Segregating cleaning equipment, food handling tools and other equipment and utensils into well-planned, color-coded areas can improve food safety by reducing the risk of cross-contamination from one area to another. Color-coding is easy to implement if done correctly from the start. Here are some practical tips on how to put a color-coding program into practice.

Create a zoning plan

If your production facility is already divided into zones, you can base color-coding on your existing zones. Give each zone its own color to make it easy to identify the equipment and tools that belong to each zone, and keep them separate from each other. Zone division can also be applied at the production line level to limit the risk of cross-contamination between one production line and another. This type of zone control involves allocating a designated color to equipment intended for use exclusively within a particular area and/or on a particular production line.

Choose colors

There are numerous ways to pick which colors will make up your color-coding plan. Always choose colors that will show up brightly against food products in case a tool is dropped. Avoid complicated color assignments such as using a pink broom with a green handle. Instead, keep tools total-color and limit the amount of colors used. Do not try to assign colors for each and every step of a process. If the color-coding system is too complicated, your staff may not understand or follow it.

In addition, keep color-blind employees in mind. Use different shades and contrasts to make it easier for color-blind staff to differentiate colors.

What to include in a color-coding plan

When it comes to using color-coding as a preventive control, the recently published FDA FSMA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food recommends the following best practices:

  • Color-coded uniforms, smocks and footwear to identify employees working in high-risk areas and to minimize the spread of pathogen contamination.
  • Color-coded containers to identify and separate waste from useable or edible products.
  • Color-coded tools in hygienic zones to keep tools from spreading one type of contamination or allergen to other areas in the plant. Things like specialty colored bands can be placed over equipment like vacuum cleaners for inclusion in the plan.
  • Color-coded facility maps to differentiate hygienic zones.

Roll out a color-coding plan

When it comes to creating company-wide awareness on color-coding, it’s not enough to show employees how a task is done. They should also learn why color-coding will help improve food safety and make their jobs easier. Trainers should reinforce why color-coding as a preventive control is so important. When employees are invested in a program and feel like they have a stake in it, even just by knowledge of why and how it works, they’re more likely to follow it. 

After 6 months to a year, refresh the employees and evaluate to see if they know how well and why they are doing the process. It’s also essential to re-educate and re-train employees if there’s a breakdown or a change in the color-coding program. Large changes shouldn’t happen frequently, and should be carefully evaluated for necessity. Each change may cause confusion among the staff, and could increase chances of cross-contamination or allergen cross-contact.

Support color-coding with signage and storage

Support your color-coding system with the proper signage to ensure it is followed correctly. Each sign should say what the color is used for in any language spoken in the facility. Pictures are also helpful as quick reminders. Items like color-coded tool racks or shadow boards help reinforce the separation of tools by color and remind employees of where each tool goes.

Color-coding helps ensure greater food safety by making it easier to more effectively separate processes, zones and equipment in food production setup, and thus minimize cross-contamination. Color-coding can be embedded into your work processes as a natural part of Good Manufacturing Practices or as a proactive risk-reduction step as part of a HACCP pre-requisite program.