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.

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.

10 Things To Know About Color-Coding: Who Can Benefit from Color-Coding?

In a previous post, we discussed the top ten things to know about color-coding.

The first point was: All types of food processing facilities can benefit from a color-coding program. Whether the facility is concerned with cross-contamination or not, any food processing center can benefit from color-coding. Color-coding helps keep the work area sanitary, and also helps with organization.

While many different industries can use color-coding, the industries that can benefit most from color-coding, however, are:

  • Color-coded zones with matching wall brackets
    Meat/poultry
  • Seafood
  • Dairy
  • Produce/raw ingredients
  • Baking/snack
  • Confectionery
  • Beverage
  • Vineyard/winery
  • Janitorial/sanitation

These are the industries most concerned with preventing cross-contamination, especially when dealing with pathogens, allergens, and other foreign contaminates, and complying with FDA and USDA regulations. In the light of recent food recalls, it is more important than ever to be as vigilant as possible in food processing facilities.

color_coding_chart

Color-coding can help with issues other than cross-contamination. For instance, keeping the workplace organized is one way color-coding can be helpful, because it helps keep confusion at a minimum. For a facility that has many employees, color-coding can help keep track of tools in a particular work area. On the other hand, a facility that has fewer employees, this level of organization would also be helpful. For example, one color could be for a particular employee or employee role.

Color-coding goes beyond cleaning and material-handling tools. All kinds of accessories can be color-coded to help ensure complete understanding. Hair nets, footwear, clothing, gloves, mats, bins and even tape can be color-coded to make distinguishing between different zones easy. Whatever your food processing facility may be, color-coding can be very helpful, if it is done effectively.

In the next part in our color-coding blog series, we will discuss how color-coding can be used to prevent cross-contamination.

10 Things to Know About Color-Coding: Series Introduction

Color-coding is an important part of any food-safety program, no matter what kind of facility it is.

Purple Products from Remco and Vikan

Not only does it help prevent cross-contamination due to pathogens, allergens and foreign contaminates, color-coding has a variety of other uses. With the number of governmental regulations growing, it is essential that food processing facilities stay on top of the current trends and best practices to be market leaders. Implementing a color-coding program is a great way to help accomplish that.

Here are the top ten things that you should know about color-coding.

  1. All types of food processing facilities can benefit from color-coding
  2. It helps prevent cross-contamination in food processing facilities
  3. It helps to distinguish between critical zones and control points
  4. There is currently no standard set of rules for color-coding, just best practices
  5. Color-coding programs are looked upon favorably by visiting authorities and customers
  6. It simplifies the traceability of tools
  7. Color-coding breaks through existing language barriers
  8. Simplicity is essential for an effective program
  9. Communication is key
  10. Complete implementation improves internal adoption

In-depth discussions of each point will be available in future posts.

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