Restaurant Crisis Management: Are You Prepared for an Imminent Health Hazard?

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Restaurant Crisis Management: Are You Prepared for an Imminent Health Hazard?

by on April 06, 2018
Restaurant Crisis Management: Are You Prepared for an Imminent Health Hazard?

Restaurant crisis management is a critical strategy to have in place in the event that a crisis threatens your restaurant, staff and customers. Many restaurant owners and managers have a lot of questions around how to handle a crisis. For example, what if your restaurant is closed by the local health department? This certainly qualifies as a crisis.

It’s important to understand that health departments have an obligation to protect public health, and there are very specific reasons for why they would decide to close a restaurant. For the sake of this discussion, let’s focus on the term “imminent health hazard.” An imminent health hazard is when the condition of the restaurant has created a hazard that makes eating the food unsafe. In other words, if the restaurant keeps serving food in an unsafe condition, it could make people sick. Below are the most common conditions that could lead to a closure and a restaurant crisis.

Restaurant Crisis Management Situations

  1. A suspected or confirmed foodborne illness outbreak
  2. Inability to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot
  3. Loss of water or hot water
  4. Loss of power
  5. Loss of the ability to wash and sanitize equipment and utensils
  6. Sewage backup
  7. A combination of critical violations can be assessed together and determined to create an imminent health hazard
  8. Complete lack of food safety training or knowledge by the restaurant staff

Having proper food safety policies and procedures in place is the easiest, most important way a restaurant can avoid a closure. Having trained staff, engaged management and an effective food safety culture will go a long way for a restaurant to protect its brand and customers. The next step is to develop a restaurant crisis management plan.

Crisis Management and Pre-Planning

When there’s a crisis such as a loss in service, such as for utilities, it’s important to correct it immediately and as quickly as possible so there’s no interruption in daily operation and, more importantly, creating an environment that can lead to foodborne illness. The best way to make sure services are restored as quickly as possible is to have a list of approved repair companies or vendors that have quick response times, a high quality of work and a clear understanding of a restaurant’s needs. It’s key to have this list of who to call before something breaks. Using vendors that have guaranteed response times is critical.

Have a Plan

Every restaurant will encounter these problems at some point during operation, so it’s very important that there’s a crisis management plan to help avoid any situation that could create an imminent health hazard until the repairs can be made. All staff members should regularly receive training on this plan. Management should conduct crisis management drills and the staff should practice the correct procedures. The first point in each plan should be making the appropriate calls to repair personnel as soon as possible. In the meantime, plans for loss of power, loss of hot- or cold-water service, sewer backup and large-scale emergencies can be put into place until service is restored.

It’s necessary for a restaurant to close during any of the following conditions until the problem has been corrected. Any of these could lead to unsafe conditions for food, which could cause your customers to become sick.

Loss of Power

  • Have refrigerator trucks available to keep food cold. This can be negotiated ahead of time with your main food distributors.
  • Use dry ice. This can be placed in cold-holding units such as reach-ins and walk-ins to keep food cold until power is restored.
  • Have flashlights and other emergency lights available with fresh batteries.
  • Have a large commercial backup generator available.

No Hot- or Cold-Water Service 

  • If there’s no hot or cold water available for hand washing or warewashing, all food operations should cease.
  • Set up temporary hand-wash sinks. There are companies that have portable hand-washing facilities available with water, soap and towels.
  • Have extra, clean utensils available to switch out dirty ones until water is restored.

Sewer Backup

  • Keep all food and equipment away from any wastewater coming out of drains.
  • Install a sewer backflow prevention device. This may be expensive, but it might be worth it to ensure a sewer backup doesn’t interrupt your operation or lead to a closure.


Is your restaurant prepared for a crisis? Knowing the situations that can lead to an emergency and having a restaurant crisis management plan in place is extremely critical to your restaurant’s success.

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Dennis Keith on LinkedinDennis Keith on Twitter
Dennis Keith
With more than 25 years in the restaurant industry, Dennis is passionate about helping restaurant professionals improve their businesses, whether it be for food safety, training, sustainability, sourcing new technologies for restaurants or connecting service providers with restaurant operators. You can learn more about Dennis by connecting with him on LinkedIn and Twitter (@fsnfoodsafety and @resprofsp).

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