The aftermath of the winter storm that hit Texas and multiple other regions in the United States in February is still being experienced by different communities. The stark realities of climate change consistently remind us of the importance of proactive environmental preservation and risk management. This has all started to feel like an influx of waves of “the new normal.” Oregon, for example, has had to endure two extremes recently—wildfires and ice storms—both of which occurred less than six months apart, in the middle of a pandemic.
While it’s relatively easy to manage food safety or health and safety within a household of family members, communicating change, emergency preparedness, and action items can become more complex within an organization—especially one where team members are dispersed and working remotely.
USDA recently announced that it has rolled out risk management and disaster assistance programs to support the communities, particularly farmers and ranchers, that have been impacted by the winter storms. These include the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Tree Assistance Program, Honeybee and Farm-Raised Fish Program, and Emergency Nutrition Assistance. Programs such as these help businesses recover and bounce back.
Bearing in mind the path to recovery, here are some proactive emergency preparedness tips when faced with a winter storm.
Minimize Risks Before a Storm
- Ensure that backup generators (if any) are operational, with the required preventative maintenance conducted.
- Prepare ice bags of varying sizes to fill the gaps within refrigerators and freezers. In addition to this, reallocate chilled and frozen products by stacking the fridges and freezers as compact as possible. This “Tetris” approach will help create a self-insulation effect, provided the food storage units remain unopened during a power outage.
- A friend in need is a friend indeed: In the event you are unable to store your food products in your chillers and freezers, ask your neighbors if they have room to spare. It is advisable to not bury food and beverage products under the snow and ice outdoors, as this might result in cross-contamination. It is a good idea to keep all documentation pertaining to your products at hand, along with the necessary waivers signed and counter signed. The idea here is to minimize food wastage as much as possible.
- Transfer food products to waterproof, freezer-friendly containers.
- Where possible, freeze refrigerated items.
- Separate raw food from ready to eat food to prevent cross contamination from thawing meat.
- Conduct a dry run of the events leading up to securing food products in the freezers and chillers to ensure that the established protocols are efficient and up to date.
Minimize Risks During a Winter Storm
- Ensure that refrigerators and freezers remain closed.
- Ensure that the food storage units remain packed with blocks of ice or dry ice.
- Anticipate a communications blackout; the area of Oregon I was in at the time the storm hit had a power outage for one week and it knocked out our cellular communications for three days.
Minimize Risks After a Winter Storm
- As tempting as it may seem, do not taste the food to check if its still safe to consume; when in doubt, throw it out.
- Check each item in the freezers and chillers individually. The packaging integrity of the product on the top of the shelf may be different from the one on the bottom, especially if they thawed out.
- Prepare an inventory of salvaged items with their new shelf lives clearly indicated. It is important to remember that the shelf life prescribed by the producer or manufacturer has been compromised due to altered storage conditions.
Creating the balance between food safety and food security while working with an already stressed supply chain can be challenging. Setting realistic goals and communicating them frequently and with clarity will be the difference between helping or hurting your organization’s food safety culture.