top of page

Avoiding colour-coding mistakes and cross-contamination in food production areas

Many food processors already use colour-coded segregation of areas and equipment as part of their Good Manufacturing Practice, but things can go wrong. Here is a guide to avoiding common mistakes.

Ensuring good systems are in place to prevent cross-contamination and ensure high levels of food safety is vital for anyone in the food processing sector. Not only is it important to avoid contamination of food-borne diseases such as bacteria (and their toxins), viruses and parasites, it is also vital to ensure allergens such as nuts, gluten or dairy products do not cross-contaminate foods which might be consumed by those with severe allergies.

Colour-coding is also a useful method of ensuring you are adhering to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles. HACCP is a way of managing food safety hazards and food safety management procedures should be based on the following HACCP principles (according to the Food Standards Agency).

  • Looking closely at what you do in your business and what risks there are to food safety

  • Identifying critical control points the areas a business needs to focus on to ensure risks are removed or reduced to safe levels

  • Creating an action plan if things goes wrong

  • Making sure that your procedures are working

  • Keeping records to show your procedures are working

However, there are common errors or failures that happen with colour coding systems. Here are some tips to help avoid them.

Tip 1: Make sure everyone is using the same colour-coding system

The most common use of colour-coding among food processors is to ensure that cleaning equipment, chopping boards and kitchen utensils are all colour coded to ensure they are used only on certain food products or in certain areas or zones to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination.

However, it is important to realise that while some colour-coding systems are used commonly, there is no universally used system. Some staff may be familiar with old systems, or entirely different ones -- such as the colour-coding system which is used in healthcare settings to differentiate different zones based on use of the areas.

It is therefore vital to ensure that the colour coding system you use is set out and communicated very clearly to staff during training, training refreshers and in posters and charts (see example below) which are clearly visible and good reminders or resources to help staff check they are adhering to the correct colour coding system.

Tip 2: Keep it simple

Another common cause of colour coding mistakes is confusion. Trying to mix two colours or to have too many different colours in your system, or two different colour coding systems in different parts of the business for example leaves much room for confusion. Stick to a limited number of colours and stick to one system.

Tip 3: Communicate the colour coding system clearly and often

Make sure your chosen the colour-coding system is clearly shared with all staff through good signage, shadow boards, or colour-coded equipment storage. Also make sure you share it in different formats, visual, and audio (by training and telling all staff verbally, or providing a video, for example) to make sure staff who have accessibility challenges such as vision or hearing loss or dyslexia can all easily understand the colour coding system. Use multilingual versions if appropriate. Have posters in key areas as reminders.

Tip 4: Make sure storage areas are colour coded

Another common mistake with colour coding is that while items are used on the right food product or zone, they are kept in the wrong storage area, or put with items of a different colour when being put away, increasing the risk of cross-contamination. Ensure storage areas are clearly colour coded. One good way to do this is with shadow boards, such as this on offer from Vikan.

Tip 5: Check it is working

Schedule time for a named person to check and assess how well the colour-coding scheme is working and open up channels of communication during staff reviews and surveys to make sure that the system is fit for purpose. Ensure a regular checking system is in place during the cleaning process to ensure staff are adhering to the system.

Tip 6: If you are changing your colour-coding system

If you are making changes to your existing system, do good research with your team first. Make sure that the colours you select make sense to your managers and employees. Do particular colours seem to logically symbolise zones or the food products processed you work with? Then, once decided, roll out the system all at once, across all areas of the business. Ensure all staff get training and communicate the new system with posters, handbooks and verbal updates too. Using all channels of communication to make sure people know about changes, and then reminding them is vital because the colour-coding system is so important in maintaining food hygiene standards.

Helpful products and resources:

For detailed guidance on colour coding systems, you can download Vikan’s white paper on Colour coding guidance here:

We offer a variety of colour coded products, including a good range from Vikan.

This yellow, square hand scoop, 1 litre, for example comes in 6 different colours and has been carefully designed to improve food hygiene standards.

This cook’s knife comes in five different colours.

Our sales team are also happy to discuss products and measures that can support you in implementing a successful colour coding system.. Contact us at or call 01726 74264.


bottom of page