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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.
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.
Determining Critical Food Safety Factors
First, 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.
For example, in a facility where raw meat is processed and cross-contamination is a concern, one would not want the tools that touch raw meat to also be used on the final ready-to-eat product. One food manufacturing facility may be concerned with controlling the risk of pathogens (e.g., Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, etc.), while another processor may worry about cross-contamination of common allergens (e.g., peanuts, eggs, milk, soy, etc.) within their processing facility.