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Last updated: 24.07.17

A Guide to Food Preparation Colour Codes

A professional's guide to kitchen colour-coding

One of the biggest considerations for those working in a kitchen is food hygiene, and one of the main principles of this is of course cross contamination. By having a well compartmentalised kitchen in which cross contamination does not occur, other risks such as those posed by allergens and uncooked food, can be dramatically reduced. The other three principles - cooking, cleaning and chilling - can all easily be undone if the standards of cross contamination are poor.

Colour-coding kitchen equipment is essential for professional caterers and is one of the very best ways of preventing cross contamination. Preparing fresh salad ingredients and raw meat on the same chopping boards, for example, can contaminate food, potentially causing food poisoning, other illnesses or an allergic reaction as a result. By making things very clear, accidental cross contamination is far less likely to occur. Let’s take a look.

Why is Colour Coding important?

Customers with food intolerances, allergies and dietary requirements may need their food to be prepared separately to other diners', and using a kitchen colour-coding system for equipment such as utensils and chopping boards can help to prevent mix-ups. Similarly, many items of food should not come into contact with other items when they are uncooked, as this could easily transmit harmful bacteria.

Safe food handling is essential for anyone who works in food preparation, and colour-coding kitchen equipment is a relatively cheap way to implement a safe system that's easy for all to follow.

Colour-coding equipment is also one way to demonstrate to Food Standards Enforcement Officers that a business is taking steps to eliminate health risks. During an inspection, this will show them that a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system is in place to help avoid contamination. Indeed, it’s unlikely that a good rating in this area can be achieved without colour coding in some form.

Colour-coding kitchen equipment

There are many items of kitchen equipment that can be colour-coded to prevent bacteria from spreading, such as chopping boards, utensils, thermometers and storage containers, but also aprons, cloths and gloves used in food handling.

Different colours should be used to code certain pieces of kitchen equipment. By only using one colour for one particular type of food, you can very easily ensure that equipment does not become contaminated.

A guide to food preparation colour codes

There is a standardised system for colour-coding kitchen equipment across the foodservice industry, as explained below:

  • White is best used for bakery items, such as pastries, as well as any dairy products. It is important to note that eggs should be prepared separately to avoid the risk of salmonella bacteria spreading. The risk of salmonella is lower than it ever has been, but precautions are nonetheless wise.
  • Yellow is the best colour to use for any cooked meats. Cooked meat and raw meat should always be kept separate, and cooked meats should always be stored above raw meat in a fridge.
  • Green equipment should be used for fruit and salad.
  • Brown equipment should be used when you are preparing vegetables.
  • Red should be used for raw meat items, such as uncooked steaks. It is essential that any surfaces are cleaned thoroughly after preparing raw meat items.
  • Blue is used for raw fish. It is vital that raw fish is kept away from raw meat, as fish is a common allergen.

How do I maintain Colour Coding at work?

In busy kitchens, a colour coding system can be easy to forget, so it's a good idea to display a wall chart for employees to quickly refer to at any time. Signs reminding staff of the importance of meticulous cleaning to avoid cross-contamination of foods are also useful. Most kitchen supply stores will sell equipment that comes ready coded, so you’ll find chopping boards of different colours, as well as knives with coloured handles. For predominantly static objects you can also use waterproof stickers and other methods. Ultimately, what’s important is that the system works.

At Virtual College, we have a range of e-learning courses available to help you become an expert in food safety and hygiene. Learn more about our level 1, level 2 and level 3 food hygiene courses here.

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