Natural disasters affect thousands of homes every year, and while we can’t stop these emergencies, we can be prepared for them. Visit Choice Home Warranty’s Natural Disasters Safety Guide to find out how you can prepare your home today.
Finally, getting the necessary time commitment from community partners and stakeholders to prepare for potential food and water safety issues during emergencies and disasters can be quite challenging, especially if staff members are limited and competing priorities exist within a particular agency, organization, company or institution. Hatch: Planning and preparing for disasters is a foreign concept to many in the restaurant business. Pandak: When developing plans, the potential influx of relief and recovery workers to an area impacted by a natural disaster should be considered. Employing social media to access local government sites may provide the means for obtaining information following a natural disaster. Kalis and Blake: Following a natural disaster, a key thing to consider is addressing food safety to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Finally, the foodservice workforce can be greatly impacted during an emergency or disaster. Foodservice workers may wish to seek educational and awareness training on disaster contingency plans for their establishment so that they can be prepared when an emergency or disaster strikes. An important role for the NJ DOH was to assist the state’s retail and wholesale food businesses to prepare for, respond to and recover from a disaster. Hatch: Reopening a foodservice establishment after a disaster must include closely working with the local health department. Kalis and Blake: Retail facilities would benefit from having plans in place to address their individual emergency priorities prior to an emergency or disaster. Pests can become an issue of concern as well following a disaster, and operators must ensure the establishment is pest-free. The first step in any successful response by industry is building relationships with regulatory and emergency management agencies before the onset of a disaster.
Kalis and Blake: One shining example of a mechanism that has worked very well for emergency response surge capacity is the use of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) to increase the capacity of responders to address issues related to food safety. Through EMAC, additional assistance can be quickly forthcoming, such as equipment, supplies and personnel, to assist a community with reopening retail food establishments and ensuring food safety to protect public health.
Kalis and Blake: The capacity to respond may be further impacted with the onset of an emergency or disaster. Debra Pandak is a senior program manager in CSS-Dynamac’s Emergency Response and Disaster Recovery practice.
Joe Corby is the executive director for the Association of Food and Drug Officials following a 37-year career with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Division of Food Safety and Inspection. Now, more than ever, all food chain stakeholders are required to demonstrate their commitment to food safety and food quality.
These days, the world is being hit with more and more natural disasters every year: from tsunamis to earthquakes.
No matter where you live, your home is at risk of being hit by natural disasters that have the potential to devastate your property.
You can protect your home with appropriate planning, supplies, and home improvements so that you’ll be ready in when disaster strikes. If no planning has occurred for food protection after a disaster, food facilities can initiate these discussions with the health department.
Also, mutual-aid agreements can be put into place to help define roles and responsibilities and provide assistance during any emergency event that may affect food and water safety.

Plans should be done at the facility level with input from partners and regulators alike that factor in the needed elements for safe operation after a disaster. Having a trained field staff with knowledge on preparing for natural disasters is government’s best hope for being able to respond effectively. During emergency response, state and local authorities perform many critical functions, such as conducting food safety assessments and inspections, testing drinking water supplies and controlling disease-causing vectors.
CDC is collaborating with CDP to develop an EHTER operations-level course to allow environmental health professionals to use and practice response and recovery skills, including those related to food safety, in a disaster setting. For food safety professionals in the restaurant industry, this training provides information on investigating a foodborne illness outbreak from an environmental health perspective and on applying FDA guidelines for sanitation, food preparation and storage used in the foodservices industry. EHS-Net studies and associated plain-language summaries provide valuable information about important restaurant food safety practices. The system will provide food safety program officials with information to help prevent foodborne illness outbreaks associated with restaurants and other food venues. From the large chains down to the local restaurants, owners and operators have their hands full with day-to-day operations and attend to disasters as they happen. The consistent availability of utilities such as electricity, natural gas, potable water and sewage containment is critical for ensuring that food is properly stored, prepared and disposed of in a safe manner. During an emergency or disaster, well-intentioned people within and outside of the community often donate food items for affected populations. All disasters are local, and it takes local solutions to mitigate the effects and quickly recover from an event. The interdependencies of various sectors are critical to ensure a safe and secure food supply. Reopening criteria are basically the same, but local ordinances may differ when a disaster happens.
Food processors and suppliers may wish to make advance arrangements to provide necessary food, water and supplies so that establishments can safely reopen. One thing that can be expected at retail food facilities after a disaster is an increased presence of rodents. When we pull together as partners with a common purpose, we help control risk and mitigate the aftereffects of disaster. In addition to EMAC, other mutual-aid agreements can be created to provide assistance and support related to food and water safety. Identifying populations most at risk for foodborne illness following an emergency or disaster is critical, including the elderly, immunocompromised, children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and others. Natural disasters are known to impact our most vulnerable people the most, and responders should always consider these individuals first.
With such volatile weather conditions becoming the norm, it's important small businesses take a few moments to ensure their natural disaster preparedness is optimal. You’ll also find resources that explain what you can do to protect your home and family before, during, and after common natural disasters. Whatever disaster we are faced with, there are steps that should be taken in preparation of the unexpected. Food safety risks are mainly linked to unsafe food storage, handling, preparation and ill employees. Some of the common areas are backup power, alternate water supply, innovative (and approved) methods of liquid and solid waste disposal and volunteer training on food safety.
For example, FEMA ESF [Emergency Support Function] #11 addresses food safety during a disaster and the agencies involved.

