Carefully evaluate food products in cans, jars and boxes. Light soot damage seldom presents a problem unless the food was located close to the source of the fire. If labels are scorched or burned off, or if cans are swollen, these products are candidates for disposal.
In heavy soot damage situations, restoration personnel should recommend disposal of all food products that were close to the source of the fire and subjected to extreme heat, regardless of the container's appearance, particularly home-canned foods with scorched labels or broken vacuum seals.
Likewise, remove and dispose of open boxes and bags with heavy soot residue. The value of the contents simply does not warrant taking the chance.
Present food products recommended for disposal to insureds for general itemization and cost evaluation. Do not attempt to make this judgment yourself. Assure insureds that most adjusters are perfectly happy with reasonable "ballpark" estimates of the cost of replacement.
Packing, Boxing, Unpacking and Repacking
Boxes and packing materials are used constantly during restoration work, particularly during move-outs, so this is probably as good a place as any to discuss the basics relating to boxing and packing.
Obtain a box count both before loading and before leaving your facility. When you arrive on location, everyone - insureds, neighbors, co-workers - needs boxes for many different purposes. At this point, keeping track of how many went where becomes an impossible task. So count before you load.
When you return to your facility, count the unused boxes as they are returned to inventory. Then, subtract the number returned from the number originally loaded. Be sure to log that number in your paperwork for an accurate billing for boxes used.
In this day and age of recycling, all of us need to do our part. Newspapers can be tossed into the trash, or they can be recycled and used to pack-out soiled dishes and miscellaneous items. Simply ask all co-workers to save their newspapers and bring them to a storage box within your facility. During slow periods, unfold and stack newspaper in single sheets (with single- and double-pages stacked separately). Then, transport the newspaper to the job site on major move-outs. This facilitates packing items later on, and it saves time when working on-site.
Remember, there is a difference between newspaper and newsprint. A newspaper is the printed publication you read; newsprint is the off-white paper that is chiefly used to print newspapers. Go figure.
Wrapping After Cleaning
Pack clean kitchenware in clean, sanitary newsprint. This enables restorers to unwrap items upon delivery and place them directly back into cabinets for insureds.
This may be self-evident, but be sure to pack bulky, durable items first, at the bottom of boxes, placing the more fragile items on top. Always pack crystal and china separately, without crowding, in their own boxes with plenty of extra packing paper. That way, if boxes get turned over inadvertently, heavier items from the bottom won't crush lighter (i.e. expensive) items on top. Stand dishes on their edges and glasses on their bases.
Taping and Labeling Boxes
Be sure that box bottoms are reinforced with careful taping. Also, labeling boxes with the insured's name, the room location and the general contents is needed to facilitate locating specific items when the need arises, as well as when moving boxes back into proper rooms. A hand-held mechanical tape dispenser makes the process of taping boxes faster and more efficient.
Anticipating Insureds' Needs
In severe losses, since insureds probably will set up housekeeping elsewhere, plan to process everyday kitchenware and accessories as quickly as possible.
Fire-damaged kitchens are like Pandora's Box. Open them and you never know what they will hold, or how they will affect your life for the duration of the job. Understanding how to handle all the different categories of kitchen accessories goes a long way toward putting the lid back on the box.