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Missoula County Environmental Health: Licensed Establishments

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Emergency Preparedness

October 26, 2010

To Close or Not to Close, That Is The Question...

In many of my blog entries, I expound upon the many dos and don'ts in a food establishment, but what happens if misfortune should befall your blessed food temple at no fault of your own?  I'm talking about things like your water heater failing, water or power disruption, or sewage backup.  Well-- for starters, assess the extent of the problem and call your friendly neighborhood health inspector.  This is for two reasons.  For one, you are required by the Montana Administrative Rule 37.110.206(7) to call the local health authority and report the emergency; and two, and in my opinion the more important reason of the two, to get advice on how to keep your business and customers safe.

In many of the above events, you may be required to close, but there are circumstances where you may be able to stay open by modifying your operation.  For instance, if you have a limited water supply, or are unable to provide enough hot water for hand washing and dish washing, you may be able to work with your inspector to provide it by some other means.  If a feasible solution cannot be found however, you will have to cease service until the problem is remedied.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to any operator, as the importance of a potable water supply, both hot and cold is quite obvious when one thinks about the role water plays in your daily prep activities. 

In the case of a power disruption, you will most likely need to close.  For one, you will have no power to your cooking and holding equipment, making food preparation difficult, but think about the other effects.  Opening and closing the refrigerators and freezers deplete the cold air inside putting the foods inside at risk for temperature abuse, and again, your hot water supply will be affected. 

In the case of sewage backup, closure is a certainty.  Sewage carries many contaminants into the food facility that have the potential to cause disease.  In any case, the health department can best advise you on what to do—how to decontaminate the facility and what things to discard.

For more information on emergencies in food establishments, see our Emergency Preparedness resources.

Emergency Preparedness

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