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Amit M. Kheradia
Amit M. Kheradia
Environmental Health and Sanitation Manager

Top 6 Food Safety Culture and Color-Coding Webinar Questions Answered by Industry Experts

During our “Food Safety Culture and Color-Coding: How to exceed compliance and simplify complexities” webinar, industry experts discussed how simple techniques, such as the use of color-coding, helps employees practice food safety behaviors consistently and promotes a culture of producing safe and high-quality food.

Amit M. Kheradia, our environmental health and sanitation manager, and Lone Jespersen, Principal and Founder of Cultivate SA, answered questions both during and after the webinar. Below are six Q&As that we think you might find interesting.

1. Is there a formal science-based tool or supporting literature that helps evaluate food safety culture in an organization? What are some of the common measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?

The GFSI Technical Working Group defines Food Safety Culture as “shared values, beliefs, and norms that affect mindset and behavior toward food safety in, across, and throughout an organization.” Such aspects of organizational culture are generally harder to measure or evaluate than technical requirements like specific temperature-time combinations for holding high-risk foods, or the effective concentration and pH range of a sanitation chemical, etc., which are more objective.

Nevertheless, a combination of performance measurements can help with the comprehensive evaluation of food safety culture in an organization. Some of these KPIs may be related (but are not limited) to:

  • Employee health and hygiene practices
  • Sanitation expectations
  • Proper storage and handling protocols
  • Cross-contamination prevention assessments
  • Monitoring, documentation, and recordkeeping activities.

Management needs to be committed to reviewing and improving the food safety culture of the organization. A guiding coalition team must be formed to sustain the efforts, and employees must be empowered and motivated to take ownership and responsibilities for their processes.

Some important information sources that can help you in developing your food safety performance evaluations are as follows:

2. How does color-coding simplify complexities in a food site; are there practical examples to show that effective color-coding best practices promote a culture of food safety?

It is true that color-coding does not equal a mature food safety culture. However, making critical work practices simpler by using colored tools, uniforms, shadow boards, and other color zoning related programs can significantly help employees practice food safety behaviors consistently.

In a nutshell, as Lone explains, it is about making an impact on the social norms that bring about a positive behavioral change towards food safety, as reflected in the stages within the model illustrated below:

Considering the hazards and risk awareness dimension within Cultivate SA’s Food Safety Culture Maturity Model, it is generally in Stage 3 (Know of) where food safety risks are understood and then the site may decide if color-coding may be used to manage those risks. However, it is in Stage 4 (Predict) where the front-line staff get mobilized to understand and apply in practice and improve on color-coding concepts and programs that help to promote food safety and sanitation at sites. Stage 5 (Internalize) is the goal, where there is more engagement, feedback, and communication within teams, with an eye towards continuous improvement of the color-coding plan that has been integrated into the behavior-based food safety system.

For more information about the culture maturity model, please feel free to contact Lone Jespersen at

Furthermore, the benefits of using color-coding are worth emphasizing. Color is a universal language that removes communication barriers between employees, and an effective visual cue that identifies items and separates zones based on risk surely works as an inexpensive way of designing out or reducing risks in processes. Moreover, color-coding through its simple application supports cross-contamination prevention efforts, and examples have also been provided in our webinar presentation. Some effective and practical use of color-coding observed at sites are as follows:

  • Color-coded uniforms, smocks, footwear, and clothing can help identify employees working in high-risk areas and minimize pathogen contamination.
  • Color-coded containers can separate trash from useable products.
  • Color-coded equipment in zones assists in cleaning using dedicated tools.
  • Color-coded tools help manage different hygiene zones, environmental surfaces, and allergen zones.
  • Color-coded labels can act as visual cues to identify allergens in containers.
  • Color-coded facility maps help visualize hygienic zones & other critical areas.

Even a simple process like color-coding requires employee buy-in through education, training, review, and refresher module programs.

More concise information on the benefits and implementation of color-coding is available at our Vikan’s Guide to Color-Coding. For further information and examples, please feel free to contact Amit M. Kheradia at

3. Is there a set of globally accepted color-coding standards for the food industry, or is there any progress on developing such a standard?

