Tag Archives: color coding

Scott Kiernan
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Color Code to Food Safety

By Scott Kiernan
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Scott Kiernan

Over my 30-year career in the food industry, I have worked for small, corporate and private businesses. Food safety and the prevention of foodborne illness has always been a priority in all kitchens I have worked in and I have seen the challenges facing the industry. I have experienced difficulties in getting all food handlers to adhere to food safety policies, whether it is due to employing a large staff, lack of training, inefficient systems, miscommunication between front of house and back of house, or an inability to find qualified staff.

Awareness of Food Safety Today and Social Media

Industry professionals know that a culture of food safety is critical to preventing foodborne illness; in fact, 95% of chefs cite customers getting sick as their top concern according to a recent study that surveyed nearly 1,000 American Culinary Federation member chefs.1 In a time when more Americans are aware of and educated about food allergies than ever before, it is important for food professionals to pay close attention to recent developments regarding food allergens and sensitivities, and their implications. Customer demands have increased and nearly three-in-five chefs say staying on top of food safety issues and regulations is critically important.

Rubbermaid Commercial Products, color coding
Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP) conducted a survey to better understand the attitudes and behaviors of chefs toward food prep and storage. Infographic courtesy of RCP.

This heightened awareness, coupled with social media, can have a lasting impact on a business. More consumers are relying on online reviews as much as personal recommendations, making it vital that all staff are trained and proficient in food safety practices to protect professional reputations and maintain safe and healthy environments. A bad review can damage a restaurant’s reputation and cause both customers and sales to decline. Beyond that, a foodborne illness can have a dramatic impact on insurance premiums, create negative media exposure and potentially lead to lawsuits and legal fees.

Food safety takes a large portion of chefs’ time on the job. Actually, 96% of chefs say they spend a fair amount of their day making sure food is being handled and stored correctly in their kitchen, while nearly half find food safety practices to be very time consuming.1 When you’re working in a commercial kitchen environment, you need products that are not only compliant with food safety regulations but also save time on the job.

Tackling Food Safety with Color Coding

A few months ago, I trialed a color-coded food storage and prep tools system. It delivers a way to tackle cross-contamination and potential foodborne illness in my kitchen, while providing my staff with a tool that is simple and saves time. The system comes in seven colors, each for use with a specific food type. Each utensil or storage container is matched to the appropriate food for a safer, more sanitary kitchen.

Color coded food service system
A color-coded food service system can help facilitate compliance.

My tips for a safer kitchen:

  • Color-coding is an easy visual tool on the job. A color-coded system makes it easier for staff to organize and identify stored items. All products in the line are made of quality, food-safe materials that are durable for a commercial setting. When you’re looking for a system, make sure the quality can withstand the daily demands of a commercial kitchen.
  • Taking the time for training is key. A color-coded system helps prevent cross-contamination and the spread of foodborne illness as long as it is used as intended. The system is easy to learn, but only effective if all staff members are properly trained. Take time to train your team on how to use and adhere to the designated color codes.
  • Make sure you have enough storage containers to meet your operation’s needs. You don’t want to run out of storage and cause staff to mix and match with other containers when they’re in a pinch. Incorporating containers that aren’t part of the system and not as easy to identify can lead to simple mistakes. Keeping your containers and cutting boards neatly organized on designated shelf space for each item will make it easier for staff to find and utilize the proper container. While containers are being used for storage, you may want to follow the “first in, first out” rotation when you have multiples of the same item.
  • Don’t forget to consider storage. I like the idea of removing ingredients from their original boxes and storing them in their assigned, color-coded containers because there is no telling what contaminants may be on the outside of the boxes from leakage, dust and/or other elements during warehousing and shipping. Staff should take the same care with storage as they are with the product when it’s in use.

Make Your Food Safety Solution Work for You

Overall, I found the color-coded food storage system easy to use and helpful in keeping things organized. When implementing a system, make sure to consider what works best for the size of your operation, whether you need larger or smaller containers based on the amount of production, and storage of product used in your operation. I feel the system I used would be most effective in a small- to mid-sized operation. It could be a challenge to get everyone in larger facilities on board, but with proper training and good communication it could be beneficial to any operation in the reduction and prevention of foodborne illness.

