof or at least fire-resistant? Same with water, in case of flooding or if the sprinklers in the building go off (you don’t want anyone trying to read a rapidly smearing phone number). Have a backup digital version that staff can easily access on their devices.

Similarly, be sure there’s a map of the facility with exits and emergency equipment clearly labeled on it. Try to make it as fire-and-waterproof as possible with a digital backup available. Staff should also know how to operate that emergency equipment safely once it's located. 

Emergency equipment is more than fire extinguishers; there should be a first-aid kit onsite that is fully stocked and regularly checked to ensure it’s fully stocked (i.e., replace the headache medicine and bandaids everyone has used). All staff should be trained on how to use its contents and who to contact in the event of an emergency. Ideally, every employee will also have basic first aid and CPR training. 

The best way to help staff feel as confident as possible in the face of an emergency is to conduct regular drills, running through where emergency plans live, how to access and properly use safety equipment, and who’s responsible for regular reviews of plans and equipment. Consider a rotating roster of who’s “in charge” of drills so everyone on staff feels more comfortable with the necessary steps to take should the need ever arise. 

How to ensure business continuity during a crisis 

While there are no guarantees on how human behavior will play out during or after a crisis, being as prepared as possible and showing that in terms of the actions you and your team take will make customers feel safe and connected to your business. 

If appropriate, update your website and any relevant social media or newsletters with necessary information about any emergencies that have happened onsite or in your area. Keep it simple and address what happened, how you dealt with it or are continuing to deal with it, and whether or not you are open or will open again soon.

For example, suppose there’s flooding in the area, and your business is unaffected. In that case, local residents want to know they have an open place where they can get some food and possibly charge their devices to stay in touch with friends, family, and their insurance company. 

Less common situations   

Beyond a fire, gas leak, or basic first-aid situation that is usually covered in emergency plans and training, there are more unusual situations–like an allergic reaction or shelter-in-place order– you’ll want to prepare your team for. 

How to handle allergic reactions 

Food allergy training is the first step to preparing everyone; being able to avoid an allergic reaction in the first place is the best possible plan. Train staff to handle all special food requests seriously and to use separate food preparation areas for those requests. As an establishment, be sure to provide ingredient lists or recipes for menu items so that customers with allergies can choose the best options for themselves with less stress.

In the event that a customer does have an allergic reaction, an onsite manager should be prepared to handle the situation according to the FDA Food Code. Staff should be able to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction, be ready to call 911, and administer an EpiPen if necessary. Most importantly, never leave the person unattended. 

What to do in the event of a shelter-in-place order 

Serious emergencies–weather events like tornados or an active shooter–can result in a shelter-in-place order. If one is issued, staff should be prepared to “lock down” the establishment and find the most secure area to take shelter with any customers. Best practices suggest taking shelter away from windows in the strongest area of the building.

Be sure your staff is trained to bring any necessary supplies into the secure area, such as phones, a first aid kit, and water. Consider keeping an emergency radio as part of your onsite equipment in case cell phone reception is disrupted.

Follow CDC guidelines and wait to leave the shelter until local authorities declare it safe. 

Final thoughts 

If you foster a culture of safety and collaboration among your staff, you’ll already have the foundation in place for smoother cooperation during an emergency. If you’ve already taken the critical steps to maintain safe facilities, your team will know that those in charge care about their well-being. 

And if Trust20 can help your team feel more prepared with training, let us know! 

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