Why do we use colour coding labels on food containers?

Why do we use colour coding labels on food containers

Just why do we use colour coding labels on food containers? It is essential in a modern commercial kitchen that everything is extremely well run and organised so that it meets the strict hygiene standards demanded by both the law and the consumer. If it isn’t then there will be a very real risk of customers coming away from the establishment with food poisoning or a life-threatening allergic reaction and nobody needs that to happen.

Why do we use colour coding labels on food containers – the expert view…

Sure, it isn’t just the those working in a professional kitchen that need to understand the seriousness of food hygiene. Home cooks should also be adhering to safety standards if they don’t want to risk harming others, however, at home you are more likely to have the time to sniff out stuff that has gone off and if you have someone in the family with a serious allergy you are probably going to be aware of this and deal with it accordingly. In a high-pressure professional kitchen environment, everyone is pushed to the limit and the room for error is much greater.

At Venturepak, we are industry leaders in providing plastic packaging in the form of moulded tubs. We can provide you or your business with anything from ice cream containers, to meal prep containers. We also have extensive knowledge in health and safety regarding food contamination and hygiene. If you have any particular queries regarding why do we use colour coding labels on food containers, then pleas read on, or alternatively contact us and see how we can help you today!

What causes food poisoning?

One of the main causes of food poisoning is cross contamination. This is when bacteria are transferred from contaminated foods to ready to eat foods by either direct or indirect contact. This often happens when hands aren’t washed between preparing raw and cooked food, or when different kinds of food are jumbled together in a fridge or store cupboard and end up touching each other. Storage is key and food containers that can be well sealed to retain freshness as well as prevent this type of cross contamination are essential.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Infections with microbes, viruses, bacteria and parasites cause most food poisoning.

Microbes can spread to food at any time while the food is grown, harvested, or slaughtered, processed, stored, shipped, or prepared.

Some harmful microbes may already be present in foods when you buy them. Foods that may contain microbes include

  • Fresh foodstuffs
  • Meat, poultry, and eggs that are either raw or undercooked
  • Dairy produce and fruit juices that have not been pasteurized – ie heated to kill harmful microbes
  • Fish and shellfish
  • The type of foods that may be found in a deli such as sliced meat, salads and cut fruit, sandwiches, and baked goods
  • Processed and ready-to-eat meats such as hot dogs or deli meat
  • Foodstuff that has not been sealed up properly in an appropriate container

If you don’t keep raw foods—such as beef, poultry, seafood, and eggs—separate from other foods, microbes from the raw foods can spread to other foods. Microbes can also spread from raw foods to your hands, kitchen utensils, cutting boards, and kitchen surfaces during food preparation.


Norovirus has become an additional hazard in the professional kitchen as a recent 2022 survey from The Food Standards agency showed. It estimated that around 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occur every year in the UK, highlighting the need for rigorous labelling.


Why do we use colour coding labels on food containers?

  1. To prevent cross contamination

So, why so we use colour coding labels on food containers? Colour coding is the one simple thing you can do in any kitchen to prevent cross contamination between different food types.

Prevention of food contamination is an important job in the kitchen, and anyone involved in the preparation of food and drinks needs to know about how to ensure foods don’t come into contact with each other.  For example, you don’t want raw meat to contaminate a cooked pie, or raw chicken to be in close proximity of cheese and you certainly need to keep allergens separately from everything else.

Colour coding labels on food containers are a great way to ensure that things that cause food poisoning such as raw meat, raw fish, cooked meat, vegetables, bread, and dairy products remain separate from each other when they are in storage.

  1. Ensure a good food hygiene rating

Aside from the very real health issues, if you don’t use colour coding, on the very basic level it will affect your food hygiene rating and if you receive a low star or no star rating that will almost certainly affect your business.

  1. Quickly assess shelf life

Labelling is key as it will ensure that spoiled food is not used and that it is easy to see what kind of food is in a container. This allows staff to quickly assess how much shelf-life produce has left, and when to throw it away.

  1. Quickly identify foods

Utilising colour coded labels helps with the rapid identification of foods that can be used or that need to be thrown away. A quick glance at the colour tells you at what stage the foodstuff is at.

  1. Ensure allergens are identified

It can also be used to ensure that people with allergies and gluten intolerance can be kept safer. If kitchen staff are aware of the contents of food containers they can make more informed decisions about what can be served. Food allergy labels make it clear if there are any potential allergens, such as gluten, crustaceans, peanuts and more.

We all know that when service begins in a professional kitchen, things can get really hectic. By schooling staff in the colour system and how to use colour coded labels, it is possible to save a lot of time and potential hazards.

How to colour code your containers

The best way to label foodstuffs is by using certain colours ensure that produce is easily identified.

You might want to consider In Mould Labelling (IML) for certain containers. IML labels are high quality pre-printed polypropylene labels designed with imagery and colours you need. The labels are fused to the container used for storage.

Colours used to identify certain products include:

White – this is used for bakery items such as bread and pastries as well as cheese and dairy.

Yellow – indicates the container holds cooked meats. These should be kept separately from raw meat as once cooked the bacteria is removed

Red –  will signpost raw meat which is a major source of bacteria and therefore should not be placed against any other kinds of foodstuffs.

Blue – is the colour for raw fish, a common allergen which needs to be kept separate from other foodstuffs. You should not store raw meat and fish together; although both are animal products they need to be apart from each other.

Green – is for fruit and vegetables.

Colour coding labels will not only indicate the type of food being stored but will also indicate how long things have been stored.

For this purpose, storage containers need include a date so that people know when the contents should be used by. This use by date should be printed clearly and if it passes that date it needs to be binned immediately. It is also a good idea to include a rotation system in your storage areas so that products are moved to a certain section or shelf according to when they should be used up.

The implementation of a clear colour coding system is a reliable way of maintaining a high standard of food safety. Staff should be furnished with a list of all the colour codes so that they all understand what they mean at a glance.


As you can see, colour coding labels are important. At the very least they will save you time and at most they’ll stop you from giving someone food poisoning or an allergic reaction. Endangering someone’s life is something we are sure no food provider ever wants to happen.