Color coding of maintenance and sanitation equipment is becoming a certification requirement.
The great thing about color is its universality. No matter what language a person speaks, color is the same for everyone. And if you attribute certain values or rules to the use of color in a production environment and communicate these effectively, everyone will be able to understand and comply with them. 
Using color effectively in a well-planned program helps improve food safety by preventing workers from mixing up tools that shouldn’t be mixed, keeping pathogens or allergens from traveling from one part of the plant to another. The vast spectrum of colored plastic totes, buckets, carts, bins, scoops, brushes, mops, squeegees, scrapers and other items also makes cleaning more efficient. Plus, color helps organize procedures in the workplace, enabling workers to make decisions quickly and more accurately. And color supports safe, efficient waste disposal and helps reduce waste in general—in areas including transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, loss of tools and time looking for tools before and after use. 
No federal or state regulations are in place for color-coded cleaning tools, yet many manufacturers use these tools to streamline operations. Likewise, no hard and fast rules exist about what colors to use in a particular part of a plant, but certain colors have become standard: red for raw meat, blue for seafood, green for produce, white for finished food and yellow for hazardous areas. Purple and orange are sometimes used for allergens. 
“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need color coding. Workers would simply remember what utensils belong where, on the raw side or finished side, and that these tools should never cross over from one area to the other,” says Guelph Food Technology Centre Food Safety Director Paul Medeiros. “But people have a habit of forgetting. Color coding is one of the best ways to make items stand out clearly and simply so mistakes aren’t made.”
The extent to which color is used in a plant depends on how complex its production environment is. Some plants with a single product line can get by with as few as three colors.  Others that produce a wider variety of products, particularly if they contain allergens such as peanuts, shellfish and certain types of grains, use more.
“It’s not rocket science,” says Medeiros. “You have to take a look at the potential of products contaminating each other, and then figure out how best to use color to mitigate those risks.” 

Injection-molded durability

Perfex Corporation in Poland, NY manufactures and sells brooms and utensils in a broad array of colors. Mike Dougherty, director of marketing, stresses the importance of durability. “Our brooms and brushes are extremely robust. We use an injection-molding process that effectively fuses the bristles to a high-impact brush block, creating a one-piece unit, preventing fiber fallout and eliminating any areas for bacteria to hibernate. The material is 100 percent polypropylene, which can be melted down and reused causing no harm to the environment.”
Polypropylene is also non-conductive and does not absorb water, bacteria, grease, petroleum products, detergents, sanitizers or solvents. It rinses clean and dries quickly. Brooms and brushes consist of two parts—a brush head and a handle. If the head wears out, it can be replaced separately from the handle, saving cost. In addition, multiple brush heads are compatible with a single handle.
Perfex also has a patented broom handle/brush connection called “Lite ‘n Tite” that provides a snug fit with no wiggle room so handles and brush heads stay connected. The company’s products and materials are USDA and FDA approved. 
The Perfex product portfolio is divided into two parts: TruClean Pro and TruClean II bucket/wringer/trolley/mop systems and a wide variety of scoops, scrapers and brushes that clean everything from large areas to those harder-to-get nooks and crannies. All the equipment can be repeatedly sanitized using any method, including autoclaving. “We recommend brooms and brushes be rack washed using a sterilizing/disinfectant solution,” notes Dougherty. Most of the brooms and brushes are available in standard red, white, blue, green and yellow.

Color and HACCP

Brian Hutton, director of marketing for Oklahoma City-based Carlisle Sanitary Maintenance Products, considers color a vital part of the HACCP toolbox. “Color is very effective in preventing contamination risks at exchange points,” says Hutton. “You can immediately see if anything, any tool or cleaning device, is out of place. 
“Color helps the general concept that there should be a place for everything and that everything should be in its right place at the time when it’s needed,” adds Hutton. Carlisle works primarily in the five standard colors. “We add black for anything to do with floors and have introduced purple and orange for allergens, such as nuts, shellfish, eggs, gluten, strawberries and other things.”
In addition to providing brushes a to clean flat surfaces, pipes, drains and the many hard-to-get-at areas, Carlisle provides color coded cutting boards as large as six-by-eight feet. The company also sells a line of mopping supplies and accessories, and waste and material handling products in standard colors. 


One large distributor of color-coded tools in the US is Nelson-Jameson Inc., based in Marshfield, WI. “We pride ourselves as a one-stop shop. At the same time, one of our strengths is customization,” says the company’s MRO Department Manager Dakonya Freis. “If a customer needs a specialty item, say a brush that is two inches larger in diameter than the norm, we can work with our suppliers and meet its specs.”
That goes for added colors as well. Nelson-Jameson pushed various manufacturers to add purple and orange for allergens. “Keep in mind when you develop an orange brush, you have to match it with all the other equipment it will be used with—scoops, brooms, paddle scrapers—the works.” There are more than a few examples of where Nelson-Jameson’s custom products and colors have gone mainstream after creating wider demand from other players in the industry.
“One of our customers contacted us to expand its color-coded program,” Freis explains. “The company wanted to add green and brown. Green we already had, but we talked the customer into going with purple instead of brown due to product availability and turnaround time. After working with our suppliers, we were able to deliver a satisfactory product within the time requested.” 

