Review your disaster response plan
A pandemic, record-setting inflation, supply-chain struggles, weather emergencies. As punishing as these times continue to be for the foodservice industry, they may also be affirming times for those who have managed to keep operations going. The businesses that are in the best position to survive in this dynamic environment tend to be those that have planned for emergencies. For better or worse, foodservice businesses are among the last businesses to close before a disaster and among the first expected to reopen after one, which makes emergency planning critical to keeping your staff and guests safe, protecting your operation’s sensitive information, and getting back on track quickly after a crisis.
Your disaster response plan is one piece of this effort. Your plan should establish a team with designated roles to help you manage in a crisis and include up-to-date information on emergency contacts, insurance coverages (limits may have changed in the current market), communication protocols and other information you need to manage the resources your business needs to resume operations after an interruption. If you need help, or simply a review of what’s important to have on hand, the National Restaurant Association recently released a guide entitled Always Ready: Natural Disasters to help restaurants prepare. It brings together best practices from human resources and risk managers from independent and national restaurant brands to recommend actions for operators to take before, during and after a natural disaster. You can find the guide at www.restaurant.org.
Extreme weather is becoming a way of life – and if you operate in a region that gets cold in the winter months, there is increased risk of challenges including power outages that can lead to food spoilage, supply delays, and damage to facilities. Ensure you have a supply of winter weather safety tools ready in case of a storm: Shovels, batteries, flashlights, ice melt, and non-perishable food items, for starters. Have your HVAC system inspected to avoid surprise problems during the winter. Insulate any exposed pipes in your building – particularly now that outdoor spaces have become year-round extensions of the dining room. If a sudden power outage occurs, ensure you have a back-up plan to save the food items you’re refrigerating. Now is also a good time to review your emergency plan to make sure contact numbers for staff, suppliers and servicepeople are up to date and kept not only in the facility but in locations that can be accessed if you can’t reach the restaurant in inclement weather.
On July 4th weekend, a San Francisco wedding celebration reportedly became a breeding ground for COVID-19. Following a rehearsal dinner gathering of 40 guests at the Harborview Restaurant and Bar, the wedding couple and at least eight of their guests from across the country tested positive for the virus. But according to an Eater report that addressed reviews of the restaurant’s policies for managing groups, as well as information relayed by a restaurant spokesperson, Harborview seems to have done everything right: They took such steps as spacing tables six feet apart, separating guests by household or family unit, plating food that they had previously served family style, and reminding guests to wear face coverings. After the outbreak, employees were tested and results came back negative. So what is a restaurant to do when it follows guidelines and takes the right precautions but must bear the brunt of bad publicity after an outbreak? Start by going on the PR offensive, collecting facts to demonstrate your commitment to safety, and sharing them with the media and on your social platforms. Partner with your health officials and describe what precautions you have taken, from new employee training procedures and protocols to virus testing to signage advising guests how to maintain safety – and publicize their findings in the news media, on your website and on your social networks. Take photos and video of your facility, introduce staff and talk about how your policies have changed since COVID-19. Finally, for the moment, rethink catering to weddings – and other gatherings where people set out to socialize and celebrate with friends and family, consume alcohol, and perhaps let down their guard and ignore precautions. They may be best left to large outdoor settings or until after a vaccine is readily available.
As consumers take increased precautions to protect their safety during the coronavirus pandemic, they can take some solace that restaurants have to follow a detailed health and food safety protocol as a regular part of doing business – and that the transmission method of COVID-19 doesn’t change the efficacy of this protocol. Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, told the Huffington Post that because coronavirus infection occurs primarily through the respiratory system, the chance of getting COVID-19 from food is extremely low. “The respiratory virus risk in restaurants is really more about being in the same location as a lot of people, some of whom can be depositing the virus on surfaces like tables, doors, menus, and managing that with a hand washing and alcohol-based sanitizer regime is an effective step to reduce risks of both COVID-19 and Influenza.” Restricting restaurant sales to curbside takeout and delivery reduces those respiratory risks even further.
