6 Things You Should Color-Code in Your Kitchen, According to a Food Scientist

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Kitchen organization isn’t just for keeping things neat — the right system can keep you safe, too. Color-coding your kitchen tools and cleaning supplies, for example, can prevent the spread of potentially harmful germs and bacteria when you’re serving and preparing food. 

“It might feel like a bit of a learning curve at first, but eventually color-coding becomes natural because you associate a color with a food item that could potentially be harmful,” says certified culinary and food scientist Jessica Gavin (who, by the way, color-codes in her own kitchen).

Not quite sure where to start? Gavin shares her best suggestions for items you should definitely be color-coding in your kitchen — and some product recommendations, too.

Gavin puts her refrigerated groceries away into color-coded bins. For example, you could store raw meat in a red-labeled bin and produce in a green-labeled one. This keeps things organized and Gavin says it could also prevent cross-contamination in case of leaks. (Plus, it’s a whole lot easier to wash a plastic organizer than your entire fridge.) 

Because finding colorful fridge bins might be tough, Gavin suggests using colored labels, such as washi tape. Just add a piece to the handle or the front of the bin. For what it’s worth, Gavin also labels each item individually, indicating when she purchased it and when to throw it away or freeze it.

Wooden cutting boards are sturdy but porous, so Gavin says it’s easy for pathogens to get stuck in the pores if the board isn’t washed properly. To prevent cross-contamination, invest in a couple of color-coded plastic cutting boards, which you can use for cutting produce, raw meat, seafood, and cooked food. If the plastic surface isn’t sturdy enough, Gavin suggests putting it on top of a wooden board for stability, then washing both when you’re done. 

Food prep often involves lots of chopping and dicing, and it’s easy to mix up knives if you’re preparing both produce and raw meat at once. Gavin suggests color-coding knives in one of two ways: Buy knives with colored handles and choose a color for produce, cooked food, and raw meat, or add tape around the handles. 

In case you’re marinating meat and making a delicious sauce, Gavin suggests color-coding your bowls and keeping them separate. It’s also important to color-code your plates, she says, if you’re working with meat. “A lot of people take the raw meat, cook it, then put it on the same plate where it sat raw, but that’s a huge food safety hazard,” she says. “I recommend different colored prep plates and serving plates.”

In order to minimize the risk of cross-contamination, Gavin suggests using different towels for drying your hands and cleaning up kitchen surfaces. Use a white one for your hands and a blue one for spills, for example.

Designate one colored sponge for cleaning surfaces that won’t come in contact with food germs and another color for surfaces that do. This way, you can’t spread raw meat juice all over your clean kitchen table or dishes.

Do you color-code items in your kitchen? Tell us your tips in the comments below.

Ashley Abramson

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Ashley Abramson is a writer-mom hybrid in Minneapolis, MN. Her work, mostly focused on health, psychology, and parenting, has been featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, Allure, and more. She lives in the Minneapolis suburbs with her husband and two young sons.

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