Color-Coding for Food Safety

Biological contamination is by far the most frequent (and most serious) cause of food contamination in North America and accounts for more than *48 million food related illnesses per year. The presence of harmful microorganisms like bacteria, parasites and viruses can turn an otherwise delicious meal into a life-threatening experience.

One of the most common ways bacterial contamination occurs is through cross-contamination, or the transfer of harmful bacteria from one food product to another by way of dirty tools, including cutting boards, knives and thermometers. And since most bacteria are killed during the cooking process (at temperatures in excess of 165°F), the risk of cross contamination is highest when bacteria from food items that need to be cooked come in contact with foods that don't.

Preventing cross contamination requires good food safety habits such as frequent washing of hands, utensils and work surfaces. Many professional kitchens also color code tools that are used for different foods, such as raw poultry or fresh vegetables, so cross contamination is less likely to occur.

Color coded equipment can help a kitchen minimize contamination without affecting efficiency. Red handled knives or cutting boards are typically used with raw protein products such as beef, poultry and fish. Green is used for raw vegetables and white with other food products. However, some restaurants will go so far as to separate the protein items and assign yellow utensils for poultry.

Another added benefit of using color coded food prep utensils is the prevention of taste contamination and the transfer of potential allergens. No one wants the juices left over from a steak mixed with their chicken breast, or a pork loin to come in contact with any kind of shellfish.

Clear color codes can help staff maintain a high food safety standard that will keep customers safe and coming back for more. This is especially important in an industry where employee turnover rates are so high. A simple color code system means new hires can plug into a team quickly without managers having to worry about food safety compromises. Color coding the food preparation process will help make a kitchen run more efficiently and safely.

While many kitchen tools are color coded, the vast majority are not - including many food thermometers. However, the Super-Fast Thermapen, with over 14 standard colors to choose from, including those found on the color code food safety chart, is not only the preferred choice in digital instant-read thermometers, but it's also prefect for keeping bacteria (from cross-contamination) at bay.

* 2010 statistical data provided by the CDC