While at the time of this writing fewer than 20 cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed in the U.S., the illness had still created a ripple effect: Across the country, many Chinese restaurants have taken a hit due to the panic associated with the illness. Even if you don’t operate a Chinese restaurant, you can likely appreciate the challenge of trying to manage a sudden health crisis that threatens your brand – or even your entire restaurant category. The widespread nature of supply chains, along with the increased risk of viruses and weather-related crop damage, mean your restaurant could face a brand crisis at any time. It’s critical to have a contingency plan for responding to such events so you don’t have to create a plan mid-crisis. In a report from the Vending Times, Steritech’s Paula Herald suggests brands should take such steps as securing food supplies and distribution agreements, developing a food security plan to protect their operation from theft in the case of shortages, reviewing and refining their sick-leave policies, developing a plan to manage widespread absenteeism including limits on public transport, cross-training staff so workers can easily step in for others who are out, and keeping (and discussing with employees) up-to-date-communication plans and staff contact lists so they’re not struggling to get in touch with their team during a health crisis. Are you confident in your current crisis response plan – and in your team’s ability to carry it out?
As hurricanes become more frequent and powerful, know the do’s and don’ts about managing food and other items in your business that may have come into contact with flood water during a severe storm. In addition to discarding more obvious items like food and grains that were contaminated, Steritech also advises you dispose of single-service items, spices and seasonings, foils and plastic wrap, wooden cutting boards and jars or bottles that have screw or caps, or flip or snap tops. The same goes for fabric, carpets and any kitchen equipment that can’t be disinfected.
Hepatitis A has reached outbreak status across the U.S., with new cases ranging from Florida to Washington state, Food Safety News reports. The Centers for Disease Control say the liver disease can spread most easily through the ingestion of food that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person, as well as through uncooked (or not thoroughly cooked) food that has been contaminated. Many of the restaurants where the disease has been present have closed temporarily for employee vaccination clinics, but the best way to prevent the spread of the disease from the start is through – surprise – thorough and frequent handwashing, as well as by ensuring employees don’t work when they are ill. Be aware of such symptoms as jaundice, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, low appetite and fever.
Last year, there were 14 severe weather and climate events that the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information says cost $1 billion or more. There have been six such events already this year. Since restaurants can be impacted by severe weather events both directly and indirectly, it pays to make sure you have sufficient insurance protection in place as part of your disaster preparedness plan — not to mention your day-to-day operating plan. Your insurance cover needs to consider your business type, geographic region and the outcome of the risk assessment you conduct to identify your restaurant’s greatest vulnerabilities. Your commercial property insurance policy, for example, likely will not cover any vehicles your restaurant operates or protect against flood damage your business sustains during a hurricane. And even if your property or vehicles make it through a severe weather event unscathed, toppled trees or flooding on your street could make it impossible for you to get food to customers. Make sure you review your insurance policies for commercial property, flood protection and business interruption to make sure you’re not leaving your business exposed. Purchasing insurance cover from companies that specialize in the restaurant industry can help. Just make sure you read the fine print carefully — especially on bundled packages that offer broader cover for a lower total price but may exclude specific risks you need to protect against.
Hurricane season is here, and if you haven’t done so already, it’s high time to review your emergency response plan to make sure you can manage potential business disruptions that may come your way. Statefoodsafety.com suggests listing potential threats, ranging from power outages to food or water contamination, so you can build a simple but useful response plan from them — your local authority can help you create it. Assign roles to key employees and ensure every employee knows who handles various tasks. Establish talking points so your team communicates the same clear, calm message to customers. Post a list of emergency contacts (and also provide it to employees) so your team knows who can help in an emergency. Finally, protect your food and water supply. Establish a plan to keep food cool by keeping the refrigerator door closed when you can, storing ice in the refrigerator or freezer to keep temperatures down, or securing access to a refrigerated truck. Consider keeping an emergency supply of water and developing a separate menu that requires less water for preparation so you can still operate when your supply is threatened.
As another powerful hurricane season passes by, the dangers to your business don’t necessarily go away once the storms pass. In the wake of a natural disaster, remember to protect the safety of your water supply. A severe disaster can cause toxins, chemicals and other debris to contaminate the public water system, especially if a tidal surge or flood accompanies the storm. Until your area health department confirms that tap water can be used for drinking, use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. In the absence of bottled water, boiling your tap water will kill most disease-causing organisms that might be present. (Once the water has boiled, let it cool and store it in clean, covered containers.) If you have a well that has been flooded during a storm, the FDA advises you disinfect and test it once the flood water has receded. In the case you suspect your well may be contaminated, contact your state or local health department for specific guidance -- and in the meantime, do not use your tap water to wash dishes, wash and prepare food or to make ice. Finally, while it’s important to get your water tested following a major storm to help make sure you are using water that is safe for drinking, cooking and washing dishes, a test conducted today does not determine the safety of your water tomorrow. A point-of-entry water purification system can provide even greater assurance — immediately before you use your water supply each time — that the water you are using is safe.