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Proactive Disaster Meal Planning and Coordination

Globally, disasters are happening with more and more frequency and with higher cost to life and businesses. Supply chain in the foodservice industry in the United States is stressed. Over the years they have become increasingly complex to include emergency preparedness plans. Not having a disaster plan in place has devastated small and medium sized business most as they have fewer resources to put towards this effort and during the Covid-19 pandemic even more financial worries have surfaced. However, hospitals and other high-reliability organizations in “at-risk” areas of the United States have been equally affected.

This document borrows some of the ideas that hospitals use and is meant to inspire thinking for small and medium sized business leaders to take on the appropriate planning to help them and their teams do well through emergencies.

Planning involves all levels of government, as well as community agencies and volunteers from charitable organizations and is even including small teams within the business communities wishing to upgrade their own survivability to such events. Despite hospitals, assisted living facilities, hospices, long-term-carefacilities, and retirement communities all having some degree of requirement for food service, few have taken on a comprehensive plan to meet the real-world demands of the probable threats in their own town.

How many small businesses are involved in locally planned drills? Disaster plans are expected to include as much local support as possible and to use information from practice drills or real disasters to identify and address challenges to improve the plan. However, few businesses are invited to participate, leaving the planning to the government professionals to take care of it all. After all, isn’t that where some of our tax dollars should go?

For businesses wishing to have a higher recovery rate how can we coordinate with state and local disaster planning professionals to increase our own chances and be less dependent upon FEMA lines? How do we work to improve communication, establish evacuation processes and routes, identify community volunteer assistance and coordination of those willing and able to help?

What would a comprehensive community collaboration look like that demonstrates proactive involvement and have dedicated citizens showing up as a unified force?

Meanwhile, as individual businesses petition their local towns for such involvement and interaction there are steps, we can take on our own, or with our neighboring businesses to help each other.

Here is what that may look like.

  1. Work with and their HVA (Hazards Vulnerability Analysis) tools to identify the hazards that may affect your food supply chain,

  2. Go category by category, one probability at a time. Give each potential hazard a name, priority and description or likely effected area such as “Floods,” “Priority 5” and “5-mile flood plains of the Mississippi River.”

  3. Develop the team within your business that will come up with the process and procedures for having every remain safe and include the communications protocol, how people will stay in touch, who will contact whom? What if cell service is down? Is there a backup comms plan? This should include the names and contact information for specific individuals, police and fire services, emergency supply vendors, and other agencies that are designated to be of assistance in your area. In some cases, the local churches, schools, and other institutional buildings may be of use.

  4. What does the first 24 hours look like. How about 72 hours? What if it is expected to last longer? What are the supplies and supports needed on a business and individual level at each duration?

  5. Once a plan is in place that reasonably foresees the likely issues in your area, create a practice drill at least annually. Take notes on what worked and didn’t work from the drill. Make improvements and run it again.

  6. Update the plan to include the new leaders and others involved so that everyone has the best chance of supporting themselves and being supported for the planned duration.

  7. Find and get with your local disaster planners and do your best to make it a collaborative effort.

Disaster Planning Guidelines - Healthcare Industry Food Service Specific

Below are some general guidelines for healthcare industry professionals to consider as they develop their disaster protocols. As people’s lives depend upon our healthcare system, especially in times of emergencies, its somewhat comprehensive structure can assist other businesses in developing their plans as well. As it is more complex and critical to survival it is useful as a thinking tool to reduce to your business needs. Some aspects of this guideline will spark ideas that are helpful, and some may not be relevant. Please adapt and customize it for your personal and business situation appropriately.

  • Designate an individual who is willing to bring people together to discuss local threats, critical workers and caloric needs to maintain the business at the appropriate level before, during and after the probably threats in your area of business.

  • Choose who is being going to be served and at what level. Does it include patients, doctors, nurses, sanitation, and patient visitors and first responders such as the Ambulance crews, fire and police departments?

  • Is your facility likely to be used as a triage center in which case there may be additional community members coming for care and food support? They may even be bringing their pets!!

  • Based upon historical and projected disruptive events in your area determine the duration for which you need to prepare.

  • Remember, in many cases your day-to-day foodservice support contracts will not be reliable. On-time delivery during emergencies is null and void as they fall under Force Majeure. Therefore, you must anticipate the needs of your determined population in advance and keep that amount of shelf-stable food inventory to sustain them at the appropriate caloric level.

