Business Management Systems

Understanding the difference between an emergency plan and a contingency plan

Many of the GFSI standards require your food business to have an emergency plan documented and implemented but how does this differ from a contingency plan or even a crisis management plan? In this post, find out the key components of each and its relationship to the principles of HACCP.

What is an Emergency Plan?

Before we jump into understanding the use of an emergency plan, it is necessary to first define an emergency. In short, an emergency is a situation that poses an immediate risk or threat and requires urgent attention. The timing of emergencies is often hard to predict.

Based on this, an emergency plan is a plan on how to respond to immediate risks or threats. Some examples may include how to:

  • Evacuate the building
  • Respond to a medical incident eg. A staff member in cardiac arrest
  • Respond to fire, floods or chemical spills
  • Respond to a robbery or terrorist event

Having an emergency plan is critical to saving lives and property.  Your emergency plan should aim to respond and reduce the impact of any immediate risks or threats that your business has identified.

What is a Contingency Plan?

You may see no difference between an emergency plan and a business contingency plan – and you would be correct in thinking this. However, many food businesses forget to include prevention and recovery planning. This is where you assess the damage caused by the emergency incident and your ability to adequately recover to a viable operational level.

At a minimum, considerations should include repair/rebuild strategies if there has been damage to your production facilities, customer product management and order fulfilment and helping employees to return to work.

You may better associate the requirements of a contingency plan to be very much aligned to the requirements of a crisis management plan.

Documenting your Plan

It is a good idea to incorporate both your emergency plan and contingency plan into one document. After you have identified the risks or threats that your business may be exposed to, I suggest sorting your plan into three key areas.

1. Prevention – what strategies do you have in place to minimise or prevent the risk or threat.

2. Response – how are you going to immediately respond should a particular risk or threat occur.

3. Recovery – procedures and actions you will need to take as part of the recovery process.

Relationship to Food Safety

When you look at the emergency management / contingency plan process it is very similar to what you are expected to do as part of the HACCP process. You identify potential risks or threats (hazard identification), put a strategy in place to stop or minimise it from happening (control measures) and once the risk or threat occurs, you then respond to minimise the impact on your business (corrective action).

All of the GFSI recognised standards have a requirement around documenting emergency plans, contingency plans or crisis management plans for your food business.

Share your Experience

Has your food business ever gone through an emergency? Were you adequately prepared? Do you currently have systems in place that you regularly test? Please share your experience with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below.


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