Colour-coding is the industry’s go-to method to ensure segregation and good manufacturing practice.

Whether it be relating to food contact type (food/non-food), factory area risk (high care/low risk), species (lamb/beef/pork etc), or allergen (eggs/milk/nuts etc), colour-coding clearly demarcates the purpose of each equipment type.

Allergenic segregation is particularly crucial. In the UK, it is estimated that 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children have a food allergy – equating to 2 million people nationwide – while allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe.

Blasé approaches to segregation not only put the future of your business in jeopardy, but seriously endanger the wellbeing of consumers.

However, implementing a watertight segregation plan saves money, keeps customers happy, and maintains a professional reputation with suppliers, buyers, and retailers.

So, what is the best way to implement a failproof segregation strategy?

In our 20 years’ experience driving safety and compliance across the food sector, our team at Klipspringer are asked this question on a near-daily basis.

Our advice depends on circumstance, but there are several major points which consistently crop up as cornerstones of best practice regarding segregation. Based on an interview between Alex Carlyon (our Sales Director) and Alex Blair (our Content Lead), this article reveals those points.

Drawing on his 18 years of first-hand industry experience, Alex explains the principles of colour-coded segregation, and provides tangible examples of how to simplify segregation policies for maximum effectiveness.

Read on for more.

What is colour-coding and how do I implement it?

Amid increased public and private sector awareness of allergens in food production, colour-coding has become the industry standard for segregation. Coinciding with research that revealed allergy to be the most common chronic disease in Europe, the EU and FSA released their industry-recognised ‘14 Allergens’ in 2014.

These are legally required to be displayed in all food production environments. Correspondingly, regulations became stricter, particularly the BRCGS, who mandate the separation of these allergens by visual, unambiguous measures.

The 14 Food Allergens. Credit: Cath Strawson (Klipspringer).

That’s how colour-coding became the preferred approach. As a concept, it is defined as designating a certain colour to manufacturing and production utensils used for a certain purpose, or within a certain zone of the factory. For instance, all utensils used for production of a certain type of meat, such as lamb, could be colour-coded as red throughout the factory.

In principle, colour-coding is self-explanatory. However, due to complex production methods or ambiguous designations, many food businesses complain that their colour-coding strategies cause them more hassle than clarity. As a result, “how can I simplify my colour-coding policy?” is an unignorably common query. Read on to find out the answer.

How do I simplify my colour-coding policy?

Overarchingly, Alex underlined the importance of centring the policy around risk: “Far too many colour-coding policies are overcomplicated by excessive compartmentalisation, rather than focusing on what poses the biggest danger to product integrity”.

Alex proceeded to give an example based on a recent project he’d coordinated with a major UK meat manufacturer. The below table represents this manufacturer’s previous colour-coding policy, based entirely around ‘area’ (e.g. yellow for the Chicken Slaughter Line). The manufacturer then implemented different handle colours based on purpose (e.g. blue handle for ‘dirty’ chicken).

Overly complex colour-coding plan:

Area

Colour

Purpose

Description

Food Contact

Black

Food contact

Fork, shovel, scoop

Chicken Slaughter Line

Yellow with blue handle (dirty sector) Yellow (clean sector)

Cleaning

Squeegee, brush, shovel, hand shovel, bucket

Pre-Chillers Loading Bay Chillers

Brown

Cleaning

Squeegee, hand shovel

Boning Hall

Green

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, bucket

Despatch Stores

Purple

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, 

Beef Slaughter Line

Blue with yellow handle (dirty sector) Blue (clean sector)

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, bucket

Red Offal

Blue with red handle

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, bucket

Green Offal

Blue with green handle

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, bucket

Toilets

Red

Cleaning

Squeegee, brush, mop

Taking a risk-oriented approach, Alex says: “We’ve got dirty and clean slaughter here. Does it really matter if it’s chicken or beef, especially as they are in completely different areas on the site? No – neither from a compliance nor production perspective. So, why not use one colour for clean slaughter, and another colour for dirty slaughter, simplifying a multi-colour (and handle multi-colour) policy down to two logical colours”.

This is just one example. Alex also recommended measures like grouping the ‘green’ of the boning hall with the abovementioned clean slaughter, as all involve meat. Another colour saved, another simplification in colour-coding policy. See below for the updated version of the manufacturer’s colour-coding strategy.

Simplified colour-coding policy:

Area

Colour

Purpose

Description

Food Contact

Black

Food contact

Fork, shovel, scoop

Chicken Slaughter Line - Dirty

Yellow

Cleaning

Squeegee, brush, shovel, hand shovel, bucket

Pre-Chillers & Loading Bay Chillers

Brown

Cleaning

Squeegee, hand shovel

Clean Slaughter & Boning Hall

Green

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, bucket

Despatch Stores

Purple

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, 

Beef Slaughter Line - Dirty 

Blue

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, bucket

Red Offal

Grey

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, bucket

Green Offal

Pink

Cleaning

Squeegee, shovel, brush, hand shovel, bucket

Toilets

Red

Cleaning

Squeegee, brush, mop

Could your own colour-coding policy be simplified in a similar way? Feel free to implement these suggestions to reduce ambiguity and drive compliance. For any queries, you can reach out to Alex via his LinkedIn.

What do I do if I run out of colours?

During his 18 years’ industry experience, Alex has developed a tried-and-tested line of questioning to figure out if food businesses need to expand beyond their current array of colours.

Firstly, is your colour-coding policy overcomplicated?

“There are very few factories UK which have legitimately run out of colours”, Alex says. Challenging the status quo by questioning if your current colour-coding policy is truly effective. Are there colours that can be combined because of a low or non-existent level of risk?

Secondly, if no further simplifications can be made, are there any additional distinctions?

Most UK food safety businesses offer between five and ten distinct colours for colour-coded equipment. At Klipspringer, we offer eleven. But even then, there are many scenarios when food businesses legitimately run out of colours for their segregation policies.

In those scenarios, Alex recommends Indelible Marking – the process of imprinting an image, logo, or text onto a utensil to ensure greater traceability and accountability.

An indelibly marked brush

How does Indelible Marking work? Specialist lasers change the molecular structure of the product surface to create a contrasting ‘impression’. This means that the mark cannot be removed, without compromising any hygiene or food safety requirements.

Full of real-life examples, Alex described a manufacturer who wanted to use a different colour for three allergens (egg, milk, and soya). However, this would have been excessively complicated – so Alex worked with their team to combine equipment from all three allergens into one colour code (yellow), while indelibly marking ‘egg’, ‘milk’, or ‘soya’ onto the side of each utensil. This allowed the factory team to differentiate between each allergen clearly and compliantly, while saving cost and avoiding any mix-ups.

An indelibly marked allergen spill kit

You can read more information about simplifying allergen segregation by downloading this free white paper, compiled by Sheena Britton, Klipspringer’s Technical Compliance Manager, who was previously a BRCGS-qualified auditor.

If you would like any further guidance in this area, the Klipspringer team would be happy to help with your enquiries. You can contact us on 01473 461800 or sales@klipspringer.com. Alternatively, you can use the form below to arrange a consultation

If you would like further guidance relating to colour-coding, the Klipspringer team would be happy to help. Share your details below.