10 Things to Know About Color-Coding: Breaks Down Language Barriers

The environment in a food processing facility can be a chaotic place. This is compounded when you bring multiple languages into the mix. Trying to keep everything organized and streamlined can at times be a daunting task. Having a color-coding program in place can help eliminate some of the confusion that can arise from a language barrier.

Color-coded storage wall bracket with rubber clipsWhether you have one employee that speaks another language, or 500, color-coding can help to keep efficiency high. Because colors are universal, no matter what language someone speaks, they are going to be able to tell one color from another. Red is red, even if the word itself is different.

If red is for the raw zone, and someone, who speaks a language that the majority of employees do not, sees a red tool in the blue zone, which is for processed product, they know immediately that something is not right, and can then take appropriate actions. However, if no color-coding program is in place, and say, for instance, the method of communication is to have labels on the tools stating what zone they belong in, that employee might not know for sure if that tool is supposed to be there or not. With this kind of system, any time spent confused is a loss of work, or worse yet, a cross-contamination hazard. Better to have a proper system in place to begin with, so the problem can be fixed as soon as possible.

But, before you can go putting colors into a facility all willy-nilly, expecting employees to follow along, there must be good documentation and communication of zones. This goes for all people, no matter the language. There must be signage and internal communication that clearly states what these different colors mean, and what the appropriate steps are when something goes wrong, in different languages, if necessary. Once everyone is on the same page, your color-coding system will work that much easier.

What about those who can’t see colors, you might ask? Color blindness can affect about 8% of men and .05% of women. Depending on what kind of color blindness your employee has, choosing colors that have a high contrast might be a solution. Every situation is different, and the most important thing is to know your employees’ needs and how to best meet them.

Having a color-coding program in place can help to limit the language confusion found in food processing facilities. Less confusion means safer practices, and this means better food safety. This can add up to fewer recalls, which saves money.

If you would like to find out more about color-coding products, download our catalog for more information!

10 Things To Know About Color-Coding: Traceability

Recalls are serious business. No one wants to see a recall happen to their company, but it happens all too often. So, it goes without saying that food safety is important. From the field all the way to the table, keeping our food safe has to be a top priority. Knowing where food is coming from, and what happens to it on its way to you, can potentially prevent a catastrophic recall. This is known as traceability. Traceability means being able to verify where food has been every step of the way – to the field it came from, to the line it’s processed on, and what truck carried it. It’s a complex chain of custody, but necessary to monitor in order to protect food consumers.

Traceability food safety field to fork

Tracing the overall process is challenging, but it is as difficult, if not more difficult, to maintain that same control over your own facility, and it’s your responsibility. Many food processing facilities are large outfits with numerous people working on different shifts, and some are small, localized businesses with few staff members. Trying to keep track of food’s movements can prove difficult for big processors and mom-and-pop shops alike, and food safety is important in every single production facility.

Having color-coding in processing facilities can only enhance the level of traceability. Having a color-coding system helps to track tools within the facility, making it that much safer. If you use red for the raw meat zone, then you know that a red tool in the yellow zone, which is for processed food, is a contamination threat. You can then take steps to remove the potentially contaminated food from that area. This is much easier than trying to remove contaminated food after it has left the facility, which could cost millions of dollars.

The benefit of having tools that are completely color-coded is that they provide instant recognition. If you see just a glimpse of a tool, it is easier to know where it came from if it is in total color. To know in an instant the origination of a tool is vital to preventing lost time, production shutdown, and delays. Having tight traceability in food processing facilities can not only diminish the chance of a recall, but it also helps keep your facility on time with deadlines, helps the bottom line, and it looks good in the public and regulators eyes.

In order to effectively trace food through the system, though, there must be consistency between all levels of movement. From the farm to the table, everything should be documented for the highest level of traceability. With the technology we have at our disposal, there is no reason not to be able to considerably reduce the number of recalls we see. Food processors should urge their suppliers to practice the same level of consistency with food safety. You may not be able to control what happens outside your facility, but you can choose to use suppliers that do follow best practices.

To get started on your color-coding system, download our worksheet to help you get organized.

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.

10 Things to Know About Color-Coding: Guidelines and Best Practices

While the FDA does not currently have any standard set rules to follow when it comes to implementing a color-coding program, there are some common best practices that you can follow to get the most out of color-coding the facility.

Here are some ideas to help you design an effective color-coding program:

Keep your color-coding system simple– Limiting the number of colors you use will go a long way in simplifying the process. Too many times, people get bogged down with the idea that every line and every single process has to have a different color. This is not the case. Try to have a different color only when cross-contamination is a concern at a critical control point in the process. Those points where control is not needed could potentially use the same color since cross-contamination is not a threat. The more colors in the mix, the more confusing it becomes, and the less effective it will be.