Vikan pioneered cleaning tool color-coding in the 1990s, and the practice has now become an industry standard that is required by food safety standards around the world, but we currently are not aware of any progress to develop a fixed standard. We believe that it is a site’s responsibility to develop the plan based on the processes, preferences, goals, availability of resources, and other factors that may influence their decision.

However, there are a set of color-coding recommendations available at our website, and we also offer Vikan’s Guide to Color-Coding, which gives a comprehensive, yet simple look into the process.

4. Why is having a well-developed color-coding plan alone not enough to improve food safety culture for an organization, and what else is required to sustain a mature culture of food safety?

As explained in our webinar presentation, having a color-coding program is NOT a silver bullet for every food safety and sanitation control out there, nor can it solely mature and sustain food safety culture at a site. Moreover, a color-coding plan may be designed for a purpose depending on a site’s needs. For instance, a plan may be part of a sanitation tools management program, or part of the overall food safety management system. It is the purpose of the color-coding program that must guide the scope, e.g., cross-contamination prevention.

Therefore, proper risk analysis and engagement is required to evaluate and implement effective food safety controls. Above all, food safety culture maturity is not just about meeting basic compliance requirements, but more about defining and enforcing social norms that bring about a positive behavioral change. This could involve:

  • Speaking of food safety and people safety first, and then financial performance.
  • Communicating business decisions, and always also include how impact to food safety was considered.
  • Relentlessly pursuing a high level of food safety knowledge across everyone at the company.
  • Implementing a rewards and recognitions program to motivate and “nudge” the employees, so the food safety programs, investments, expectations, and practices are continually improved upon.

5. What do you suggest when it comes to recognizing and rewarding employees to help motivate everyone to sustain and continually improve food safety culture?

The first question to ask here is: “What matters most to those whom you are recognizing?”

Maybe some employees are motivated by things like gift cards, pizza parties, or bonuses. Maybe others aren’t. It’s imperative to know what will inspire employees the most. Though this may seem like an easy part of developing food safety culture, it can be quite tricky if you don’t put time into selecting the most relevant recognitions and rewards.

So, sit down with your frontline group of supervisors and HR department in the form of a focus group with the objective of developing a program for food safety recognition. Find out what the target behaviors are that the group is looking for and connect your recognition programs to these behaviors. Ensure that the recognition program is based on employees’ measurable actions and not management’s perception of their work to avoid appearances of favoritism, which will weaken the program.

As an example of such a program, let’s say a plant manager takes the time to really get to know her managers and supervisors, and one of the supervisors was a single mom. Instead of giving a pizza party, it might have meant more to the single mother to have an extra day off to be at home with her children. So, that’s the core of recognition that would really resonate with this employee and fully motivate her to perform the target food safety behaviors.

Most importantly, don’t fall in the trap of making all recognitions target individuals only. As mentioned in the webinar, food safety is a team sport. No individual can solve all the food safety problems. Therefore, recognizing teams will motivate them towards working together, instead of cultivating individual heroes.

For more information about developing a recognitions program, please feel free to contact Lone Jespersen at

6. Are there any references, information, or tips to assist sites with developing a robust color-coding plan and integrating such a program with the behavior-based food safety system for a site?

In our webinar presentation, we provide some tips for developing a color-coding plan for an organization:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Be consistent.
  • Communicate the plan to your employees.
  • Contact us for support.

Some other useful references that could help a company in developing a robust color-coding program are:

The color-coding plan should be integrated with the behavior-based food safety system, which needs to be seen as an exciting opportunity, rather than an arduous challenge. Our webinar presentation provides some effective ways of doing this, including:

  • Using the Cultural Dimensions of the Cultivate Maturity Model.
  • Ensuring food safety risk awareness among management and employees, strengthening the guiding coalition that improves and sustains food safety culture efforts, and developing a recognitions program across all members of the organization.
  • Driving positive food safety behaviors in a site with the aid of constructs such as the Antecedents- Behavior-Consequences (or the ABC) Model, for enhancing employee awareness and training, which is also explained in GFSI’s Position Paper.

Disclaimer: The responses given to these selected questions are the professional opinions of the industry experts involved and are not necessarily endorsements of any of the products and services mentioned. Companies should conduct their own site-specific risk assessments and develop their own hazard controls as part of their food safety plan.

For more information and support, please feel free to contact: