food manufacturing emergencies

Food and Beverage Manufacturers: Plan for These Emergency Scenarios

Emergency plans are crucial for keeping employees and visitors safe. They’re also instrumental in protecting physical assets and business continuity.

Though emergency plans are important for all companies, they may be particularly important for food and beverage manufacturers. Food and beverage plants face a unique set of threats, sensitivities, and needs in their quest to keep inventory safe and secure in a crisis that other industrial companies don’t have to worry about.

As we wrote in our post How the Best Industrial Companies Plan for Emergencies, emergency plans should generally begin with a vulnerability assessment and an impact analysis that will help determine which hazards pose the biggest threat to your plant.

However, most food manufacturing facilities should make specific plans for the following scenarios.

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Power Outage

If, like many food manufacturers, you have inventory that requires refrigerated storage, a power failure could mean spoiled products. Power outages can also make it difficult to see and communicate, especially when they are the result of another problem (such as a fire or hurricane). Your power outage plan should include the following components:

A plan to keep refrigerated food cold

This could include a backup generator on-site or off-site, location for safe storage, and plans to check that backup plans are working and ready to go. Other tips from the FDA on helping food stay cold longer include grouping food together in the freezer, and freezing water ahead of time so there’s ice available to keep food cold if the power goes out.

A plan to monitor food temperature

Appliance thermometers in your refrigerator or freezer are required for your staff to assess the changing internal temperature. Some of these thermometers may even have alarms or alerts that indicate when a temperature has reached a dangerous level. Different foods will have different safety needs, and your staff should be well aware of them before a power outage occurs.

Access and maintenance of emergency supplies

In addition to backup equipment required to keep food cold, your emergency response plan may include access to flashlights so that your staff will be able to see well in the dark, if necessary.

A staff training plan

Your staff need to know their responsibilities during a power outage. For example, they may need to be trained that they’re not to open freezer or refrigerator doors in a power outage unless absolutely necessary. They should also know when and how to move food to its backup location.

A communications plan

If your phone system relies on electricity, you may want to install a landline or ensure there’s a way for mobile phones to be charged. Key staff should know who to notify in the case of an extended power outage. They should also have a plan to get access to all emergency procedures and sensitive data even if the power is out and the internet or local server are not working.

For more information, including specific food temperatures to keep sensitive foods (such as meat, dairy, eggs and cut melons) safe, The Washington State Department of Health has a great guide for handling food during and after power outages.


As food manufacturing safety expert Christopher Bunch notes in, fire can be particularly threatening at food plants because there are often highly flammable elements such as ammonia. There could even be explosion hazards if a fire were to reach these sensitive chemicals. Your food plant’s fire plan should include:

A plan to access to emergency equipment

OSHA and your local government likely regulate the availability and use of sprinklers and fire extinguishers, along with their regular inspection and maintenance. (Note that employees should not be expected to use fire extinguishers unless they’ve been trained to do so.)

A plan for how (and when) to shut down systems

Your staff should know exactly how to shut your systems down, and who is responsible for doing so. There should be a clear line of succession of that responsibility, as well, in case the key people aren’t at the plant during the emergency.

A plan for how to secure flammable and dangerous materials

Ammonia and refrigeration systems may need to be secured in order to prevent the release of dangerous chemicals. One standard operating procedure during emergencies, according to Stellar, may include pumping systems down and ensuring they are secured.

Clear evacuation plans

Evacuation plans should be free of potential threats and obstacles, and wide enough for a group of people to pass through. Drills will help your staff understand the quickest and safest ways to get out of the facility during an emergency, and how to account for the safety of all employees and visitors once they’re in a designated safe area. (Apps like The Receptionist can provide real-time lists of building occupants that emergency coordinators can access from safe rally points.)

Water Contamination

Food manufacturing facilities typically require plenty of water to get their products made. That makes water contamination a particularly serious threat. Whether the contamination is caused by a spill, a sewage backup, a pipe leak, a flood, a damaged purification system, or something else, food and beverage manufacturers should have a plan to respond appropriately. That plan should include the following components:

A plan for how to identify and report contamination

Employees should be trained on how to recognize contamination by looking for signs like cloudiness, discoloration, or odor. They also need to understand how to report any potential problems, and that immediate action is necessary.

Identification of possible water alternatives

Water alternatives may range from chemical alternatives, such as hand sanitizer for hand washing or dry ice to keep food cold, or store-bought bottled water for your employees to drink. Regulations will vary depending on how your facility is using the water, so check that your plans are compliant.

Water contamination response training

Employees need to understand protocol for resuming operations once they have been cleared to do so. After the source of the contamination has been eliminated, employees will have to discard any affected food or drinks and decontaminate anything that has been in contact with the contaminated water. Required tasks likely include flushing all the pipes and water fountains by running the water for several minutes, flushing and sanitizing any equipment that has a water line connection (beverage machines, ice machines, dishwashers, etc.), and changing all water filters. Local regulators can give specific instructions on resuming safely after contamination.

Finalizing Your Emergency Plans

Of course, these emergency scenarios are not the only ones that require plans at food manufacturing plants.

For example, you should also plan for how to respond to chemical spills, contagious illnesses, and threats of violence. Other threats will depend on your geographic location, your infrastructure, and the nature of what you’re producing.

Regardless of the emergency scenario, each plan should also include these elements:

  • An explanation of the alarm systems used for each emergency and how they work
  • A notes for which authorities to notify for each emergency and how to reach them
  • Employee roles for the emergency response (such as damage assessment, evacuation supervision, equipment and utility shut off, and coordination of emergency authorities)
  • A plan for training and drills to ensure that all employees understand emergency procedures
  • A plan to revisit and update emergency plans regularly
Emergency plans only work if they’re up-to-date, relevant, and thorough. Reassess your plans regularly. #receptionistapp Click To Tweet

Consult with your attorney, your insurer, and local regulators to decide which plans to make and ensure that yours are compliant.

What to read next: Who Has Access to Your Food Facility? How a Visitor Management System Can Help You Comply with FSMA

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