How long do I keep all this food safety paperwork?

With the amount of produce food safety paperwork generated by growers, it is easy to forget how long to keep something. Growers should know the standard minimum length to keep food safety records based on the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Food safety work on farms can generate a tremendous amount of paperwork and records. Keeping track of all the moving parts and recording compliance checks can get overwhelming very quickly. The new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) provides a number of guidelines with regards to record retention and access that can be used to help guide growers.

The proposed FSMA rule stipulates that all records be on the premises for at least six months. There is no requirement that these records are maintained as hard copies, just that they are maintained. Even after the six month, on-site requirement, the records need to be accessible within 24 hours for up to two years.

The ability to maintain records digitally opens up a world of storage possibilities. An inexpensive, direct-feed, desktop document scanner can significantly aid in quickly converting paper records to digital scans. Once scanned, the files can be stored in a way that the grower can easily reference them.

Another option for those records that are made on the fly is importing the log or record sheet into Google Docs or another cloud-based computing program. The logs can be created in a spreadsheet program of your choice and imported into the cloud. Meanwhile, farm workers who have smartphones can input data into that same spreadsheet using the smartphone while still in the field. Most cloud-based systems have date stamp tracking, allowing everyone to verify when the records were imported.

By using the cloud to store records, many of the issues of FSMA compliance with regards to access can largely be eliminated. If you would like more information on implementing good food safety practices in your operation, contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or

The reference of Google Docs in this article is in no way meant to be an endorsement or condemnation of the product by Michigan State University or any of its employees or subsidiary organizations.

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