vikan colour coding


Colour it Clean

Vikan pioneered cleaning tool colour coding in the 1990s, and the practice has now become an industry standard, required by food safety standards around the world. Today, Vikan are sharing their expertise on colour-coding with particular reference on how colour coding can improve food and safety quality.


How it Works

Colour-coded segregation helps minimise the risk of product cross-contamination from microbes and food residues, including allergens, chemicals and foreign bodies. It works by assigning cleaning tools a specific colour for use in specific areas and/or for specific tasks.

For example, red tools can be used in high-risk areas, and yellow ones in low-risk areas. Blue tools could be used to clean surfaces that come in contact with food, while green ones could be used for cleaning floors. This makes it easy to identify whether tools are in the wrong area, or are being used for the wrong task. 







Food-borne Disease

The greatest risk to food safety is from food-borne diseases. In the European Union (EU), over 320,000 human cases are reported each year, but the real number is likely to be much higher (1).The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that, worldwide, food-borne and water-borne diarrhoeal diseases, taken together, kill about 2.2 million people annually(2). 

Food-borne diseases are caused by consuming food or drink contaminated by pathogenic (disease-causing) micro-organisms, such as bacteria (and their toxins), viruses and parasites. Many of these micro-organisms are commonly found in the environment, on raw fruit and vegetables, and in the intestines of healthy food-producing animals(3). They enter the human body via contaminated food and drink, and are then pre sent in the gastro intestinal tract where the first symptoms often occur (stomach cramps, vomiting etc.). From here some can enter the bloodstream and travel around the body to affect organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart. Consequently, the severity of a food-borne disease in humans can vary from mild symptoms to life-threatening conditions.

The risks of contamination are present from farm to fork and require prevention and control throughout the food chain. For those concerned with protecting food safety and/or working in the food processing industry the significance of food-borne disease is of particular concern.

The most common micro-organisms that cause food borne diseases are:

Bacteria-  Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Yersinia

 Bacterial toxinsToxins of Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinum and Bacillus cereus

VirusesCalicivirus (including norovirus), rotavirus, hepatitis A virus, hepatitis E virus

ParasitesTrichinella, Toxoplasma, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia 



The management of food allergens has become an essential part of food safety. For consumers with food allergies or food intolerances, eating even a small amount of the food to which they are sensitive can make them very ill and in some cases, cause potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions. European Directives (2003/89/EC(4) & 2006/142/EC)(5), which relate to food labelling, lists 14 allergens that must be declared if present in a food product.

The list consists of:

 Cereals containing gluten
 Sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg, or 10 mg/litre, expressed as SO2.

Many of these foodstuffs are common ingredients in the ready prepared foods we eat today. Their frequent use thus increases the risk of accidental contamination of other products. The food industry, therefore, needs to employ control measures that minimise the risk of allergen cross-contamination and thus improves food safety.  

Foreign Bodies 

Foreign bodies, i.e. something that the consumer perceives as being alien to the food, are the biggest single source of customer complaints for many food manufacturers, retailers and enforcement authorities(6). Foreign bodies in foods are therefore justifiably of concern to all food manufacturers and retailers. The accidental inclusion of unwanted items can sometimes occur in even the best managed processes and, even if these items do not pose a food safety risk, there is nothing more off-putting to a customer than when they find what they consider to be a ‘foreign body’ in their food.

Publicity(7) given to foreign body contamination of foods has made consumers very aware of their rights, with regard to the safety and quality of the food they eat, and this has encouraged a litigious society. Therefore, any action that can be taken to lessen the incidence of foreign bodies in foods is of interest to food manufacturers, retailers and enforcement authorities.






Whether it’s packaged beef contaminated with E. coli, biscuits tainted with allergenic peanut residues, or a spice mix containing a plastic brush bristle, when the safety or quality of food products has been compromised, the rippling effects of a recall can be staggering. For example, in 2006 confectionery giant Cadbury Schweppes estimated that the salmonella contamination of chocolate that occurred at its plant in Marlbrook, Herefordshire cost it about £20m ($37.5m). Half the sum related to the cost of recalling one million chocolate bars, while the rest was spent on damage limitation advertising costs and “manufacturing improvements”. Shares in Cadbury’s also fell by about one percent(8). 

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently estimated the costs associated with food-borne illness in the UK at nearly £1.5 billion(9).