Regulatory officials know their communities, the food establishments that exist there and industry representatives who can be called upon when a disaster strikes. This information can be very useful for the development of effective restaurant food safety interventions. We have seen that advanced preparation is not only the smart thing to do but can lead to a strong business after a disaster. Social media also presents a means to communicate with employees regarding the status of foodservice provider(s)—texting may be one of the only ways to communicate early on following a natural disaster when Wi-Fi and Internet connections may be down.
Those responsible for food access and distribution will likely wish to follow existing food safety guidance regarding the donated items (or develop their own). It is important for food establishment owners and operators to know who in their community, both public and private, can provide these alternate sources in the event of disaster. Food safety concerns may many times be addressed with Temperature Control for Safety [TCS] foods, although the freezing of canned foods that may occur during a power outage or blizzard in colder climates places stress on the can because of the swelling that may occur. Depending on the severity of the emergency or disaster, some common foodservice facility challenges include decomposed food, lack of utilities and trash service, mold, lack of available workforce, limited availability of food suppliers, damaged equipment and infrastructure and the presence of rodents, insects and animals. This is where preplanning comes into play, where the establishment owner has effectively communicated with health officials before any disaster to discuss reopening protocol and know what is expected of them by the regulatory authority. Mississippi has developed an Emergency Food Safety Inspection Form to clear a food facility for reopening without a pre-opening inspection. Also, some education on the part of food safety professionals, namely local health departments, needs to be done notifying the public about donating foods after a disaster. Federal assistance also may be available to state and local jurisdictions, especially during an event in which a Presidential Disaster Declaration has been issued. Everyone is capable of playing a major role in disaster response and being familiar with all appropriate contacts is crucial. Availability of the workforce is critical to take into consideration during the planning and preparation for food safety prior to the event. After the April 2011 tornadoes in Alabama, there were many success stories of foodservice establishments using approved hauled water, portable toilets and generator power to serve food safely and efficiently until normal operations could be re-established.
As program manager of the Food Safety Program at the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH), I had paid close attention to the aftermath of Katrina, including the news headlines of food and water shortages, and the efforts to move food into the affected regions. If an outside salvage operation is utilized to conduct salvaging, they should be licensed or approved by a regulatory agency; if the establishment will be salvaging themselves, then guidance should be provided to them to conduct this in a safe and orderly fashion.
Limited quantities of potable water may initially impact a facility’s ability to reopen and operate safely. Foodservice facilities may find it impossible to cook the food they have during natural disasters due to a lack of facilities or fuel. All too often, there are areas of food safety that are completely foreign to the novice food handler, and some are risk factors that must be taught in order to be fully understood. It was clear that a major disaster or catastrophic event, whether accidental, natural or deliberate, could substantially disrupt the food supply and distribution network within the state. Poor sanitation, including lack of safe water and toilet facilities, can compound these risks.
Private organizations do a fine job of day-to-day food safety training, but after a disaster, we do not have the time to conduct such, so JIT food safety training is always needed.

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