Color-coding is an important part of any food safety program. Not only does it help prevent cross-contamination due to pathogens, allergens and foreign contaminates, color-coding has a variety of other uses.

With the number of governmental regulations growing, it is essential that food processing facilities stay on top of the current trends and best practices to be market leaders. Implementing a color-coding program is a great way to help accomplish that.

Here are five things that you should know about color-coding:

1. It simplifies the traceability of tools

Tracing the overall process is challenging and maintaining that same control over your own facility isn’t much easier. Many food processing facilities are large outfits with numerous people working different shifts, and some are small, localized businesses with few staff members. Trying to keep track of food’s movements can prove difficult for big processors and mom-and-pop shops alike, though traceability is important in every single production facility.

Having color-coding in processing facilities enhances the level of traceability. Having a color-coding system helps track tools within the facility, making food that much safer. If you use red for the raw meat zone, then you know that a red tool in the yellow zone, which is for processed food, is a contamination threat. You can then take steps to remove the potentially contaminated food from that area. This is much easier than trying to remove contaminated food after it has left the facility, which could cost millions of dollars.

The benefit of having tools that are completely color-coded is that they provide instant recognition. To immediately know the origination of a tool is vital to preventing lost time, production shutdown and delays. Having tight traceability in food processing facilities not only diminishes the chance of a recall, it also helps keep your facility on time with deadlines, helps the bottom line and looks good in the public’s and regulators’ eyes.

RELATED: Become a certified ISO 22000 Food Safety Lead Implementer with ContinuityLink

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2. Color-coding breaks through language barriers

Whether you have just one employee that speaks another language, or 500, color-coding can help to keep efficiency high and mistakes low. Because colors are universal, no matter what language someone speaks, they are going to be able to tell one color from another. Red is red, even if the word itself is different.

Having a color-coding program in place can help limit the language confusion found in food processing facilities. Less confusion means safer practices, and this means better food safety. This can add up to fewer recalls, which saves money.

3. Simplicity is essential for an effective program

Food safety is a challenging endeavor in an industry with complex regulations, and color-coding is intended to simplify an element of it. Completely simplifying food safety is impossible, but color-coding can help, along with supporting the overall goal of meeting food safety regulations. Color-coding offers a method to intuitively keep tools organized and clearly communicate which tools belong in certain areas. Visual identification of equipment is quick when tools are color-coded.

The foremost principle to remember regarding the simplicity of a color- coding system is to limit the number of colors used to what is absolutely necessary. For example, many food production operations have determined that only two colors are needed: one for “food contact” and another for “non-food contact.” A plan like this would ensure that tools used on the floor are easily identified as being different than those intended to be used on food and food contact surfaces. This type of simplistic plan is very easy to explain to employees and communicate throughout the facility.

4. Communication is key

A solid communication plan is essential to an effective color-coding system. With the proper communication channels in place, your color-coding system has the best chance for successful adoption—helping you mitigate the risk of cross-contamination.

Communication should start at the top of the company and go down to each and every employee. When all employees are knowledgeable about the new or changed program, the chances of success are higher.

5. Complete implementation improves internal adoption

The final key to the success of a color-coding program is ensuring that it is completely integrated into the facility. If you have decided to take the plunge and start a color-coding program, or if you think yours needs some tweaking, remember that even a good color-coding program can be problematic if it is not uniformly applied. Ensuring complete implementation will improve internal adoption.

Source: Food Safety magazine

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