A healthcare foodservice team plans it emergency menu

Emergency Preparedness Starts with Planning

Now is the time to make sure your team isn’t caught by surprise.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” While no one could have completely prepared for the pandemic, now is a good time to look at your community’s emergency planning and ask some questions:

  • How did it impact foodservice in our community?
  • What grade does our foodservice operation deserve?
  • What could we do better?

While COVID-19 was a once-in-a-lifetime emergency, other emergencies are possible. You play a key role in working with your management team when it comes to supplying food to patients, residents and staff when sheltering in place or during an evacuation. Your planning should include having an emergency menu in place, along with the supplies and plans to make it work.

No two emergencies are alike

You need a plan because emergencies often bring confusion. Avoid chaos by communicating your well-thought-out plan so people spring into action with a purpose. An emergency can be as minor as a delayed delivery or a staff shortage, or as major as a tornado or blizzard.

You need a plan for every situation, one you can adjust depending on the severity of the emergency. Small emergencies may require a minor menu tweak, such as swapping meals or substituting a recipe. In such instances there are no worries about maintaining the nutritional integrity of the menu over the course of the week.

Major emergencies require extensive planning. Every community has an emergency plan (EP), and the foodservice director must assure the menu plan is ready. The emergency menu needs to be a minimum of a three-day plan for meals that meet the nutrition and hydration needs for all residents (and staff members) in your care, including those with allergies and consistency modified diets.

When a larger disaster strikes, you should strive for positive nutrition outcomes. Menus should mirror those served during regular operation. The need for medical and texture modifications doesn’t disappear during such emergencies.

Your planning should consider how the menu can be streamlined to minimize the number of items needing preparation, yet still meet the critical medical and texture modification needs of patients/residents. Your plan should consider:

  • What if the power is out?
  • What if equipment is damaged or destroyed?
  • What if my trained staff isn’t available to use the equipment?
  • How will we prepare food if we’re evacuated to another location?

A foodservice director must address these questions and many others to create an adequate emergency menu and plan for supplies to make it work. 

Have a plan that meets emergency needs

The general rule is to have all menu foods and one gallon of water per person per day to meet minimum needs. The emergency food supply should be shelf stable, but don’t rush into emergency stock. Use perishable foods first. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours. When power is restored, examine the condition of food in the cooler and freezer.

Consider freeze dried foods, which require minimal storage, for your emergency menu. Emergency food supply products from companies such as Meals for All have a 10-year shelf life and are easily transported. Along with food, provide an easily transportable supply of water too. Large water containers are heavy and hard to move. Companies such as Blue Can can provide 50-year shelf-stable emergency water.

Recognize that widespread emergencies affect everyone, and your distributor may not be able to meet last-minute requests when demand exceeds supply. Blocked roads also can prevent delivery.

This is why it’s important to have a minimum three-day emergency supply of food and water in stock. Unless you use dehydrated or freeze-dried products, your emergency supplies must be rotated so nothing remains on the shelf longer than a year.

Emergency extras can’t be overlooked

Food and water are mandatory, but other items become important in a crisis. Consider:

  • Is there an alternate source of power to heat food and make coffee and tea?
  • How will you open cans without power? 
  • Do you have containers to serve the food and beverages? 
  • Can you maintain food safety?
  • Do you have hand sanitizer, paper towels and napkins?

Some helpful items for your emergency plan include: a hand grinder for consistency modified food, a manual can opener, disposable plates, cups and plasticware (dirty dishes can’t be cleaned without power or a water supply).


Who will execute your emergency plan?  

You’ve thought through the possibilities and planned your supplies. Now you need to prepare your team so they’re in charge when an emergency happens.

Everyone needs to be trained. Emergencies can happen any time of day and without warning. You could be left with staff shortages, power outages, injured people, the need to feed your own staff as well as residents/patients. Your team should be prepared by knowing:

  • How will food and water be relocated?
  • Is there a generator for backup power and, if so, can you use it to keep food cold and run kitchen appliances?
  • Where is the list of all nutrition at-risk patients/residents and their care plan?
  • Do you have supplies of prepared pureed foods, supplements and tube feeding formulas and supplies?

As you plan to rotate food products, create a food security plan to avoid missing needed foods. When completed, print out the disaster plan and the confidential, up-to-date nutrition at-risk list—you can’t assume your computer or wi-fi will operate.

The pandemic showed us heroes don’t wear capes or have superpowers. The simple act of planning and assuring care and comfort is heroic. By making a plan, you are providing the best outcome possible for the people in your care, and you will be their hero.   

How do I get started?  

  • Schedule a meeting with your management team 
  • Choose a three-day or seven-day emergency menu and a convenience menu (contact NRC@gfs.com)
  • Stock either rotating food product or 10-year shelf-stable emergency food supply (such as Meals for All)