Fires in Food Establishments
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there is an average of 8,240 fires at restaurants a year, with an average of two civilian deaths, 115 injuries, and $245 million+ in property damage. Based on these statistics, as well as the nature of activities that occur in food service establishments, it is more a matter of when, not if, a fire will occur in a particular restaurant. The Peoria City/County Health Department encourages all food operators to develop a fire emergency plan for fire events. An effective fire emergency plan addresses issues and decisions the person in charge may have to make to minimize the potential risk of injury to employees and damage to property.
Food Safety After a Fire in A Food Establishment
Please note: An assessment shall occur only after the proper regulatory authority (fire department, building inspector, etc.) has deemed the building safe to enter.
Assessments after a fire include evaluation of the nature and scope of the fire to determine what areas, systems, equipment, food, and packaging may have been impacted. In addition to fire and smoke damage, considerations must also be made regarding the impact of water, foam, and other processes used to fight the fire, such as the use of fire suppression devices. For the majority of fires that occur in Peoria County licensed food establishments, an Environmental Health Specialist or Practitioner from the Peoria City/County Health Department will need to make an onsite visit to provide guidance regarding proper cleanup of surfaces and disposition of foods and/or beverages that may have been compromised and are no longer safe for consumption. The food safety license may be suspended temporarily until it is deemed safe for food operations to resume.
What to Expect when we Arrive to Assess Fire Damage
Interview - The Environmental Health Specialist/Practitioner will ask to speak to the Person in Charge to ask questions about the fire so that a proper assessment of the establishment can occur. These questions may include, but are not limited to:
Þ What date and approximate time did the fire occur?
Þ What was determined to be the cause of the fire?
Þ How far did the fire and/or smoke spread throughout the establishment, i.e., extent of damage?
Þ What type of fire suppression was activated or used to fight the fire?
Þ Did the establishment ever lose power, and if so, for how long?
Þ Was any food or other items destroyed/discarded prior to our visit?
Assessment - The Environmental Health Specialist/Practitioner will evaluate overall food and non-food contact surfaces, equipment, foods, beverages, single-use items, and any other materials that may have came in contact with fire, smoke, or suppression materials to determine salvageability. Depending upon the extent of damage, the Environmental Health Specialist/Practitioner may deem license suspension necessary until a list of recovery activities can be completed by the establishment. This list may include:
Þ Discarding items deemed compromised or potentially compromised.
Þ Cleaning and sanitizing affected equipment and surfaces.
Þ Cleaning and sanitizing items deemed salvageable.
Reinspection & Reinstatement - The Environmental Health Specialist/Practitioner will return to the establishment on a date and time mutually agreed upon by both parties to reinspect the establishment (ensuring that all recovery activities have been completed) and to reinstate the license.
Who Makes the Final Decision on Salvageability?
The regulatory authority (often the Local Health Department) is responsible for determining the salvageability of items that fall under the establishment’s food safety license when an imminent health hazard occurs (fire, flood, extended interruption of electrical or water service, or other circumstance that may endanger public health). The regulatory authority will make decisions based on the nature and scope of the fire. It is highly recommended that each establishment creates an individualized and comprehensive emergency plan to prevent, prepare for, rapidly respond to, and assist in recovery from all hazards.
Very few foods can be salvaged after a fire. However, some items may be salvageable if not exposed to excessive heat or smoke if the packaging is impenetrable and can be cleaned without contaminating the product. Some food may also be salvaged if enclosed in a walk-in freezer or cooler, with no extended electrical interruption (based on the severity of heat, smoke and water).
Þ Hermetically sealed containers (cans, pouches) with no heat damage. If heat and water damage was minimal, canned goods can be salvaged; clean the exterior surfaces.
Þ Multi-use equipment, dishware, and utensils that can be cleaned, rinsed, and sanitized.
Þ Packaged foods in closed coolers or freezers without extended electrical interruption or heat damage, based on severity and extent of fire. Some foods may be subject to smoke damage carried inside by circulation fans or through damaged seals/gaskets.
Items exposed to smoke or soot must be destroyed since chemicals in smoke and other by-products of combustion can be absorbed by foods even through outer packaging materials.
Þ Hermetically sealed containers (cans, pouches) with heat damage, leaks, dents, rust, or bulging lids. Excessive heat damage and/or physical damage to containers could allow the growth of pathogenic bacteria that can produce deadly toxins.
Þ Single-use items that are not intended to be cleaned, rinsed, and sanitized. Examples: disposable cups, cutlery, napkins, straws, to-go containers, or other penetrable packaging.
Þ All fresh produce, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
Þ All opened containers and packages of food, regardless of packaging.
Þ All unopened containers and packages of food with screw-type, crimped, or press-on closures. Example: spices, seasonings, oils, mayonnaise, pickles.
Þ All unopened foods in paper, plastic, cellophane, cardboard, or cloth containers that do not have an additional layer of packaging materials on the inside (such as a sealed interior plastic or laminated liner). Example: flour, sugar, baking soda, candies, beans, rice, and other pantry staples with only a single layer of penetrable material.
When in Doubt, Throw it Out!
And please remember, if the food isn’t safe for you, it won’t be safe for your pet either.