Get the Basics on Color-Coding
By Steven Porter, Vice President Manufacturing Sales, U.S., Grainger
About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. This is a significant public health
burden that is largely preventable.* The Food Safety Modernization
Act (FSMA), signed into law by President Obama, enables the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration to better protect public health and
shift the focus from responding to food contamination to preventing
food contamination. The following are among the FDA’s key new
prevention authorities and mandates:
• Preventive controls for food facilities: Food facilities are required
to implement a written preventive controls plan. This involves: (1)
evaluating the hazards that could affect food safety, ( 2) specifying what preventive steps, or controls, will be put in place to
significantly minimize or prevent the hazards, ( 3) specifying how
the facility will monitor these controls to ensure they are working, ( 4) maintaining routine records of the monitoring, and ( 5)
specifying what actions the facility will take to correct problems
• Produce safety standards: FDA must establish science-based,
minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of
fruits and vegetables. Those standards must consider naturally
occurring hazards, as well as those that may be introduced
either unintentionally or intentionally, and must address soil
amendments (materials added to the soil such as compost),
hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animals in the growing area and water.*
One of the most important FDA-proposed rules is HACCP
(Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). 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 foodservice. 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
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. A comprehensive food safety
plan considers the people, equipment, process and environment
involved in the food production process. Color-coding can be a
helpful system to protect the food product. Color-coding can also
help food processors improve productivity as part of a 5S system
that integrates color “cues” throughout the work process to reduce
waste and optimize productivity.
Common allergens that are often addressed through color-coding include milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts,
wheat and soybeans. Different colors are typically assigned based
on type of food or task, or by “zones” within a food processing
facility. For example, typical sanitation zones may be defined as
food contact areas, non-food contact areas, remote and/or non-food processing.
While there are no federal or state regulations in place specifically for color-coded tools, the FDA has developed HACCP procedures that recommend the use of color coding on items such
as employee smocks, containers, tools, cleaning equipment and
utensils. Similarly, no rules exist about what colors should be used
for various purposes, but certain colors have become standard in
the industry: red for raw meat, blue for seafood, green for produce,
white for finished food and yellow for hazardous areas.
Tips for Successful Color-Coding**
• Keep it simple — Color assignments should be logical and not
• Be consistent — Color assignments should be consistent in how
they are applied.
• Consider contrast — Color assignments should be easily recognized among food being processed so the tools can be more
easily identified when lost or misplaced.
• Communicate your color-coding program — It’s critical to make
sure all employees are on board. To help assure compliance,
some employers recommend meeting with shift employees first,
then rolling out to all employees to ensure compliance.
Implementing a well-delineated color-coded system is one of the
most effective and straightforward ways of preventing cross contamination and maintaining good hygiene, and it can be particularly
effective in breaking down language barriers in multilingual food
processing facilities. Through proper training, employees better
understand and can clearly identify tools by their various colors.
Color-coding is also an effective means of distinguishing between
“material handling” and “cleaning/sanitation” within a food processing facility, which saves employees time and potential confusion in between food runs or processes.
During inspections, regulators from the FDA often look favorably
upon color-coding as part of a comprehensive food safety plan
because it can be easily followed by employees, and easily documented to improve traceability in the case of a food safety recall.
* FSMA website — http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/
** Provided by Remco™ and Vikan™ color-coded solutions.