Last updated: 04.10.23

Kitchen Colour Coding: A Guide to Colour Codes for Food Preparation

One of the biggest considerations for those working in a kitchen is food hygiene. Whether you’re operating in a coffee shop, retail business, manufacturing, or even in your own kitchen at home, ensuring that you’re adhering to basic food hygiene practices is a crucial element in keeping yourself and anyone else that you’re cooking for healthy.

A core principle of ensuring food hygiene and safety is adhered to is having a thorough understanding of cross-contamination. This refers to harmful bacteria or other organisms being physically moved from one place to another. In a kitchen, this can pose a large risk to the welfare of yourself and others if these harmful organisms are consumed, as this can lead to foodborne illnesses.

Thanks to government regulations in the UK, any businesses creating and serving food must adhere to guidelines and meet standards, with the Food Safety Act 1960 being the primary law holding food businesses responsible for maintaining good hygiene and safety. 

And, whilst there are certain requirements and legislations that businesses have to follow to continue operating, there are other considerations that are highly beneficial, and encouraged, in kitchens to ensure food preparation is executed well to keep customers safe.

In this guide, we delve into one of these considerations - kitchen colour coding. The most hygienic and safe of kitchens all use a food colour coding system, which is why we’ll be explaining the importance of kitchen colour codes, what needs to be colour coded in a kitchen, and how your food business can best implement colour coding. 

What is Meant by Colour Coding of Kitchen Equipment? 

Colour coding kitchen equipment refers to having a food colour coding system in place that organises your utensils. Having coloured kitchen utensils, or coloured food boards, then makes it easier for you and your staff to identify what each piece of equipment is used for.

This means that, if you were chopping fruit and then chopping meat, you would be using different coloured kitchen equipment to do so based on your food colour coding system. Having this displayed in a kitchen colour chart can be useful to prompt your staff to remember which coloured equipment is used for what type of food or ingredient.

Why is Colour Coding Kitchen Equipment Important?

So why is colour coding kitchen equipment important? There are a number of reasons why colour coding utensils and equipment is critical for any food business, but these all link back to one main health and safety consideration: cross-contamination. 

Cross-contamination can transfer harmful bacteria to different areas or items in your kitchen. Implementing a food colour coding system helps to reduce the risk of cross-contamination, as long as those operating in kitchen environments adhere to this.

For some individuals in particular, having a food colour coding system in place in kitchens means that their health is more likely to be protected when they’re consuming food from businesses like your own. 

For example, customers with food intolerances, allergies, and dietary requirements may need their food to be prepared separately from other diners'. Using a kitchen colour coding system for equipment helps to prevent cross-contamination of allergens which could place customers at a significant health risk.

For all individuals eating from food establishments, a food colour coding system ensures that products that are more likely to harbour harmful bacteria are not coming into contact with other foods, which could cause food-borne illness. This can include any meat products that are uncooked, such as chicken, which poses one of the highest risks of salmonella poisoning.

When it comes to ensuring that your food business is maintaining the minimum health and safety standards to continue operating, having a food colour coding system in place in your kitchen can help with this. 

The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles are used to identify food safety hazards in your business, and how you can prevent and eliminate them, recommending colours for specific equipment in your kitchen. Should you have a food hygiene inspection, they’ll be looking to ensure efforts have been made in line with these HACCP principles and a food colour coding system would demonstrate this.

In fact, without a food colour coding system in place in your food business’ kitchen, it is unlikely that a good food hygiene rating will be gained for your business. So, colour-coding kitchen equipment is a relatively cheap way to implement a safe food handling system that’s easy for all to follow. 

Colour Coding Kitchen Equipment: What Needs to be Colour Coded?

When thinking about how you can colour code your kitchen, there are many different items of kitchen equipment that can be colour coded to prevent bacteria from spreading, such as:

  • Chopping boards
  • Utensils like knives
  • Storage containers
  • Thermometers
  • Aprons
  • Gloves
  • Cloths

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

By figuring out which equipment in your kitchen comes into frequent contact with different food products, you can then think about the colours that you are going to assign them in order to prevent cross-contamination and meet food safety standards.

What is the Food Colour Coding System?