The system is use is designed to be an added benefit and safeguard to a company’s existing food safety program, so make sure you’re equipping staff with the training and knowledge they need to be successful. The color-coded food storage system can make food storage safe and easy, and it’s important to remember that all food handling and safety regulations need to be followed in accordance with your local health department and state guidelines.

All food service industries face the ongoing task of preventing cross contamination and it is our responsibility to train and manage our staff, and hold them accountable to adhering to all local health code and company policies regarding food safety. A single error on the job can jeopardize any safeguards that may be in place putting yourself, other employees and the public at risk. Proper hygiene, labeling, storage and having an HACCP system will not work if all food handling staff from receiving to delivery of the product to customer do not have the proper training and supervision.

References

  1. Coloring in the Lines of Food Safety Product Survey. Rubbermaid Commercial Products and Cohn & Wolfe Branding & Insights Group.
Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality
FST Soapbox

Color Coding Helps Brewers Button Up QA Procedures

By Adam Serfas
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Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality

The passage of FSMA sparked industry-wide tightening of food safety standards. Perhaps one industry that has been affected more than others is brewing. Prior to the passage of this sweeping legislation, brewers weren’t held to the same standards as other food manufacturers and food processors. The act’s new categorization for brewers as “food” means that the FDA now has some jurisdiction over the industry in conjunction with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

This increased scrutiny, particularly in the event of a recall, has caused many brewers to look to color-coding as a measure to tighten up their quality assurance protocols. Fortunately for brewers, there are many benefits to incorporating color-coding, making the process a worthwhile one.

Happy Inspectors

Perhaps the most immediate effect of incorporating color-coding in a facility is delighting any inspectors that may drop in. A color-coding plan is a documented method for evaluating potential hazards and implementing precautionary measures to preventing contamination—all things inspectors want to see. Failure to live up to these standards can result in follow up inspections and, in some cases, fines.

Proper Tool Usage

A color-coding plan indicates where and when a tool is to be used. While mistakes can still be made, a clear plan that is reflected in all tools and paired with adequate signage and training makes it much more likely that a tool will be used properly. Much of the equipment in a brewery is very expensive and can be easily damaged by using the wrong tool. For example, if an abrasive brush were to be used on a stainless steel tank, there can be irreparable damage.

Higher-Quality Tools

Tools that are color-coded are generally made at a food-grade, FDA-approved quality. This means they are much less likely to leave behind bristles, a potential contaminant you wouldn’t want finding its way into the product. Additionally, many breweries make use of caustics and acids followed by sanitizers in the cleaning process. A low-quality tool will degrade at a much higher rate as a result of coming into contact with these chemicals than a higher quality tool will. Simply put, higher quality tools last longer, saving you money in the long run.

Less Tool Wandering

A color-coding plan should indicate where a tool is used and where it is stored when it is not being used. When tools have this designated storage area they are much less likely to be carelessly misplaced. And in the event of a lost tool, it becomes much easier to recognize these tool gaps and replace as necessary sooner rather than later to ensure that the proper tool is always used for the task at hand.

Higher Efficiency

When protocols are in place for tool usage, time isn’t wasted finding the correct tool for the job. This may seem insignificant, but over time those lost minutes can add up.

Removal of Language Barriers

For facilities that employ foreign speakers, color-coding is extremely helpful in breaking down language barriers. A brewery production area can be a busy, fast-paced environment, so it is helpful to have a plan in place that is easily recognizable and understood by all employees.

It is however important to consider the fact that you may need to keep in mind the visibility of these colors for colorblind employees. It’s best to try to use high contrast colors in your plan.

Greater Traceability

Finally, in the unfortunate event of a recall, a color-coding plan helps add traceability potentially decreasing the amount of product that needs to be pulled from shelves. Certainly color-coding helps to prevent contamination issues that can cause a recall.

