Color-coding in food facilities is a useful strategy for processors with pathogen, allergen or foreign contaminant concerns, and may be a useful tool for producers looking to strengthen HACCP plans. As FDA continues to implement Food Safety Modernization Act rules designed to reduce cross-contamination and improve traceability, color-coding will be an essential part of many food safety plans.

Color-coding can be used in a variety of applications. Some processors use the technique to provide zone control by differentiating between each step in the processing line. For example, green may be used for facilities and processing lines that handle cooked meat products while red would be used for those handling raw product.

Processors may also choose color-coding to divide workspaces in an effort to reduce cross-contamination and lost or misplaced equipment. If cross-contamination is a top priority, worker uniforms may be color-coded.

 These 13 criteria will help operators determine if color-coding may be useful in their plant.

1. Do any ingredients used in the food production process pose a microbiological threat? If so, color-coding for zone control may be helpful in limiting cross-contamination risk.

2. Does your operation use certain chemicals in any area that would pose a threat if they were transferred to another area? Zone control is a priority in these cases.

3. Is it necessary to segregate tools based on where they are to be used—such as floor and drains or equipment and machinery? Color-coding may provide a simple solution.

4. Does your facility process foods with ingredients that are known allergens? Zone control will facilitate proper labeling and minimize the risk of unintentional allergy contamination.

5. Does your facility maintain a HACCP or master plan schedule? If so, a color-coding program can be easily integrated for additional control point and maintenance accountability.

6. Does your facility employ a 5S system? A 5S system organizes the workplace into five pillars, meant to ensure an operation puts in place and maintains the simplest and most effective manufacturing and maintenance procedures. Color-coding can complement these goals effectively.

7. Does your facility have separate manufacturing lines for different products? If so, it is a prime candidate for zone control via color-coding.

8. Would your quality control benefit from dividing workspaces?

9. Do you have manufacturing processes that must be consistent from plant to plant? Color-coding can help ensure common protocols are maintained in multiple facilities.

10. Do any of the following groups have regulatory authority over your products, or do you look to them for guidance or certification? FDA, USDA, CFIA, GFSI, SQFI, FMI, ISO, ServSafe, ANSI, AIB, IFT, FAO, WHO, IFS, FSSC 2200, EPA and BRC.

11. Are you a US-based processor with employees whose primary language is not English, or do you have plants in various countries with workers speaking different languages? Color-coding can help standardize tools, manufacturing procedures and maintenance practices while minimizing language barriers.

12. Do you have a problem with tools getting lost, being stored incorrectly or used inappropriately? Color-coding tools can ensure the correct tool is used, and it is replaced properly.

13. Must your facility meet certain sanitation standards? Color-coding surfaces and tools for sanitation needs can simplify those requirements.

Color-coding work areas, production lines and tools can serve a variety of useful purposes, and implementation costs are minimal. Processors looking to minimize contamination or allergen risks while getting out in front of some FSMA requirements could benefit from instituting color-coding in their operations.

For more information, download the Remco Products white paper, “Making the Decision to Apply Color Coding.”