Pick logical colors for each area-Making the transition to a color-coding system needs to be as seamless as possible. In order to keep confusion low, when stepping into this system, try to pick colors that make the most sense in each area. For example, certain colors might make sense for certain areas in your food processing facility, such as red for raw meat, or yellow for wheat. Do what is most logical for your facility. Also, make sure that it makes sense to both managers and employees. If everyone is on the same page, the transition will run more smoothly.

Color-coded cheese processing facility

Avoid complicated color assignments-Having customized tools, like a different colored handle than the broom, might seem like a great idea to help differentiate zones. However, it does lead to confusion.  If you mix and match handles and brushes the end result might be chaos. Say you have a red broom with a green handle (Merry Christmas?). Now, you have the problem of trying to figure out if it goes in the green zone or the red zone. Save everyone the confusion, and stick to one color per zone. Instant recognition is the key to keeping confusion to a minimum. You should be able to look quickly and determine which zone is which.

Roll out the color-coding program all at one time– This goes back to avoiding confusion. If you try to incorporate the new system in with the old one, people are just going to be confused. It’s best to start the program all at once. It might be more difficult in the beginning, but it will be worth it in the end. Also, having a definite end date to the old program and a definite start date for the new system will make the transition even smoother.

Good communication is key– Having everyone on the same page will help with starting your color-coding program. A good practice is to first discuss the changes with shift managers, then roll it out to the employees. The managers should have a good understanding of the new system so they can address any questions or concerns the employees might have. Offering a cheat sheet to employees that explains the color zones will be tremendously helpful in overall adoption of the program.

Reinforce the color-coding with good signage-When starting a color-coding program, you don’t want any ambiguity in how it’s perceived. Make it absolutely clear what the program is, and when it is starting. The best thing to do is label every point in the process, in multiple languages if necessary.

Be sure your tools and storage areas match– Be sure the tools are stored in the same area where they are used to avoid confusion, cross-contamination, and equipment loss.  If the red tools are stored on a red bracket or red shelf, it is easy to see exactly where that tool should go when it isn’t in use. Having an organized storage area will be very helpful in maintaining the integrity of the color-coding system.

Follow through– Utilize the same documentation at the point of use, with the purchasing department and with the quality manager so everyone is on the same page. Making sure all loose ends are tied up will help exponentially to the success of the color-coding program. If the program is successful, your facility will be much safer.

To help organize your color-coding program, check out our worksheet!

10 Things to Know About Color-Coding: Zones and Critical Control Points

Understanding Zones and Critical Control Points in Color-coding

Just about every food processor knows that complying with food safety regulations from the FDA and other regulatory bodies is a vital aspect to the success of their overall operation. Without achieving this compliance, it would be fairly difficult to run an effective food processing program. The list of recalled food products seems to grow every day, most being the result of some sort of cross-contamination, and those recalls can cost millions of dollars. The old adage, “better safe than sorry,” definitely comes into play when talking about protecting against recalls. Color-coding is one simple method to help keep your food processing operation as “safe” as possible.

One of the most important FDA-proposed rules is HACCP. Complying with HACCP regulations is an important part of any food processing operation, and knowing where the critical zones are and preventing cross-contamination from happening is an integral part of this compliance. Currently, there are HACCP procedures for dairy, juice, retail seafood, and retail and food service.

Let’s back up for a second, HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. HACCP is a preventative approach to the identification, evaluation, and control of food safety hazards that may cause illness or injury when not properly controlled. Put simply, HACCP is designed to help control the threat of cross-contamination from biological, chemical, and physical agents. According to the FDA, “any action or activity that can be used to prevent, eliminate or reduce a significant hazard” is considered a control measure. Color-coding is an excellent example of a control measure.

Once potential food safety hazards are identified, critical control points can be documented. The FDA defines a critical control point in a food manufacturing process as “a step at which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level.” Knowing where the critical control points exist in a food production process is essential to designing an effective HACCP plan.

Included in the many HACCP compliance resources available from the FDA is an example of a decision tree to help a food processing operation identify critical control points, seen below. Using a decision tree like this is not a mandatory part of the process, but it is valuable as a tool to facilitate the development of a thorough food safety program.

FDA Example of Decision Tree

Since color-coding is a control measure, color-coding zones often coincide with critical control points or groups of critical control points. For instance, a color zone may be assigned to an area where raw meat exists in a facility, since raw meat poses increased risks of bacterial contamination. There may be several critical control points that require other control measures within that one color zone, such as testing for contaminants or refrigeration of the raw meat prior to processing. Once the meat has been cooked, a different color may be assigned to the zone following the raw meat area to prevent bacterial cross-contamination into the finished product. For this purpose, color-coding is an excellent and simple way to visually confirm that equipment is in the appropriate critical zone in a food processing facility.

