10 Things to Know About Color-Coding: Regulators Love It

If your business is food processing, you are no stranger to government rules, regulations, and auditors.  Complying with federal food safety regulations is crucial to the success—or even existence—of your operation.  Keeping the auditor happy sometimes becomes a top priority (like, the day before the audit), because no one wants to deal with the time, money, and marred reputation of a production delay or facility shutdown. If you’re looking for ways to strengthen the food safety efforts at your operation, we think you need to know about color-coding—because we guarantee that your auditor does.

An FDA auditor inspects a food processing plant for possible violations

Even though color-coding is not a standard rule or even a requirement, it is a practice that regulating authorities commonly favor. Regulatory agencies, like the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), exist to provide guidance for food safety procedures and ensure the compliance with laws relating to the safety of the nation’s food supply. One such law is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that is intended to transform the U.S. food safety framework from a reactive damage control approach to more of a proactive prevention of foodborne illness crises. FSMA Section 103 requires food facilities to prepare written plans to evaluate hazards and implement effective preventive controls. It stipulates several steps to ensure a true preventive approach to food safety.

Regulating authorities look favorably upon the practice of color-coding because it is a method that can easily be documented and followed by employees. A color-coding program that is written into a HACCP plan essentially becomes part of the facility’s SOPs (standard operating procedures). A HACCP plan is a written outline that identifies potential food safety threats and critical control points. Color-coding adds an extra layer of preventive protection in addition to other food safety efforts such as hygienic design of buildings and equipment. Programs that are easily documented are also more easily communicated to employees, and the employees’ adoption of food safety procedures is imperative to the effectiveness of those programs.

Visiting authorities and customers will readily notice color-coding programs upon entering a processing facility, which is precisely why the approach is so effective. Segregating zones by colors offers quick visual confirmation that equipment is where it belongs and is not contributing to the unintentional transport of contaminants throughout the facility. When color-coding is utilized as part of a multi-faceted approach to food safety, it will add credibility to the effectiveness of the operation for regulators and customers alike.

With the new laws and proposed guidelines surrounding food safety, prevention is the preferred approach by regulatory authorities. And in the long run, prevention is a better business practice than reactive damage control. The old saying about closing the barn door after the horse is out comes to mind when thinking about recalls; it’s just better for everyone if a recall doesn’t happen in the first place.

News of recalls can travel in the blink of an eye in the rise of social media.  In that time, the success of your facility can be irreparably damaged. To safeguard your operation from the negative publicity of a food safety crisis, it is imperative to prevent recalls before they happen.  Monitoring any sort of cross-contamination threat inside the facility is fundamental, and color-coding is a simple way to keep those risks in check. To learn more about how color-coding can help, see our preventing cross-contamination blog article.

You can also download our checklist to see if color-coding can benefit your facility.