How to Handle Catastrophes in Food Retail

Power outage sign

Mother nature is as unpredictable as she can be relentless. We saw it just last May, when a rare outbreak of tornadoes ripped through the Midwest for almost two weeks straight. Lives were lost, along with millions of dollars in profits and reconstruction efforts.

And it’s not just floods that can put you out of business. If you operate in the South or Southeast region you’re doing so at the mercy of hurricanes that can surpass wind speeds of 150mph. But this doesn’t mean you’re better off dry. Hot temperatures and droughts in California spark thousands of wildfires every summer. Just last year almost 2 million acres were lost, causing $3.5 billion in damages and nearly $1.8 billion in fire suppression costs.

Meanwhile, storms hit the entire country, causing power outages and worse all throughout the year. And it’d be irresponsible if we didn’t remind you about man-made catastrophes like arson.

We don’t mean you should set up shop in an underground bunker but this is serious stuff, which is why we work closely with food & beverage business owners and operators, so we can truly understand their needs when their livelihood and that of their employees is on the line.

Let’s go over some precautions that should make the best out of worst-case scenarios.


Even when there isn’t a threat of natural disaster, you’ll want to put your location under the microscope. Schedule a walkthrough with your plumber and electrician. Take time to check that your lighting has a shatter-resistant covering, that your flammable liquids are properly stored inside a metal safety cabinet, and ensure that your hood exhaust system is clean.

While you’re at it, take a look outside to assess if nearby trees and branches can be a hazard to your location and parking spaces during storms. Your township should be able to trim those. In addition, take measurements of your windows in case you need to nail down storm shutters.

To be extra safe, contact your local fire department or food and beverage industry experts like, say, us (!). We take a special interest in helping business owners operate in the most secure environment possible, so their customers can be safe while enjoying the experience that they so proudly deliver.

In case of a flood warning be quick to store valuable food items at a reasonable height.

Some next door businesses even co-op to get backup generators that allow them to keep their fridges running and preserve food products, or you could even try to run a limited menu (which we’ll address in a minute). Keep in mind, if you decide to move forward with an investment into a generator, make sure there is proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you rather take a pass on the generator you can consider working on a loss prevention strategy. It should include access to a refrigerated truck to deliver your inventory to a refrigerated warehouse (most have a back-up generator).

The bottom line is you care about your location more than anyone else, however it’s essential that you also involve your staff, so they take ownership of maintaining your standards as well.


Your mayday protocol. As an owner, you should choreograph an exit plan that your staff members can execute and communicate effectively to nervous customers. If disaster were to hit while you’re at maximum capacity, you must be positive that no large decoration item like a statue or a folding screen disrupts the path towards the exits. Those should be clearly marked, by the way.

Make sure that you and every employee learn to safely turn off the water, energy and gas supply before heading out.

Last but not least, securing your business against looting should also be part of the drill. Consider setting up extra locks you wouldn’t normally use, so your business won’t end up in the news.

The Aftermath

The heartbreak of devastation cannot be put into words, so during those times we find it best to let our actions speak, like making your benefits and resources accessible immediately; one of the advantages of PolicySweet® Business Owner s Policy.

After authorities clear you to enter the premises, please be cautious, watch your step. Even though the structure may be somewhat safe to enter, there may still be hazardous and sharp materials that can harm you or your employees.

You’ll want to salvage as much product as possible, and the best way to do so is by following these FDA disaster protocol guidelines. You don’t want to risk working with ingredients and foods that have the slightest risk of contamination.

In the wake of a disaster, the goal is to flip the open sign on as soon as possible, but we do want you to manage expectations. On its Emergency Action Plan for Retail Food Establishments, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services states that according to the National Archives and Records Administration, only 43% of companies struck by a catastrophe are able to resume operations, and as many as 29% of them fail within two years.

The latter usually occurs when the damage calls for a lengthy reconstruction. This means paying idle staff, plus loss of inventory and customer loyalty.

Again, this is why your Business Owners Policy coverage is so important, it’ll help you replace these costs while you ramp up again.

Fallback Menu

In the spirit of ramping up, let’s dive into the limited menu we mentioned. Get creative and find what you can do safely without perhaps a ventilation system or access to your gas supply. Start cherry-picking items to go into a smaller fridge. As we said, you want to hold on to customer loyalty.

Many people in your community will turn to you and neighboring businesses to fulfill needs that become bigger overnight. They’ll be struggling to get a hot cup of coffee at home, and things like fresh bread or a donut that can brighten their day. You signify the hope that things will get back to normal, and you can count on PolicySweet to make it so.


If the worst comes to happen, your insurance provider will be expecting your call, and make you sign a bunch of forms. In our case, simply visit us online or give us a call at 1-800-625-8257 to find out more about our process and how we can help you get back up and running. It’s short and sweet!

Get a Quote Now >