When color-coding is implemented, it is easily apparent which zones are which, and what they represent. Because of this instant recognition, separating contaminated food before it goes out to the public becomes easier. And we all know that internal recalls (or no recalls!) are less costly than public recalls.

To find out if color-coding is appropriate for your food processing facility, download our worksheet below.

Clean more efficiently with new tools in Vikan’s® EDGE Brush Range

Vikan’s New EDGE Brush Range features improved ergonomics and functionality

In a food processing environment where hygiene is critical, dependable cleaning tools are a must. For over 115 years, Vikan® has focused on developing the most hygienic and efficient cleaning tools in the world. This year, Vikan unveiled the new EDGE Brush Range that is designed for superior efficiency, functionality, and ergonomics. This is great news for the people responsible for cleaning and sanitizing food processing facilities. Why? Because those folks are going to get their jobs done more quickly and easily with better tools.

In addition to efficiency and ergonomics, the other great feature about these brushes is that they look really slick. Who wouldn’t like to work with a cleaning tool that looks good and does a great job? Not that aesthetics make or break the deal, but it just naturally feels a little better when your tools are attractive, right?

At the beginning of the year, Vikan introduced the first three brush styles in the EDGE Brush Range: a long-handled, a short-handled, and a scrubbing hand brush. These three new styles replaced six total part numbers since each style is typically offered in two or more bristle strengths.

The most recent addition to the EDGE Brush Range is the new bench brush style, part numbers 4587 with soft bristles and 4589 with medium bristles. The block on these brushes has been redesigned with a more ergonomic handle, and the bristles are positioned to be more effective at cleaning the tough stuff. We’ve got all the nitty-gritty details posted in the online catalog for both part numbers. Below is a synopsis of the redesigned benefits:

Selling points of Vikan's new EDGE range

If you’re interested to know how the bristle strengths differ, here is a quick description.  The 4587 bench brush with soft bristles will be really effective on fine particles that are dry. Think flour and powdered sugar. The medium bristles on the 4589 make it perfect for sweeping up moist materials, or medium-sized particles like sugar, chocolate, pastry or vegetable peelings.

In the redesign, Vikan did us another favor and offered the 4589 in all 8 colors: green, blue, red, white, yellow, orange, purple, and black. Black was previously unavailable in the 4588, which is the part number that the 4589 is replacing. At Remco Products, we like offering tools in all 8 colors, because color-coding is gaining recognition as an important element in HACCP and food safety initiatives. Offering more colors provides a high degree of flexibility for the people who are designing new color-coding systems or improving upon existing programs. Having a well-designed color-coding program can go a long way for facilities applying for various food safety certifications or that have an FDA audit approaching.

If you’re intrigued and want to learn more about color-coding, we’ve recently released a white paper all about the reasons why color-coding is becoming a no-brainer in all types of food processing facilities. Even though color-coding is not required by law, it shows that the people in charge of quality assurance and food safety are putting in their due diligence to keep the food products that they manufacture safe. If this sounds like something you need to know more about, feel free to download a copy of the white paper to keep or share with colleagues.

10 Things to Know About Color-Coding: Preventing Cross-Contamination

Color-coding helps prevent cross-contamination in food processing facilities

In this third part of our color-coding series, we discuss how color-coding can help prevent cross-contamination in food processing facilities. Facilities with cross-contamination concerns should particularly consider color-coding their food processing plants to lower that risk. The threat of recalls is always prevalent, and food processing facilities should do what they can to prevent this from happening.

Prevent cross-contamination from biological hazardsColor-coding can help decrease the risk of contamination that leads to recalls. Food processors are regulated by the FDA to ensure that cross-contamination is controlled to keep consumers safe. One of the FDA’s rules includes HACCP, or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, which imposes guidelines to help keep cross-contamination at a minimum, such as having a written safety plan.

Cross-contamination is prevented by keeping foods that transfer bacteria separate, or by keeping allergens separate. For example, we all know raw meat should never come into contact with processed meat, so you keep them separate. The simplest way to do this is to color-code the food processing facility. When a facility has a color-coded program in place, it makes it that much easier to distinguish between sections. For example, raw meat zones can be color-coded red, and the processed area green.

Sample Color-Coding Systems:

Preventing Functional Cross-Contamination:

Red: Raw Meat

Green: Processed or Cooked Meat

Preventing Departmental Cross-Contamination:

Blue: Seafood

Yellow: Chicken

Preventing Allergen Cross-Contamination:

White: Milk

Green: Soy

Yellow: Wheat

Color-coding makes it immediately apparent if there is a tool or piece of equipment in an incorrect zone, and the necessary steps can be taken to contain any contaminated food. Keeping zones separate is an extremely important food safety measure for preventing cross-contamination, and color-coding helps to do that. The next part in our series is how color-coding can help distinguish between critical zones and control points. For more information on color-coding, download our white paper below.