Following a natural disaster most foodservice operators want to return to work as quickly as possible. By following a few simple steps and exercising some patience, though, operators can get their businesses up and running safely and efficiently in relatively short order.

From Harvey to Irma to Maria, the last several weeks have seen multiple natural disasters hit the United States. When the disaster passes, people work to get back to normal as soon as possible.

But for foodservice operators, a rush to recover immediately isn’t necessarily the right move. Instead, foodservice operators should take certain steps to ensure their recovery goes as smoothly, safely and affordably as possible.

Edward Phillips, regional service operations manager for Lexington, S.C.-based Whaley Foodservice, has helped scores of operators get up and running after a disaster, including several hurricanes. He also spent a decade as a firefighter and EMT and was trained in disaster recovery.

According to Phillips, the absolute first thing operators should do in the wake of a disaster is contact their insurance company. A surprising number of operators don’t bother to learn what their policy covers and how the insurance company wants to handle their claim before repairs can begin.

“By not contacting them first, the operator could be out of pocket for repairs or replacement of equipment,” says Phillips. “The insurance company could deny a claim because there was not an adjuster involved.”

Insurance companies usually instruct operators to find a reputable authorized service agency to evaluate the equipment and submit an estimate to the insurer for repair or replacement, Philips says.

To find a reputable service agency, Phillips recommends operators turn to the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA) for a list of local member companies. Operators can also contact their manufacturers for names of firms authorized to perform warranty work in their region.

Phillips also notes it’s common for out-of-area companies to show up and offer their services in the wake of a disaster. Operators should do extra due diligence before hiring these firms. “If it’s not somebody you have a relationship with before you hire them, check with the Better Business Bureau or look them up and see who they are ... Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous people that look to take advantage of these situations,” says Phillips.

Inspection Process

Once operators have a reputable service agency on-site, the field technician should closely inspect each piece of equipment to determine if it’s possible to get the unit back to safe working order, or decide if the piece is a total loss.

In making these calls, service agents consider factors such as how much water got into an individual piece of equipment, the state of the unit’s different components, and whether a unit has manual or computerized controls.

Notably, while computerized equipment is more sensitive to water, units that get water on their electrical circuits aren’t necessarily totaled. Give those circuits time to properly dry before powering up the unit and they might be brought back to working order. To prevent the mixing of electricity and water, Phillips recommends shutting off power to an operation if the operation expects flooding or before it is restored to a building that’s already lost power.

On the other hand, units that have been completely submerged in water are almost always beyond saving. The same goes for pieces that have water in their insulation: It’s just not practical to open up the panels, replace the insulation then weld the panels back in place. In the case of fires, the only pieces that are beyond repair at first glance are those that have actually caught on fire. A technician should evaluate all others.

For pieces that can be repaired, Phillips recommends operators also have the units thoroughly cleaned and disinfected by the service agent before putting these items to use. While some operators may try to handle this cleaning on their own, outsourcing the job makes more sense. Relying on people who know equipment literally inside and out helps ensure proper sanitization of each piece and that each item is safe for normal use. In addition, this puts the legal responsibility for proper cleaning on the service agency and insurance company should something go wrong, says Phillips.

While operators may naturally rush to recover from a disaster, these steps shouldn’t slow them down much, Phillips notes. So long as a service agency is available, repairs are often authorized within two days. By being methodical about repairs, though, operators can protect themselves financially and ensure that the job is done right.