Reopening a food business after a power cut or any other civil emergency (e.g. fire & flood)

Monday, 3 February, 2020 - 11:30

As you will be aware there has been an extended power outage which affected the Mansfield region from Saturday 1 February to Sunday 2 February (22 Hours duration for most areas).  

Steps will need to been taken to mitigate any risk to food safety within your operation.  The information within this email is provided as guidance for any event-related disruption to premises, equipment, and (and to some premises) to the water supply.  See Item 5 below specifically re Foods and Temperature Control

  • Those premises with a registered food safety program should refer to this document for the requirements with each applicable policy such as: Food storage, and Food recalls and waste disposal.  Please ensure that records are kept of this event, and any corrective actions which have been instigated need to be recorded.

The checklist attached has been sourced from the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries – however, please be aware that the phone numbers and the website links should be replaced with the appropriate agency in Victoria for guidance.

For guidance on power outages see:

Reopening a food business after a power cut or civil emergency (e.g. earthquake, flood)

As you get your business up and running again, it’s vital extra steps are taken to ensure food is safe for your customers. What you do next will depend on the amount of damage to your premises and equipment, the availability and amount of drinking water supply you need, condition of food in stock and the type of food you want to sell.

The following points and the Reopening a food business checklist provide a summary of the most important things to consider as a food retailer reopening for business.

1. Are premises structurally sound for preparing or handling food?

Once the building has formally been declared as safe, you will need to make sure any damage to food areas does not stop you from operating hygienically. Is there a chance that food will become contaminated, such as from leaking sewerage or damaged ceiling or wall claddings falling onto food?

Make sure the services you need for power, water supply and drainage haven’t been damaged or weakened in the premises.

2. Are toilets and personnel hygiene facilities working?

Make sure toilets for staff and customers are in working order. If a “boil water” notice is in effect, staff should wash hands using cooled boiled water or water treated with bleach or chlorine (5 drops of bleach to 1 litre of water); then use a hand sanitiser. Have hand wipes and hand sanitisers available for customer hygiene.

3. Can the premises be thoroughly cleaned before use?

Areas used for food preparation and serving will need to be thoroughly cleaned, and food preparation surfaces and utensils sanitised before use, to ensure there is no risk to food safety.

4. Is the water safe to use?

If a “boil water” notice is in effect, it is recommended that you use a supply of bottled drinking water if you need to use water as an ingredient in food while the notice is in place. Turn off ice machines until the “boil water” notice has been lifted.

Turn off post-mix and slushy machines until the “boil water” notice has been lifted.

Most coffee machines only heat water to 80–85°C, so these machines need to be supplied with pre-boiled water. Plumbed in machines should not be used.

Remember to use only cooled boiled water or water treated with bleach or chlorine (5 drops of bleach to 1 litre of water) to wash hands when preparing food. Use a sanitiser after washing hands, especially if water is scarce. Identify the best way to boil or chlorinate the water needed and make someone responsible for maintaining the supply. Using disposable gloves might help, but remember to change them regularly and wash your hands in clean water when you do so. When the “boil water” notice has been lifted, run taps to check the water before you use it. If you notice anything unusual with the colour or cloudiness or smell, contact your water supplier for advice. Don’t use the water until your supplier has confirmed that it is okay. Further information about water in food businesses can be found at:

5. Is food still safe to use (temperature control)?

Check how long fridges, chillers and freezers have been without power because food safety may have been affected. As a rule:

  • If power to fridges and chillers was off for less than 24 hours, and chillers were not opened during the power cut (or opened only briefly to add bags of ice), contents must be checked but should be okay.  Ideally, a probe thermometer check of the core of potentially hazardous foods should have occurred just after the power supply returned to confirm the food did not increase above 5 °C.  Please be aware that because of the lower insulation properties, if you store food in an open or glass front display refrigerator, or cold wells (generally used for service prep), these are less likely to hold food at a safe temperature when there is no power supply to the unit. 
  • If power was off for more than 24 hours, or chillers were opened (e.g. not to add bags of ice), potentially hazardous food should be discarded.
  • In either instance, food beyond its “use-by” date must be thrown out. Potentially hazardous foods are those that need to be kept at 5°C or below. These are foods containing meat, fish, dairy products; plus prepared salads, sandwiches, cooked rice and pasta and processed foods containing eggs, beans, nuts or other protein-rich  foods. Any harmful microbes on these foods can grow when the temperature of the food increases.
  • Some perishable foods in the chiller, for example, fruit and hard cheeses, may still be safe to use if they are not showing obvious signs of spoilage.
  • If a freezer was full, power was off for less than four days and the freezer was not opened during the power cut and there is no evidence of thawing, contents should be okay to use.
  • If power was off for more than four days, or the freezer was opened during the power cut, or the freezer was not full, or there is any evidence that contents have completely thawed, or have thawed then refrozen, then DO NOT USE THE FOOD – throw it out. And don’t feed it to your pets.
  • Partially thawed food in the freezer should be completely defrosted and used immediately. Food still frozen with ice crystals throughout can continue to be kept frozen if you are sure it did not thaw out and then refreeze when the power came back on. Frozen food that has defrosted and was refrozen when the power was restored should not be used. This will not always be obvious, but important signs of defrosting and refreezing will be misshapen products, or drip from packaging that has become frozen, or packages stuck together, or the pooling of frozen fluids in the bottom of sealed packages.
  • If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Other foods, such as shelf-stable foods, should be checked for damage. These foods can be used as long as packaging is intact and food is not exposed. Cans should not have damage around edges and seals. Thoroughly clean packaging before opening to prevent contamination of food.

6. Is refrigeration working?

Make sure chillers, freezers, display cabinets and other equipment have not been damaged and will work as intended.

7. Food for sale

Particularly when a “boil water” notice is in place, think about providing food that requires minimum handling or is very thoroughly cooked.

8. Sourcing new supplies If you are restocking from local suppliers, ensure perishable or frozen foods were not affected by power outages.

            Check that your supplier has taken the steps indicated in 5 above.

9. Do your staff know what to do?

Reopening a food business after a power cut or civil emergency - Checklist

It is important everyone knows what they must do to produce safe food during an emergency, particularly if there is a disrupted clean water supply. It is vital hands and food preparation surfaces are kept clean. Mark different pots and pans being used to boil or cool water so people know which ones to use.

Please feel free to contact the environmental health department at Mansfield Shire Council directly if you have any queries relating to food safety at your premises. 

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Last Updated: Monday, 3 February, 2020 - 11:51