Published on June 29, 2021

Guide To Color-Coding By Zone

Written by Adam Serfas

Guide To Color-Coding By Zone

Color-coding by zone is one of the most common approaches to color-coding as many facilities that are food-safe or hygiene-sensitive in some capacity are designed by zones or wings, to begin with. Due to the physical boundaries that often dictate these zones, it’s also one of the most easily followed color-coding plans. That said, as with all color-coding plans, careful consideration and thoughtful planning are key for maintaining compliance in the rollout and in the long run.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a successful color-coding plan for zone distinction.


The first and most critical step in creating your color-coding plan is to clearly define your zones.

Food and pharmaceutical processing and manufacturing facilities are often designed by zones for a number of reasons. Sometimes, physical zones reflect different steps in the production process. Alternatively, zones might sequester specifically hygiene-sensitive areas or potential contaminants in a facility. Larger facilities that produce two or more products might also utilize zones to keep the products separate.

The layout of a grocery store or supermarket is often one that separates hygiene-sensitive or food-safe areas such as the bakery, the meat counter, the seafood counter, the pharmacy to begin with.

Breweries, cideries, and distilleries often have zones that relate to the production process itself but sometimes have customer-facing taprooms on-site as well as a key and distinctly separated zone.

Hospitals are hygiene-sensitive areas by definition, and because they are often designed by wings, hospital settings that color-code for safety generally take a zone-based approach.

Pro Tip: Keep Things Simple

The key to determining zones is keeping things simple. Forcing a zone that doesn’t physically exist is going to mean compliance is less likely. Look where there are walls, some kind of physical barrier, or significant distance to determine zones. Every facility will have bathrooms separated, so that’s a key zone to consider, as you wouldn’t want cleaning tools wandering from that area to somewhere like a food preparation area, for example.



When developing a color-coding plan, it’s best to start with a high-level view and from there get into the details. Once you’ve defined your zones, you’ll want to consider what your biggest concerns are—from a safety standpoint and from a functionality standpoint.

Most often, this starts with the answer to why you’re looking to implement a color-coding plan in the first place. Other concerns might center around specific contaminant risks, environmental risks, past problems, etc.

Once you’ve noted those facility-wide considerations, you can also run through each of your zones to take note of specific areas of concern.

Pro Tip: Reference HAACP Plans

Food-safe facilities can generally reference their HAACP plans to identify and note many of these critical considerations.



For this next step, take stock of all of the things used within a zone that you might like to color-code. This might include cleaning tools, storage tools, product handling tools, wearables, and personal protective equipment.

The best way to develop this list is to work with purchasing managers and everyone who works in each zone to review what they are currently using or hoping to use. It’s important to be extremely thorough with this step. If there are multiple shifts, be sure to collaborate with individuals across shift times. If the staff is multilingual, be sure to include multilingual note-takers during this process.

Pro Tip: Note Your Functionality Wishes & Must-Haves

Take note of what works and what doesn’t with what’s currently being used. If there are certain features that make a tool or product great, jot that down. If there’s something specific that prevents an existing product or tool from functioning in the best way possible, note that as well.



Naturally, many people assume this step would come first in a color-coding plan. It’s actually a best practice to move to this step once you’ve carefully assessed all of your needs. Ideally, you want everything that’s an essential product or tool in your zone to be color-coded, and referencing your list of necessities will help you to identify which colors will allow you to meet all of those needs.

The most commonly used colors—and therefore the ones with the most product options—are blue, green, red, yellow, black, and white. Some tools also come in colors like pink, purple, lime green, orange, tan, brown, and gray. It’s important to consider whether your color selections meet your needs now—and potentially what you may need in the future. 

Pro Tip: Consider Contrasting Colors

Utilizing contrasting colors can be helpful on a few fronts. It’s a great idea to use contrasting colors in neighboring zones to help ensure tools stay put in the area where they are intended to be used. Some food and pharmaceutical processors and manufacturers will often choose colors for a zone that contrast with a product so that a tool or piece of a tool that might have found its way into the product can be more easily spotted.

Pro Tip: Don’t Forget Colorblind Employees

There are several color combinations that are commonly confused by people who are colorblind. Red and green, green and brown, green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and grey, and green and black are the most commonly confused. It’s best to try to avoid these combinations in neighboring zones. Utilizing contrasting colors can be helpful on this front as well. Orange and purple, purple and yellow, or blue and yellow are good examples of colorblind-friendly pairs.



Tool storage is an important component of any color-coding plan. Wall racks and shadowboards that are color-coded for each zone help to ensure your tools are hygienically stored in the right place every time following use. Having a set storage location for each of your tools makes it easier for employees to remember and follow proper storage protocol. Hygienic storage also helps to meet all of the goals associated with the 5S system in 5S facilities.

Pro Tip: Factor In Your Cleaning Needs

Whether tools are functionally used for cleaning or simply just need to be cleaned after use, there are things to consider on the cleaning use front when selecting tool storage. Shadowboards, in particular, can come in a variety of materials that can better accommodate different needs. Max Duty Aluminum shadowboards can resist chemicals, abrasions, and impacts. An Ultra Aluma-Lite™ shadowboard resists impacts, flexing, vandalism, corrosion, chemicals, abrasions, and is impervious to splashes and wash-downs. FB-X Accu-Shield shadowboards are chemical resistant and can withstand splashes and ammonia wash-downs.



Signage that reminds employees of the color-coding plan is another essential component, so it’s important to remember as a budgetary line item. Best practices for color-coding signage are to make sure signage is easily read and highly visible, colorblind-friendly, and available in multiple languages if applicable to multilingual teams.

Pro Tip: Take Advantage Of Customization Options

Creating custom signage gives facilities the opportunity to tailor the signs to the plan’s needs, to the material that is best suited for the environment, and even offers the option to align the overall design with a company’s brand guidelines.



A color-coding plan is a key operational component of a facility and should be incorporated into the company culture as much as possible—as both an expectation and something employees can feel good about being a part of. Training on the color-coding plan is an ongoing and essential step in this process. It should be done regularly with existing employees and as new employees join the team. It’s also important to evaluate the plan regularly to see what’s working well and what isn’t to consider potential changes. Allowing for employees to offer any feedback along the way is a great way to encourage employee buy-in. A color-coding plan is always more likely to be followed by those who feel invested in the process, so it’s essential to invite collaboration and comment.

Pro Tip: Work With HR

Your HR team can help to establish the importance of a color-coding plan from the jump in interviews and during the hiring process. Communicating the importance of the plan early on is a great way to establish its significance as it relates to each and every team member.

HR can also be a great resource for keeping tabs on new employees who require training and on language needs for multicultural teams to accommodate in training sessions and on signage.