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Flood Safety: What to do when your Restaurant is Affected

Image from MorgueFileMajor flooding has taken place everywhere from Australia to Louisiana (and just about every place in between) in recent years.  During and directly after these experiences people from around the country and even around the world pitch in with dollars for flood relief and places to stay.   While this is a huge comfort and a wonderful gesture to help our neighbors and friends get back on their feet, what happens when it’s time to go back?  Many residents are aided by groups like Habitat for Humanity or other volunteers in order to get their homes back into livable shape, but what about your favorite restaurant?   Once the community is built back up, people will be looking for places to eat to take their mind off their troubles for a while.  Here we come to the restaurant owner, who has to begin building back up his or her livelihood that may have been severely damaged, in order to start not only serving customers, but building their own lives again.

While there are many sources for handling flood damaged homes, not as many exist for restaurants.  To remedy this, here are 4 major tips to get your restaurant back up and running and one very important bit of advice to look into before anything happens.

1)    Before the flood, Northern Counties Insurance, instructs that “all electrical equipment and stock is stored at least four feet above ground” when and where it’s possible.  This could help later (depending on the depth of the water) in preventing damage to some major items.  However, if lifting all major electrical appliances isn’t possible, at a minimum Sylvane.com recommends elevating your Electrical and HVAC systems, “at least 12 in. above the expected flood elevation to help protect against water damage.”

2)    The most important thing to do before any other work can be completed is to turn off your main power and gas.  The State of Rhode Island Department of Health advises, “If accessing the main power switch means entering standing water, call an electrician to have it turned off. Never turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water. “

3)    After the flooding has ceased and electricity and gas have been shut off clean up can begin with the extraction of the water.  While this can be done using a heavy-duty water pump, it may be easier, more convenient and safer to hire a water extraction service.   During this time it’s also important to wear protective gear and ventilate the flooded areas to decrease exposure to bacteria and other harmful elements.  Walls may also need to be inspected professionally to estimate the damage done and to see what may need to be replaced since they can often later develop mold due to the standing water.  It’s also very important to disinfect all counters and surfaces prior to use.

4)    In a restaurant setting, once all damage has been taken care of the next most important item of business is how to handle the food that remains in the kitchen.

  1. Frozen items

Depending on the length of the flood and how long the power was
out is a good indication of what can or cannot be kept in terms of
frozen items.   To ensure accuracy, the USDA suggests keeping an
appliance thermometer in the freezer/refrigerator to be able to
quickly assess the situation.  The USDA continues saying “If the
appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40 °F or below,
the food is safe and may be refrozen.”   However, if the food has been
above this temperature for more than 2 hours for meat, eggs, etc. or
4 hours for other refrigerated items, they should be thrown out.

The USDA site also includes a helpful chart for such items if you aren’t
sure if an item should be discarded.

  1. Non-refrigerated items

If the item is not waterproof, is in cardboard, or if a can shows any
damage such as swelling, rust or leaks it should be thrown away due to
potential contamination.

The final, most important tip is to remember to purchase flood insurance prior to any incidents.  While you may not realize your establishment is in a flood plain (or even if it isn’t), it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  Flood insurance can help with the costs associated with the tips above and while it cannot prevent the damage, it may be able to help you replace items that will keep you in business for years to come.