  • Coordinate with the team responsible for the availability of water and power so that additional life support resources are readily available. Work together to coordinate estimated needs and population served.

  • At minimum we recommend a residential care facilities stock food product for 72 hours, and a hospital should consider an inventory of food products for 96 hours.

  • Have a plan in place for water emergencies at a gallon per day per person. Identify a source for or a way to manufacture potable water should there be a loss of water supply.

  • See that backup power prioritizes:

  • Refrigeration and Freezers

  • Range Hoods

  • Stoves, ovens, and steamers

  • Maintain a current copy of your insurance policy with your disaster plan in printed and digital form. Determine what will be covered in the disaster so that you know what records to maintain regarding food, supplies, and equipment before they are destroyed. Photos of the food, supplies, and equipment that could be destroyed by a disaster should be kept on file in a remote (cloud) location for insurance purposes.

  • Establish a recovery plan stating your part in restoring operations in terms of feeding patients, staff, and first responders.


  • If possible, make it a requirement to store water and filtration, foods, and sanitation items onsite. Maintain an accurate inventory and rotate supplies using FIFO (first in – first out), to ensure expiration dates are tracked.

  • Coordinate with security for food products in the overall facility security plan.

  • Review the schedule for the maintenance of refrigeration for foods.

  • Designate only qualified staff in the refrigerated areas.

  • Have a contract in place for the emergency delivery, refueling and use of refrigerated trucks for temporary measures should facility power be down.

  • Have a contract in place for the emergency delivery of foods to fulfill various predetermined scenarios should supply chain disruption become imminent.

  • Develop worst case scenarios anticipating the requirements for rationing food and water should plans fail. What will be the rationing priority to keep the facility running? What will need conserved? How many meals per day can be cut and to whom?

  • Coordinate with a facilities manager to be assured there are ways to heat foods and water.

  • Work with the IT department to be assured all the work you have done to create this plan is securely backed up, readily retrievable, and shareable during an emergency.

  • Printed copies should also be made and kept current and disseminated to the appropriate people.

  • Assure yourself on the communication protocol between key staff. Including contact information for staff, food vendors and other suppliers.

  • What additional planning can be developed should outside resources become unavailable.


  • Store cutlery for the number of people and meals required for the anticipated duration.

  • If water is not available or being rationed keep hand sanitizers readily available before and after all meals.

  • Heating and cooking pots and pans need cleaned as well. Prep supplies for this.

  • Coordinate with those responsible for waste disposal and know that plan in place include the estimate additional burden from food waste. Include prep materials, cleaning, trash, and cutlery in waste estimations.

Planning a Disaster Menu

  • Nationwide, not all health care facilities have a 7-day disaster plan or menu with a nutrient analysis. Request your food supplier provide a disaster menu. Include a complete nutritional analysis.

  • Once a menu is developed for probable emergencies, work with your food supplier to be assured that the predetermined menu and quantities you have created can be and will be fulfilled in the required lead time.

  • Refer to the sample 3- day disaster menu as a guide in planning the required 7-day emergency menu.

  • Priority needs to be given to perishables such as fruits, vegetables and dairy to be consumed first. This help assure less loss of foods and more quickly alleviates the additional energy burden to the facility that can be used elsewhere.

  • Items of a second priority would be those needing cooking or heating as if there is a loss of water or power these food items may not be edible.

  • Take care to note special dietary needs, such as food allergies, so that there is a plan in place to attempt to accommodate for their care. It may not be feasible during an emergency to care for certain needs such as low salt requirements or diabetic menus.

  • Some patients may require enteral nutrition (tube feeding) or parenteral nutrition (venous feeding), as well as infant formulas.

  • Emergency situations have different effects on different people causing lower or higher caloric intake depending on activity level. This effects the need for calories and for water consumption. Consider erring on the high side of your estimations.

This example of a 3-day menu has average intake requirements of 2250 calories per day, 68 grams or more of protein, and 25 grams of fiber and may be suitable for doctors, nurses and other support staff for this duration.

*Stick to your meal plans! Emergencies have different effects on different people. Some eat more from stress and activity and some will have an urge to eat less and do less. Forever Farms developed this meal plan as a guide to help you evenly ration the nutrition and calories to help your body and mind through a hard time. Please keep it with you as a guide. Pace yourself and thrive! *Age, gender, and activity level significantly impact daily caloric requirements.



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