Colour coding has been a significant tool in the past twenty years of the development of systems to manage and control cross contamination in the food industry.
In the Catering/Food Service industry the main risk assessment focus has been on the different levels of contamination risk from food type to food type.
In its simplest form raw poultry and cooked meat can be viewed at the opposite ends of the risk scale and keeping them apart is absolutely necessary. The use of coloured cutting boards and coloured handled knives provide a powerful tool when, for example, yellow boards and knives are reserved for high risk raw poultry and brown coloured products are used for lower risk cooked meat.
In the food processing industry colour coding is also an important method for controlling risk but the system can be applied on a broader basis by signifying various physical areas of risk within the process chain through the plant.
For example in a poultry slaughter and packing plant the areas of slaughter and de-feather are an extremely high source of contaminants and may be coded black with evisceration and carcase preparation coded red. The chilling area could be blue and the bagging and packing areas green. The floors and signage in those areas would be coloured accordingly, and the clothing and tools would also be selected in the relevant significant colours.
This colour system would provide an immediate warning when the staff or tools or equipment from a high risk area ‘migrated’ into a low risk area bringing the higher danger of cross contamination.
The weaknesses of these systems are that they can be different from kitchen to kitchen and from factory to factory. So staff moving from one employer to another may find that the blue board for example in the last kitchen instead of being reserved for cooked meats is now being used for handling sea food. A further weakness is that some staff are colour blind.
As long as each food company has a choice from a reasonably broad palette of coloured equipment then each company can create a coding system that suits its specific needs.
That is why Detectamet, for example, has established a policy of providing many of its detectable products in a choice of nine colours. It can even inscribe further identifiers into the product, and whilst having ‘brown’ inscribed on a brown scraper may seem superfluously obvious to a normally sighted person, to a colour blind member of staff it may be essential. It would even be possible to engrave the correct usage to remind the staff that the “brown” board should be used for “cooked meat”.
Whatever the chosen colour for whatever the purpose of the separation if all staff know the system and all adhere to it then the risks of cross contamination will be reduced. By choosing from the Detectamet range of coloured products the food company gets the added benefits of detectable plastics that can be found by standard inspection/detection systems used in the food industry.
A few minutes research will throw up many examples of plastic contaminations of food that have led to product recalls. From baby food to chicken nuggets and pet food to cinnamon rolls the list gets longer. In some cases the culprit is identified as ‘from a scraper’ or ‘likely from gloves’.
A major series of recalls instigated in 2008 by a large international food group totalled over 1.2million pounds (544,000kilos) and the company stated that they suspected the contamination came from a single batch of raw ingredients. This shows the need for using detectable plastic products at every stage through the food chain. Could an ingredient supplier have found the material before it was delivered? A detectable plastic could have been found as the ingredients passed through a detection system before it was despatched. If it was a dry product the ingredient supplier could have taken advantage of the detectable plastics attraction to magnets. Passing the loose product through a magnetic separation system would have extracted any contaminating detectable plastics.
“There is no doubt that colour coding is accepted as a powerful method of reducing cross contamination” says Sean Smith the CEO of Detectamet “Add to that the benefits of equipment made from detectable plastics and food producers can close off many potential threats of recall.”