There is a standardised national colour coding system for kitchen equipment across the food service industry, in line with HACCP principles, which we’ve explained more about below:

  • White is best used for bakery items, such as pastries, as well as any dairy products. For example, a white colour chopping board could be used for slicing cheese.
  • Yellow is the best colour to use for any cooked meat. Cooked meat and raw meat should always be stored and prepared separately. For example, having a yellow chopping board eliminates the risk of raw meat contaminating cooked meat, and storing cooked meats above raw meat in yellow containers in a fridge, as you should, will also eliminate this risk. 
  • Green equipment in the kitchen should be used for fruit and salad.
  • Brown equipment should be used when you are preparing vegetables.
  • Red equipment should be reserved for raw meat items, such as uncooked red meat, like steaks, or poultry, including chicken. It is essential that any equipment and surfaces are cleaned thoroughly after preparing raw meat items given the high risk they pose for containing harmful bacteria that can cause food-borne illness
  • Blue equipment is used for raw fish. It is vital that raw fish is kept away from raw meat so as to avoid contaminating one another. 
  • Purple can often be used for equipment that is reserved for allergens. For example, many businesses choose to reserve their purple equipment for gluten-free products so that there are no cross-contamination risks. And with gluten intolerances on the rise, this is an increasingly important consideration to bear in mind in your kitchen. 

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 has ever been, but precautions are nonetheless wise.

Equally, shellfish should be prepared separately, with equipment being thoroughly cleaned, as this can be a common allergen. Whilst fish and shellfish may come under the same category of ‘seafood’, they are biologically different and thus shellfish can cause an allergic reaction where fish may not.

Cleaning Colour Codes UK: Charts and Food Colour Coding Systems

Whilst food preparation is a large part of the day-to-day work in a commercial kitchen, cleaning is an equally important task that can contribute to the overall health and safety standard of your food business. 

Extensive cleaning is a requirement for kitchens and much like food preparation colour coding, there is also colour coding that is advised for the cleaning aspect of kitchens. Different cleaning equipment and items can have different colours for their uses, in line with the Food Standards Agency recommendations. 

The purpose of this is to ensure that any harmful bacteria or germs from foods, people operating in your kitchen, or other items do not pose a risk of cross contamination. 

By colour coding cleaning equipment, this also means that any cleaning products containing chemicals that are not safe to be around food products in your kitchen environment don’t pose a risk to the well-being of your staff or customers. 

For example, using yellow cleaning equipment in the kitchen is common, with other colours being used for other areas of the business. Red is typically for bathroom facilities, green for public areas, and blue for any bars or restaurant spaces that you may have. 

How do I Maintain Colour Coding at Work?

In busy kitchens, a food colour coding system can be easy to forget, so it's a good idea to display a kitchen colour 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.


Is a Colour Coding System in Kitchens a Legal Requirement?

Whilst it’s not a legal requirement to have a food colour coding system in place in your commercial kitchen in the UK, it’s highly advised by governing bodies and the consequences of not having one can be detrimental to your business. Without being able to demonstrate that you take actions to prepare certain foods separately, FSA officials may alter your Food Hygiene rating, which could impact your level of business.

Why Do We Use Colour Coding Labels on Food Containers?

Much like when preparing your food, storing your food is equally important to ensure a food colour coding system is in place. Not only does this help you identify certain food products quicker, but it also means you keep these products stored in the same equipment at all times so that there is no risk of contamination and therefore illness or allergic reactions. 

Why Colour Cloth for Kitchens? 

As addressed earlier, yellow cleaning equipment is commonly used in food preparation areas of a kitchen and is even advised by the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc). Yellow cloths, therefore, are essential to clean your kitchen surfaces and ensure that you’re not getting mixed up between different cleaning products in your workplace.


Food hygiene is a critical aspect of all food businesses' day-to-day operations. Therefore, colour coding in kitchens is an important element of consideration for employers to ensure that the safety of those operating, and dining, in your food business is maintained at all times.

Our ‘Level 1 Food Safety and Hygiene Course’ is a great starting point for anyone looking to start their journey to learn about the importance of food safety and hygiene in commercial kitchens. This course equips learners with the essentials that they need to keep food preparation and kitchen areas free from contaminants to maintain the health and well-being of staff and consumers.