Editor’s Note: The following content was extracted from an article titled Color Coding by FQ&S Staff and Incorporating a Color-Coding Program by Cristal Garrison
With the signing of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), many food processors have been taking a critical look at their production practices and looking for solutions to further enhance food safety procedures throughout their facilities. Many are considering or have already instituted some form of color coding of tools and equipment to help manage their food safety risks.
Color coding can help maintain hygienic standards and mitigate cross-contamination throughout a food processing facility by creating a clear distinction between tools that should be stored and used in designated areas. An effective color-coding system can support a food processor’s current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) because by assigning tool and location colors, one can easily designate safe, appropriate areas for food contact tools to be stored, cleaned, and sanitized. Color coding may also be outlined in the written food safety plan for the operation.
Using contaminated knives, cutting boards or utensils causes cross-contamination, one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses. If Processing Facilities do not use safe procedures, food prep areas can easily become contaminated, spreading bacteria and illnesses to restaurant customers and employees.
Certain foods carry specific risks of contamination. Salmonella is usually found on poultry, while E. Coli is typically linked to beef. Slicing chicken and beef on the same cutting board or with the same knife without sanitizing first can easily lead to cross-contamination.
Luckily, cross-contamination is a problem that is as easy to prevent as it is to spread. Employing a standard color-coding system, dedicating equipment for specific tasks based on the color of the equipment and the type of food being prepared, is a simple solution.
GMPs, as part of a food safety plan, are outlined by the FDA in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 110 (21CFR110): GMPs describe the methods, equipment, facilities, and controls for producing processed food. As the minimum sanitary and processing requirements for producing safe and wholesome food, they are an important part of regulatory control over the safety of the nation’s food supply. GMPs also serve as one basis for FDA inspections.
To this end, good organization of tools via color coding not only demonstrates the effectiveness of a food safety plan, but can also make a good impression with inspecting authorities.
Many food processors have gone the extra step to apply color coding in the development and implementation of their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plans—those plans that manage the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from the time raw materials enter their facilities to when their finished products are completed. Under FSMA, eventually all regulated food companies will be required to have a written food safety plan or HACCP plan.
At the same time, some food processors are borrowing the principles of Lean Manufacturing’s 5S System as a way to organize their workplaces and maintain equipment standards.
Regardless of the system considered, food safety should be of paramount importance in the development or revision of a color-coding system. Simply instituting a color-coding program does not in itself ensure the purity and quality of the finished food products, nor does it assure easy adoption by processing personnel. As with anything, there’s a right way and wrong way to apply color coding to food processing. This article will address some basic color-coding best practices aimed at achieving optimal results.
Determine the critical factors within your processing facility that should be controlled with color coding. The core objective of color coding within a food processing facility is to clearly establish areas where tool and equipment control is critical in maintaining sanitary conditions, and to clearly and effectively communicate the use areas of tools and equipment for personnel to control food safety risks throughout a facility. Thus, the first step in developing an effective color-coding program is to determine those factors that are critical in maintaining a safe food operation. It is critical that the cleaning of a production environment be effective and that the movement of ingredients, personnel, and materials be controlled throughout the environments in a facility. Sanitation zones are defined as: Zone 1—Food contact areas; Zone 2—Non-food contact areas Zone 3—Floors; and Zone 4—Remote and/or non-food processing
Color coding can be a successful system used to assist companies in conforming to food safety regulations and ensure the quality of processed foods. By following these best practices, food processors can ensure proper hygiene and reduce the risks of cross-contamination. In the end, the best color-coding systems are all about keeping it simple, clean, and maintained with tools that carry proper documentation.