10 Things To Know About Color-Coding: Keep it Simple

The core piece of advice that Remco communicates to food facilities implementing a color-coding program is to keep it simple. A common paraphrase of Ockham’s Razor, originally written in Latin, is “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.” A color-coding program that is overly complex could become problematic for your facility and end up requiring more time and effort than it should, as well as involving more risk for cross-contamination. Determining what works and what doesn’t is easier with a simple color-coding plan.

Red Vikan Brush Cleaning MachineryFood safety is a challenging endeavor in an industry with complex regulations, and color-coding is intended to simplify an element of it. Completely simplifying food safety is impossible, but color-coding can help, while supporting the overall goal of food safety regulations. Color-coding offers a method to intuitively keep tools organized and clearly communicate which tools belong in certain areas. Visual identification of equipment is quick when tools are color-coded.

The foremost principle to remember regarding the simplicity of a color-coding system is to limit the number of colors used to what is absolutely necessary. For example, many food production operations have determined that only two colors are necessary: one for “food contact” and another for “non-food contact.” A plan like this would ensure that tools used on the floor are easily identified as being different than those intended to be used on food and food contact surfaces. This type of simplistic plan is very easy to explain to employees and communicate throughout the facility.

In cases when more than two colors are necessary, it is advisable to choose colors based on functionality. For example, some food production facilities employ processes that involve cooking raw meat. The potential for cross-contamination between raw and processed zones is a hazard that absolutely must be managed. Typically, two different colors are designated for raw and processed zones, and a third color is chosen to identify equipment designated for non-food contact areas. This type of a plan integrates more colors, but remains intuitive and should only require basic training for employee adoption.

Color-coding can become a method to standardize processes within a plant or a group of plants. Some businesses choose to standardize processes in order to reduce waste and variation in the end product result. This type of standardization can be applied to cleaning tools and sanitation processes, and color-coding is a suitable fit for this type of model. An example of this is to apply the same color-coding model across all production lines that run the same process within a plant. It can be taken a step further and applied across all plants that run the same processes so that only one training program needs to be developed and administered.

Using a color-coding model that is not straightforward can create more of a need for specialized training. For example, a total color-coded red broom and handle is easier to identify than a specialized broom that mixes a green broom head with a red handle. A plan with combo color equipment will require more time and resources to train staff, especially if either color is used elsewhere in the plant. The whole premise of color-coding is to make tools easy to visually identify without the need for in-depth training. Using combo color tools robs a color-coding program of that intuitive simplicity, and in turn requires more resources than necessary for your operation to implement and adopt. It also increases the risk of cross-contamination if employees do not understand the program.

When designing a color-coding program for your operation, remember that the ultimate end goal is to ensure the safety of the food produced in the facility. For each color that you integrate into your plan, ask yourself if it is a necessary step in the process in order to effectively mitigate risk. If a color designation does not serve the purpose of managing a significant food safety risk, it is always the best practice to opt for simplicity. A plan that is overly complex is difficult to communicate and understand. A simple plan is easily adopted and becomes an intuitive method for managing food safety risks.

To help plan out your color-coding system, check out our worksheet to help you get organized.