There are various global and local Government agencies, and expert guidance providers that publish advice on, how to maintain the integrity of the food processing industry including, EC Regulation 852/2004(10), CODEX(11), EFSA(12), BRC(13) and the IFS(14).

To protect consumers from contaminated food, the EU has adopted an integrated approach to food safety, from farm to fork. The approach consists of both risk assessment (e.g. data collection, analysis,recommendations) and risk management (e.g. legislative measures, targets for reduction) measures. 






As with many manufacturing businesses, there are ways to manage the hazards and risks but one universally popular system that has been recommended by regulatory bodies and adopted by the food industry is the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety management system(15).


HACCP is designed to analyse and control biological,chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product. It requires food processors to have a written safety plan which begins by conducting a Hazard Analysis (HA), that identifies the “Critical Control Points” (CCP), i.e., those points, steps or procedures in a food manufacturing process at which control can be applied and, as a result, a food safety hazard can be prevented, eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level.

Once CCPs are identified, food processors can then implement appropriate validated controls and critical limits for each CCP, continually monitor and verify these CCPs, take corrective actions where necessary, and document that safe procedures arebeing followed. HACCP procedures can be applied and developed for food production, retail and food service operations.

HACCP per se is focused on the control of the raw material, the final product and the process. Underlying this principle HACCP focus is the HACCP Pre-requisites programme, which focuses on the production environment, people and services, including:

Building design
Equipment design
Sanitation (Cleaning and disinfection)
Personnel hygiene
Pest control
Waste control  

Best practice pre-requisites should be in place in all factories.






One of the key pre-requisites listed above is sanitation.Good cleaning and disinfection practices are essential to minimse the risk of microbial, foreign body and allergen contamination of the food/beverage product. With regard to microbial control, cleaning is an essential pre-requisite to disinfection, as any organic material on the surfaces to be disinfected will render the disinfectant less effective or shield the microbes from the disinfectant(16).

Cleaning is a combination of four factors:

1. Time
2. Temperature
3. Chemicals
4. Mechanical effort/kinetic energy

None of these factors work in isolation but must be used in combination to achieve effective cleaning. However, the contribution each makes to the cleaning process will vary dependant on what is being cleaned. 

For manual cleaning there are limitations on the temperature (of the water and chemicals) and the chemicals used, due to the direct exposure of the operator to them. Consequently, it is important that the cleaning equipment itself delivers effective and efficient cleaning, relative to the time and effort available for cleaning.

The cleaning equipment itself must be appropriately designed, so as to minimise the risk of microbial, foreign body and allergen harbourage and cross-contamination.This would include consideration of good functional design (effective and efficient), good hygienic design (the cleanability of the equipment itself), equipment durability, and the incorporation of specialist design features, such as the availability of the cleaning equipment in different colours to allow colour-coded segregation of different food processing operations/areas.






A simple, well-implemented colour-coding system can benefit a food processor in many ways and virtually any food production facility can be colourcoded. Many food processors already use colourcoded segregation of areas and equipment as part of their Good Manufacturing Practices, and as a proactive step in risk reduction as part of their HACCP pre-requisite programme.


Primarily, the use of colour-coded cleaning equipment can help minimse the risk of product contamination by microbes, allergens and foreign bodies and consequently improve food safety and quality, save on expensive recalls and protect the reputation of the business. Colour-coding is often used to differentiate steps, parts or areas of a food production process.


Probably the most common use of colour-coding among food processors is to distinguish equipment for use in cleaning of food contact and non-food contact surfaces/equipment. For example, the colour Green could be used to identify cleaning tools used on the floor of the production area, black is common for use with drains, engineering, and outside areas,as it doesn’t show the dirt, and blue is common for cleaning of food contact surfaces, as few foods are blue and the colour contrast allows easier visual detection of plastic fragments or stray filaments from the cleaning equipment in the food.


Other colours can be selected to differentiate between tools that are specified for use with particular allergens or cleaning chemical agents. This practice can help prevent the undesired occurrence of allergens in non-allergenic foods, and equipment contact with chemicals that could pose a safety risk to the food or damage the equipment.


