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Food Safety Culture – Color-Coding for the Color-Blind

Food production facilities often rely on color coding their tools and workstations to create zones of control. These zones can designate areas where allergens are used to prevent cross-contact incidents, separate raw – from finished products to avoid cross-contamination issues, or visually represent different shifts to account for concerning potential direct-contamination trends. Color coding is generally easy to understand and provides a universal language for people of all levels of literacy -and – language background.

However, for 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women, some colors may be difficult or impossible to discern. Color-blindness comes in many forms, but the most common type is partial color-blindness, where the person can’t distinguish between a couple or a few colors. Of those, the two forms of red/green color-blindness: deuteranopia (reduced sensitivity to red light) and protanopia (reduced sensitivity to green light), occur most frequently. That doesn’t imply color coding as a zoning solution doesn’t work for color-blind employees, but it does mean that colors should be chosen carefully to avoid the most common color-blindness pairings.

Tips for Creating a Color-Blind Friendly Workplace

There are several ways to cater to color-blind employees. These ideas won’t universally work for every single color-blind person, so be sure to include any members of your team who have limited color vision in your discussions:

  1. Avoid the most commonly confused pairings

Some colors are more commonly confused than others. Generally, warm and cool colors tend to pair better than just cool colors alone. There are exceptions, of course, including the most common form of color-blindness, green/red. Other often-confused color pairings include:

  • Blue/Purple
  • Green/Blue
  • Blue/Gray
  • Green/Gray
  • Green/Black

Some shades that tend to work especially well together are blue and red; yellow and purple; and orange and reddish purple. See the chart below, taken from Martin Krzywinski Science Art, for an easy 7-color palette that those with protanopia and deuteranopia (two forms of the most common red/green color-blindness) can easily distinguish among.

  1. Use Different Shades

A neon green and a deep red will never be confused for each other, and neither will a pastel blue and a royal purple. If the shades between even the most frequently confused colors are different enough, they can be a great choice.

To visualize which shades work, take a picture of the different tool color options with your smartphone and use a filter to convert the photo to black and white. Ideally, you’ll have a few sample tools to work with, or you can use photos from the tool supplier’s website. Once your photo is in black and white, see if you can tell a difference in the shades between the colors you’ve chosen.

  1. Set up tool stations

Tool stations give workers an easy way to find the right tools they need for a specific job. For example, if you use yellow tools for food that contains wheat, you can set up a shadow board just for those tools. Color-blind employees can be certain the tools they’re grabbing off the shadow board is the correct one for the job as long as other employees regularly check the tool station for proper usage.

  1. Use black for floors and drains

Don’t feel like you have to pick black and white for the ultimate contrast—many color combinations work just fine for color-blind employees and offer additional benefits, such as using red for raw meat, white for milk, or yellow for wheat. However, certain cleaning tools, like drain brushes, are best off being black or being labeled. Remco has a set of drain cleaning tools that are labeled for easy separation, but many customers choose to simply use black for heavy-duty cleaning. If harsh chemicals are being used, and the tool will clean non-food-contact surfaces like the floor, it’s best to have a tool that is clearly designated and easily identifiable. Color-coding is a valuable asset in food processing environments, and well worth the extra step of making sure it works for every employee. With a- few safeguards such as tool stations and some precautions in choosing colors, zoning with color-coding can enhance food safety and minimize the cross-contact incidents, cross-contamination and direct-contamination, and hence prevent foodborne illness and potential outbreaks To learn more about the benefits of color-coding and to determine if it’s right for your facility, read Making the Decision to Apply Color-Coding.

10 Things To Know About Color-Coding: Use Complete Implementation

We’ve come to the final post in our series of 10 things to know when starting or revising a color-coding program. You may have already determined that color-coding is the solution for your facility’s food safety needs. If not, take a look at our previous blog posts in this series, and perhaps you will find some things you have not yet considered.

Vikan Hygienic Zone Planner Application for color-codingThe final key to the success of a color-coding program is ensuring that it is completely integrated into the facility. If you have decided to take the plunge and start a color-coding program, or if you think yours needs some tweaking, remember that even a good color-coding program can be problematic if it is not completely applied. Ensuring complete implementation will improve internal adoption.

Doing something halfway is never a good idea, and the same holds true for color-coding. When a color-coding program is implemented in pieces, the chances of success start to deteriorate. On the surface, it might seem easier to slowly bring in color-coding into your facility; but in the long run, it will be better for everyone to roll the program out all at once. Incomplete implementation might seem desirable due to a limited budget, time constraints, or lack of manpower. No matter what the reason, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and go all the way. Go big, or go home, as they say. Once it is a part of everyday life at the facility, a color-coding program will be one more asset that you have at your disposal.

If you read our last post, you know that communication plays an integral part of starting a color-coding program. Communication and complete implementation of the color-coding program go hand in hand. By communicating with every employee and team member, complete execution of the color-coding system will be that much more successful.

One issue that might prevent a complete roll-out of a color-coding program is budget concerns. This is a valid issue, and one likely to be shared by many operations. However, because a successfully applied color-coding program can help decrease the chance of cross-contamination, and therefore recalls, it could save money in the long-term. Color-coding a food processing facility is an investment. Just like any investment, there are start-up costs—but the end result will be well worth the money put into it.

In addition to any budget concerns, lack of time and manpower can also be issues standing in the way of introducing a color-coding system into your facility. Every food processing facility, from the smallest to the largest outfits, can benefit from a color-coding program. If time is an issue for you, ask us for help. Remco and Vikan have tools that can help you quickly identify zones and plan the entire program for your facility. We’re here to assist you with the process.