SQF and increased confidence

Color coding makes for improved relations with customers and regulatory authorities, according to Michelle Williams, sales and marketing support, at Remco Products of Zionsville, IN. “Visiting authorities from the FDA as well as customers see an effective color-coding program as a sign that a company is serious about food safety. It makes them feel more confident.”
An effective color-coding program also plays an important part in SQF certification and, for this reason, will likely become a prerequisite for suppliers seeking new business, and possibly keeping current business. 
Color can be also used to advantage in clothing. Colored hair nets go with colored lab coats, aprons, hard hats and other things that can immediately identify a visitor to a plant. Internally, an employee working in the raw area of a plant might always wear red. 
On a larger scale, color coding provides special benefits to companies that have multiple facilities: a unified color program helps employees transition quickly and easily from one plant to another. 

Tool shadows

Rhonda Kovera, CEO of Visual Workplace Inc. of Grand Rapids, MI, sells signage-making equipment companies can use to create their own color programs in-house. Her company’s main product, Mobile In-House Sign Shop, consists of a laptop preloaded with software and templates, a vinyl-cutting plotter, heavy-duty cart and rolls of adhesive-backed vinyl in a variety of colors.
“We’ve taken equipment and technology that’s been available through local sign shops, and packaged it for manufacturing organizations so they can create their own in-house color programs,” she says.
Included are “tool shadows” for peg boards on which tools are hung for ready use by workers. When the tool is in use, the shadow shows it’s gone. When the worker finishes using it, the shadow acts like a magnet showing where it belongs until needed next time. “Plant managers can also use our equipment to color code their tools,” says Kovera. “If a plant purchases 100 black brooms, for instance, our equipment can be used to color code the handles to match whatever area the brooms are intended to be used in.”
Visual Workplace’s in-house sign can save a facility up to 75 percent of the cost of going outside. “That’s one reason many of our customers come to us,” she notes. “Another is the fast turnaround time.”
One of those customers is Del Monte Foods. “Through the use of sign shop technology, our McAllen, TX distribution center has benefited tremendously. Not only have we achieved cost savings, but also the flexibility of designed signs for various and diverse programs,” explains DC Manager Benjamin Martinez.
Becky Brubaker, a label operator at Campbell Soup, says she’s been making her own signs for the last four years. “I really like the sign shop clip art for making my signs come to life. It adds color to the signs and makes them catch your eye when you walk by.”
Effective color use, according to Kovera, is part of lean manufacturing and the 5-S approach to plant management—sorting, straightening, systematic cleaning, standardizing and sustaining the new order. 

Food safety triangle

Dan Fone, director of business development for NSF International’s Global Food Safety Division in Ann Arbor, MI, says color is part of NSF’s “Food Safety Triangle”—Training, Tools and Time. “The three parts fit together like an equilateral triangle and are inextricably linked,“ says Fone. “If you have the right training and the right tools, but only give workers five minutes to do a 15-minute job, they could end up taking risky shortcuts. Similarly, if they have the right color-coded tools but not enough time or training, things will break down.”
Fone says he likes the idea of using instructional signage next to clusters of color-coded tools to remind workers how to use them properly. But the most successful companies mix things up. “One month they use posters; the next month perhaps stickers on lockers in the change room; the next month managers on the production floor talk to people, and so on. The best way to get a message across is to keep it fresh.”
Other beneficial technologies, according to Fone, are handles and bristles impregnated with antimicrobial agents. “While there are no studies done as yet I’m aware of concerning their effectiveness, these agents could be just as important to handles as they are to bristles. The handles come into contact with hands, and many studies out there show hands to be the prime source of moving bacteria from one place to another in a plant.” 
Food safety hinges on identifying and reducing contamination risks at critical exchange points. Using color-coded cleaning tools is one of the easiest and most effective methods of doing this.

For more information:

Paul Medeiros; Guelph Food Technology Center; 519-835-7867;
Mike Dougherty; Perfex Corporation; 315-826-3600 ext. 24;
Brian Hutton; Carlisle Sanitary Maintenance Products; 405-475-5692;
Dakonya Freis; Nelson-Jameson; 714-384-1080;
Michelle Williams; Remco Products; 317-876-9856;
Rhonda Kovera; Visual Workplace; 616-277-5253;
Kelly Nichols; NSF International; 734-827-6850;