Being a Food Safety-Minded Consumer

As a consumer with a passion for food and cooking, I know a thing or two about food safety in the kitchen. In my time at Remco, I’ve learned a lot more and have become acutely aware of all the considerations for the safety of our food as it moves from farm to fork. I am amazed at how much food safety professionals need to know in order to perform their daunting jobs.

Lettuce greens and food safetyI try to be aware of basic food safety guidelines in my kitchen. I use a meat thermometer to be sure the food is within the safe range, but also because I prefer not to overcook it. I avoid the cans with dents at the grocery, because the good ones stack better in the pantry—but also because some dents may compromise the integrity of the product. I clean my grill tools before flipping food if they’ve come into contact with raw meat, and I always use a fresh plate to bring food back inside.

Now that I’ve worked closely within the food industry for over three years, I’m starting to think a little differently about my own food safety. My new awareness goes beyond my own kitchen. Lately, I’ve started to wonder about the food safety efforts at the facilities that produce the food I buy. And I’ll tell you, when I hear about a producer going above and beyond for food safety, it sticks with me.

A great example is Earthbound Farms—a California salad greens grower and packager. I read recently that they are BRC validated, which requires very rigorous third-party audits. As a consumer, the fact that they have pursued food safety validations above and beyond requirements tells me that they really care about the safety of their consumers. And they are very transparent about their food safety program. They’ve gained a loyal consumer in me.

With that being said, food safety in my kitchen now starts with getting to know a little bit more about where my food comes from—not just the temperature it arrives at when I’m done cooking it. I now seek information about the food safety programs of producers I purchase from, and I’m willing to spend a bit more if I know that they are diligent in their efforts.

10 Things To Know About Color-Coding: Communication is Key

Essential to an effective color-coding system is a well thought-through communication plan. With the proper communication channels in place, your color-coding system has the best chance for successful adoption—in turn helping you to mitigate the risk of cross-contamination. Communication should start at the top of the company, and go down to each and every employee. When all employees are knowledgeable about the new or changed program, the chances of success are even higher.

HACCP Plan for food safetyThe initial employee training communications must be clear and concise to ensure everyone is on the same page. When starting, or even revising, a color-coding system, employees must understand the reason for the change. Dealing with the threat of cross-contamination is serious, and the need to establish barriers to those threats is critical. The better every employee understands this, the more effective the color-coding system will be when put into practice.

Communicating with employees on how color-coding can help with tool storage is also very important. Establishing procedures for storage can help with tool inventory management. If employees are taught the proper procedures for tool storage right out of the gate, this will go a long way in preventing any loss of tools or time. One particular way to help encourage proper storage is to use custom shadow boards that integrate outlines of the tools so that there is no question where tools belong. Some facilities might use the 5S system to maximize organization. The use of color-coding is a great way to enhance the 5S philosophy. 5S is a Japanese workplace organizational system which uses five phases: sort, set in order, systematic cleaning (or shine), standardize and sustain. Along with using shadow boards, 5S helps encourage employees to properly store tools, maximizing their usable life.

Green color-coded wall bracket with rubber clips for sanitation Red color-coded wall bracket with rubber clips for sanitation Blue color-coded wall bracket with rubber clips for sanitation
Zone 1 Zone 2 Zone 3

Daily communication to employees is essential to the longevity of the program. Daily communication starts with good signage. Clearly written instructions, bilingual if necessary, are essential to providing employees with instructions on the color-coding program. It may even help to include visual or graphic representations on the signage for each zone; for example, a picture of a peanut on the sign designating the color of tools intended for use with peanuts. In addition to written instructions, daily verbal communication is also vital. Any changes or revisions to the color-coding plan must be clearly communicated to all employees, from the top down.

It is a best practice to include your color-coding program in your official regulatory documentation. Many regulatory bodies require documentation of certain procedures, and color-coding can become a great advantage for your operation. While color-coding is not required for compliance with any food safety regulations, it is looked upon with favor by auditors. Including your color-coding plan in the facility’s Preventive Control or Prerequisite Procedures, which includes GMPs, SOPs, CCPs, and Non-CCPs, will go a long way in ensuring company-wide adoption, consistency, and compliance of the program. For facilities that must comply with HACCP or HARPC regulations, including color-coding on those plans is, again, not required but, a best practice. HACCP, or Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points, is a food safety management system which helps to identify and control cross-contamination threats. Similarly, HARPC, also known as Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls, also requires identification and control of risks in food processing facilities.

Here are some important things to remember:

  • Start at the top and go down
    • Communicate with all levels of employees to ensure complete implementation
  • Have good signage
    • Signs should have written and visual cues to identify the zone and where the tools are approved for use
    • Include a printout that gives details for reordering of tools, such as vendor, item number, manufacturer, etc.
  • Keep up with training
    • Consistent training programs for all employees will improve adoption and ongoing use of the program
  • Include color-coding on regulatory plans
    • Color-coding is looked upon favorably by regulatory bodies

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 the 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.