Restaurant owners have much to be cognizant of before, during, and after hours of operation, including weather patterns that have the potential to cause severe damage to restaurant structures.

During the early spring season, temperatures rise and snow melts away, leaving saturated ground. This year, rainfall is at an all-time high in many areas, increasing the likelihood of flooding. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a warning in late March that nearly two-thirds of the U.S. is at an increased risk for “historic” flooding until May.

Large areas can flood in a short time, interrupting power and damaging property. For restaurants, this brings a number of complexities. The resulting floodwater may damage the structure itself, records, equipment, and food inventory. In addition to the physical risks that flood waters present to human life, they can also carry dangerous pathogens, sewage, and chemicals that can contaminate surfaces and foods.

As the potential for flooding increases during this time of the year, it is paramount to keep processes and procedures in mind to be prepared should flooding occur.

There are many procedures to follow in the event your restaurant takes on large masses of water. First and foremost is the safety of people. Always follow the direction of local authorities. Be prepared to close or evacuate the restaurant.

If you have time to prepare ahead of flooding, the following actions can help you protect people and your restaurant:

  • Remove or elevate vital records, equipment and food to protect from water damage.
  • Protect any openings with sandbags at doors.
  • Post a temporarily closed sign on door. Call your region or corporate office for assistance with wording or signage, if necessary.
  • Secure all cash; turn off electrical equipment or natural gas lines; lock doors; and set alarms.
  • Be certain that all refrigerated units are equipped with accurate thermometers. If possible, monitor the temperature in the units during the disaster situation.
  • Follow all local authority procedures for evacuation of employees and guests.

In any flooding situation, all food preparation should be halted. All personnel should vacate the premises to prevent dangerous pathogens from flood waters from spreading to the skin or clothing.

If your operations partially flood or flooding causes a backup of sewage, it’s imperative to cease operations and close the facility until repairs are made and the facility has been cleaned and disinfected. Until that time, you will want to barricade the flooded area to prevent any guests or employees from being exposed to flood waters or sewage, in the instance others are already in the space.

Call a plumber or other service to repair any isolated flooding from broken pipes, etc. It may also be necessary to “snake” sewer lines to remove debris and obstructions. Be sure to discontinue all food preparation, use of toilets, sinks, or equipment during this time.


Clean up from flooding damage is an extensive task that may take involvement from staff members and outside professional remediation services. It is critical that no one enter a space that has been flooded without confirmation that there are no electrical shock hazards, gas leaks, or debris that could harm people.

Anyone tasked with cleaning up an area impacted by floodwaters or sewage backup must wear personal protective equipment—eye protection, gloves, disposable aprons, rubber boots, etc.

When tackling restaurant clean up, floors, walls, ceilings, and all food preparation areas and equipment, including food contact surfaces must be cleaned and disinfected. This includes things such as utensils, pots and pans, ice machines, countertops, refrigeration unit interior/exterior, etc. Any carpeting or fabric items touched by flood waters need to be removed and discarded.

For cleaning and disinfecting floors, walls, ceilings, and food contact surfaces, first wash surfaces with a detergent and rinse. Next, it’s important to use a commercial disinfectant with effectiveness against norovirus or make a chlorine bleach solution to disinfect affected areas. From there, prepare a 1000—5000 ppm chlorine solution by adding 1/8 cup to 1 cup concentrated household bleach (8.25%) to 1 gallon of potable water. It is essential to remember to use unscented bleach, wear gloves, and make fresh bleach solutions daily.

Any food contact surfaces that are disinfected must be rinsed with clean, potable water. You must never allow employees performing clean up on affected areas of the facility to walk into other areas of the facility without washing hands and removing footwear and protective clothing.

After the space has been disinfected, it is also important to discard any mop heads or absorbent materials used to clean flooded areas.

Once initial procedures have been followed and the space has been disinfected, it’s time to begin planning your re-opening. Though it may seem difficult now, it’s important to keep these re-opening procedures for food products and service items in mind as you prepare. The following food items MUST be discarded prior to re-opening:

  • Non-packaged food that has been exposed to flood water or water that is not potable.
  • Food in permeable packaging that has been exposed to flood waters or other non-potable water. For example, flour in bags; produce in cardboard boxes; containers with screw-on caps snap lids, crimped caps, twist caps, flip top, and snap-open closures; etc.
  • Food packaging materials that have been exposed to flood waters.
  • Refrigerated food that is in a refrigerated unit where the temperature rose above 41°F for more than four hours or any refrigerated product where the temperature of the food product was uncontrolled for more than four hours.
  • Frozen food product that has thawed to a temperature of above 41°F for more than four hours.
  • Canned items that have damage to their seams, swelling or dents.
  • When discarding food items, place them in a plastic bag and tightly tie it off when finished to avoid items becoming pest attractants. It is best to remove tied off plastic bags to an exterior garbage receptacle with a tight-fitting lid and keep that receptacle at some distance from the structure. Garbage removal services may be delayed in areas impacted by severe extreme weather.
  • Any single service/use items that had contact with flood waters.
  • Replace all filters on equipment.
  • If your location has been subject to a boil water advisory or contaminated water supply and the advisory has been lifted, flush all water lines for a minimum of 5 minutes. Clean and sanitize ice machine according to manufacturer’s directions and run through 2 cycles of ice and discard before resuming use.    
  • Discard any linens that contacted flood waters or launder separately with bleach and dry in a mechanical dryer.

While these procedures for potential flooding situations prepare teams and provide guidance for reopening and recovery operations, local health authority instructions always take precedence over these guidelines.

As Technical Consultant for the Steritech Institute, Paula Herald is an industry expert in the training and application of food safety and HACCP principles in food service and food manufacturing establishments. She brings more than 20 years of experience helping companies adhere to food safety regulations and build successful quality assurance programs. Paula also has extensive applied research experience in the areas of microbiological challenge studies, shelf-life extension of poultry and egg products, application of antimicrobial agents in food products, and development of microbial methodology. Paula earned her Ph.D. in Food Science and Nutrition with an emphasis in Food Microbiology from the University of Minnesota and Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in Food Technology and Science from the University of Tennessee. Paula also holds the Certified Professional—Food Safety credential from the National Environmental Health Association. Visit the Steritech website for even more tips and insights about procedures for disaster situations such as hurricanes, water service interruption, and power outages.
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