A well thought out color-coding plan that is carefully implemented can have numerous benefits in breweries both small and large. For questions related to drafting a color-coding plan from scratch or updating an existing plan, contacting a color-coding specialist is recommended.

Color coding to enable allergen and potential contamination distinction

If You Aren’t Color Coding Yet, You’re Way Behind

By Bob Serfas
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Color coding to enable allergen and potential contamination distinction

Since the introduction of FSMA, food safety has been under a much-needed magnifying glass. Standards for hygiene and accountability are increasing, and companies are implementing more measures to keep consumers safe. One of the ways in which businesses are being proactive is through implementing color-coding plans. If you have not heard of this type of plan yet, it’s time to get schooled; and if you have, this article will provide a quick refresher on why companies are expanding their spectrum on contamination prevention—by literally implementing the color spectrum in their plants and businesses. 

What Is A Color-Coded Plan?

A strategy for a plant or business that designates certain colors for a specific area or purpose designed to promote safety and cleanliness.

Example Plans. Although color-coding plans vary by the needs and demands of each plant, the following are the most popular types of color-coding plans currently being practiced in food manufacturing.

Color coding to enable allergen and potential contamination distinction
Color coding a cleaning brush can help employees make the distinction when dealing with allergens and potential contamination. All images courtesy of Remco/Vikan

Allergen/Potential Contaminant Distinction

Food Processors and manufactures usually have identified potential allergens and contaminants that pose a risk to the production process. Color distinction for equipment or instruments that come into contact with these potential contaminants is an ideal tool for food safety. Determining the amount of items that fall into this category within your facility is the first step to selecting the appropriate amount of colors to implement. The most basic color-coding plan for this purpose would be to select one color to represent tools that come into contact with a particular risk agent and one color to represent those tools that may be used elsewhere. If a plant has more than one risk agent, this plan may be expanded to include several colors. It is important to remember, however, that simplicity is key in color coding and that additional colors should be implemented strictly on an as-needed basis.

Zone Distinction

Many plants already have identified zones in place based on what is produced in each zone or simply due to operating a large plant. This presents an ideal opportunity to color code zones to keep tools in their proper place.  

Shift Distinction

Certain plants that have a large number of employees working different shift times should also consider color coding. Color coding by shift can hold each shift responsible for proper tool use and storage. This approach also allows management to see where work habits may be falling short and where the cost of tool replacement is highest. 

Assembly Process Distinction

Plants that have assembly line-like processes can implement color coding if necessary to differentiate tools that belong to each step. For example, this becomes particularly important in plants that deal with products such as meat; obviously you do not want to use the same tools with raw and processed meat. Color coding eliminates the question of whether or not a tool is meant for each step in the process.

Color coding for cleaning purpose distinction
Implement a two-color-coding plan to distinguish between tools used for cleaning versus sanitation.

Cleaning Purpose Distinction

For many food plants, cleaning and sanitizing are processes that are considered different in purpose and practice. Often, there is a specific list for cleaning and then a separate plan for sanitizing. Implementing a two color-coding plan can distinguish tools that are meant for each process.

Why You Need A Color-Coded Plan

It helps meet FSMA requirements. A major part of complying with FSMA regulations is having proper documentation to prove safety measures. Color-coding plans do exactly that, and most providers of these products can provide you with the necessary documentation.

It reduces pathogens and allergens contamination. For food producers, this is the most important reason to implement color coding. There is nothing worse for a company than experiencing product contamination or a recall; this is one step that may prevent such events from occurring. 

It is easy to understand. Color coding works so well because it is so simple. All employees, even those who may not speak the same language or are unable to read posters and manuals that dictate proper procedures, can easily comprehend it.

It creates a culture that holds employees accountable. Managers enjoy color-coding practice because it is a simple measure that really works to hold employees accountable in the proper use of tools. It becomes much more obvious when a brightly colored tool is out of place, and thus workers are more likely to follow proper procedure.