A power outage strikes terror in any restaurant owner. With their refrigerators full of expensive meats, veggies and seafood, restaurateurs stand to lose big bucks when these appliances are shut down due to electrical infrastructure issues, storms and other service interruptions.
How can your business protect those high dollar ingredients during an outage? Take the following steps to rescue your perishable inventory:
1) Have an action plan and train employees how to implement it.
While it may add a bit to labor costs initially, designing an emergency electrical outage plan and holding training sessions for your employees will save you money in the long run. Having your staff in a panic, frantically trying to determine what to do first, costs precious time and energy during an emergency. A special notebook with emergency procedures listed should be accessible at all times.
The first step is to check your facility's circuit breakers for a tripped switch. If that's not the problem, a call to your utility company is the next step to determine if there is a true outage. Have that number posted prominently so there is no delay in making the call. Also post the locations of sources of bagged or bulk ice close to your business.
Power companies can often tell you when they expect the power to return, allowing you to prioritize the placement of extremely sensitive perishables. If the power is only expected to be out for a short time, your frozen and refrigerated products should be fine.
2) Consolidate foods to keep them cold longer.
In the event of more extended outages, you can keep ingredients colder for a longer time by consolidating perishables. If possible, move all frozen goods to one freezer as soon as you can. This way frozen foods keep each other icy, and less airspace in the freezer means the low temperature can be maintained for a longer period of time.
Do the same with refrigerated foods, placing as many as you can into your units until they're full, and open the fridge doors only when absolutely necessary. For example, to periodically check your thermometers to see if safe temperatures are being maintained.
Remember to keep high risk foods, such as proteins, at the bottom of freezers and refrigerators. Low risk foods should be stored high up on shelves. If frozen meat starts to thaw, it could drip blood on breads or cheeses, contaminating these ingredients.
If you have a walk-in freezer, consider putting some of your refrigerated items on the walk in shelves. This will only protect products not harmed by being frozen, and won't work for you fresh lettuces or other produce.
3) Consider a backup power source.
Many restaurants in storm-prone areas have installed or purchased generators to power their refrigerators and freezers. Some will kick on automatically when power is interrupted, while other stand-alone generators will have to be fueled, started and then connected to appliances.
Contact a licensed electrician or commercial refrigeration specialist to help you determine your wattage requirements to keep perishables safe. Talk with your utility company about safety procedures while using a generator, and find out local ordinances regarding the use of backup power.
There are many resources available to help you plan for an outage. This site offers resources for any business to adapt to their own emergency needs. Also remember that installing the most energy efficient coolers and freezers makes sense economically and in the event of a power outage.