How to Prepare for Emergency Case in Food Industry

Published: Oct 25, 2019

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Business continuity planning is an important aspect of any organization over the long-term.

When disasters and unforeseen events take place, emergency readiness can make the difference between a business’s recovery or failure.

Every industry and locality has a different set of potential disasters that can befall them.

In the food industry, there are five common risks that affect most food-related businesses, whether they are start-ups or established enterprises.

In this article, we’ll cover these risks and the basics of how continuity planning can mitigate them.

#1 Disease-Related Disasters

One of the most damaging disasters that can happen to a food business is a food-borne illness outbreak.

While the illness may not infect the business’s employees or affect operations directly, contaminated products delivered to customers can be devastating to its brand and future sales.

A recent Ohio State University study places the annual cost of food-borne illnesses in the US at $51 billion.

Continuity planning for a food-borne illness outbreak is important to minimize the impact on future business.

An obvious step is to institute a plan to halt food production as soon as a pathogen has been detected to minimize the risk to customers.

Another is to create an efficient process for recalling contaminated products if your business delivers food to retail outlets or restaurants.

These measures won’t just save your business from lost revenues and legal expenses; they’ll also save your customers from suffering from serious illnesses.

#2 Epidemic Disasters

There’s another way that diseases can harm a food-related business.

Epidemics can cause a sudden loss of employees who are forced to stay homesick.

Highly contagious diseases like influenza can put a large portion of a business’s workforce out of action for a week or more.

Limiting the spread and impact of contagious diseases among your employees is another function of business continuity planning.

Less common but dangerous diseases like SARS or Zika virus require special planning to ensure that a business can weather a major epidemic event.

Contagious diseases are best controlled by prompt medical treatment and quarantine of infected patients.

For a business, this means establishing policies to control whether employees can return to work.

Someone who returns while still contagious can begin a new wave of infections.

Creating an emergency action team to closely monitor the condition of employees at work and home will help limit the spread of disease.

Cross-training employees to fill multiple roles in the event of a major outbreak will also minimize the impact that absent employees will have on a business.

#3 Natural Disasters

Another common risk that every business with facilities faces is a natural disaster.

Natural disasters take many forms ranging from earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes to local flooding and fires.

Some disasters like fires in the workplace are preventable, but most aren’t avoidable when they happen.

Natural disasters can cause damage to local power, water, and shipping infrastructure that will prevent a food business from operating.

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They can also disrupt your customers if you sell primarily to local patrons.

A food business can find itself quickly sold out of product when a natural disaster like a hurricane approaches and then be shut down by the damage caused.

Planning for natural disaster recovery involves creating detailed procedures for each type of disaster that can happen in a locality.

There are ways to mitigate some of the effects of natural disasters with careful planning.

Backup power supplies can keep a business operating until the power grid is repaired.

Employee and customer safety can be enhanced with proactive safety measures and monitoring of weather and civil defense news sources.

When facilities are shutdown during repairs after a disaster, operations can resume sooner by moving them to an alternate location.

#4 Technology Disasters

Technology or IT disasters require planning for events that disrupt or destroy critical data or systems.

It’s important to identify these critical technologies ahead of time and create plans to minimize the losses if they fail to operate.

These types of disasters can be costly and difficult to resolve without prior planning because of the expertise they require.

When IT disaster recovery plans are already in place, recovery will be less chaotic.

There are several different ways contingency planning for this type of disaster can keep a business operating.

Establishing manual processes as backups for automated systems allows a business to continue operating while a system is down.

Backup and restore policies for critical data is also a key component for IT disaster continuity plans.

Technology systems can become complex even for small businesses that offer many products and services, so it’s crucial to conduct analysis and planning before they fail rather than afterward.

#5 Terrorist Attacks

An unfortunate new risk that food businesses need to consider is the possibility of a terrorist or other malicious attack on their food supplies or products.

These attacks can take the form of adding poisons to food ingredients at a business’s production facility or at supplier facilities.

Attacks could take place during shipment to or from a food business as well.

The continuity planning for terrorist attacks mimics those of food-borne illness planning because of the need to ensure the contaminated product doesn’t reach consumers.

Recall policies need to be created to minimize any damage to the food supply.

Since most terrorist attacks would be conducted by non-employees or recent hires, facility security is an important aspect of continuity planning.

The FDA maintains a food defense program to help businesses prevent and prepare for these types of disasters.

The Bottom Line

Business continuity planning can seem less important to startups that are more concerned with getting their businesses established.

It’s important, however, to take time out to draw up continuity plans to prevent an unlikely event from destroying the hard work of business owners and employees.

There are a lot of business continuity providers out there who can shoulder the heavy lifting of research and policymaking for small businesses.

Once contingency plans and training are in place, management can deal with day-to-day operations with more confidence.