Colour-coded segregation can also extend to the areas in or lines on which the food is produced. This “Zone control” uses equipment of a designated colour for exclusive use within a particular area/on a particular line. For example, Blue may be assigned to facilities and processing lines that handle processed or cooked meats, while Red may assigned to those handling raw meat, thus minimising the risk of microbial cross-contamination.For control of allergens, Orange equipment could be used exclusively in an allergen area thus minimising the risk of allergen crosscontamination. 


Additionally, when designated coloured cleaning equipment is assigned to matched coloured zones, confirmation that a tool is in the wrong place is easy and quick to rectify, and is in compliance with the HACCP principles of monitoring and control.


Colour-coding can overcome language barriers. Employees of all ethnicities can easily learn a colourbased usage system and swiftly put it into action. Additionally, there are often fewer questions about where each tool should be used and stored, and employees know which colour tools are for their area of the facility, or step in the manufacturing process.


Colour-coding can help maximise the life of the cleaning equipment, and thus reduce cost. A cleaning equipment system which uses matching colour-coded wall brackets or shadow boards can encourage employees to properly store their tools. Thus, equipment damage is minimised, it lasts longer and the tools are less likely to get lost.


Furthermore, equipment storage can reduce the health and safety risk of trips and user injury from equipment left on the floor.


Finally, a well controlled and documented colour-coding system can make it easier for procurement to order replacement products when needed, and provides documentation in support of HACCP to auditors.


There are, however, no regulations stating which colour should be used for different equipment functions or to designate different areas of production and it is often left to the individual site or business to decide on how best to proceed.






Heightened food safety regulations are driving the need for documented food safety management systems. As a result, more food processors are using colour-coding throughout their facilities to help manage food safety risks.


Colour-coding can be an effective and easily understood way of minimising cross contamination. It has been shown that, with proper implementation, the benefits of a colour-coding system can outweigh the costs. Additionally, while it is not yet a firm requirement by law, colour-coding is often looked upon favourably by customers and inspectors as a practice by customers and inspectors as a practice that shows a companys commitment to food safety.  



Vikan's 9 Tips to Develop a Successful Colour-Coding System for Better Food Safety & Quality 


• Keep your colour-coding system simple

Limit the number of colours used to as few as possible. Don’t try to assign colours for each and every step of a complicated process.


• Pick logical colours per area

Ensure that the colours you select make sense to your plant supervisors and employees alike. Do particular colours seem to logically symbolise zones or the food products processed in your facility?

• Avoid complicated colour combinations

Mixing brush/squeegee heads and handle colours can sometimes result in confusion. 

• Roll out the colour-coding program all at once

Implement your colour-coding system within the zones affected all at once; have a definite end date for your old system and start date for your new colour-coded system.

• Good communication is key

Meet with each of your shift managers first, then roll out the program to employees.

• Reinforce the colour-coding with good signage, shadow boards, or colour coded equipment storage (e.g. wall brackets)

Make it clear (use images or multilingual text if necessary).

• Be sure your tools and storage areas match

Make sure the tools are stored in the same area where they are used to further avoid confusion and cross-contamination.

• Colour-coding plan and equipment maintenance

Regularly monitor and review your colour-coding plan, and check and maintain your cleaning equipment, so as to maximise your control of cross-contamination.

• Follow through

Utilise the same documentation at point of use, with your Purchasing Department and with your Quality Manager so everyone can work to the same system.





The Vikan colour-coded range is now available from System Hygiene 


System Hygiene offers Vikan's comprehensive range of colour-coded cleaning tools and equipment, and equipment storage options like colour-coded wall brackets, all supported by documentation on aspects such as food contact approval and technical specifications.


Click to view the Vikan range now, or speak with your System Hygiene representative for specialist colour-coding advice.





The Vikan site survey 


If you have a factory audit scheduled for the near future, you’ll naturally want to satisfy auditors and earn a stamp of approval for your hygiene operations. A Vikan Site Survey is a great way to improve the certainty of passing – and in fact to move beyond just passing audits to getting ahead of the field as a hygiene leader. A Site Survey involves a thorough inspection of your plant with a view to identifying and solving hygiene problems before the auditors find them. 


To find out more about booking your free Vikan site survey, please speak with your System Hygiene Representative.





Article Credits

We are most grateful to Jette Fruergaard, Product Manager, Hygiene and Classic at Vikan Denmark for this article which is based on an original white paper published by Remco Products Corporation. Copyright © 2013 Vikan A/S. All Rights Reserved.


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vikan colour coding in action