Three little documents to comprehensive traceability of fresh produce

Traceability is an important component of a fresh produce food safety plan. This article outlines three little documents that, when effectively implemented, will ensure traceability of fresh produce from farm to retailer.

Traceability is an incredibly important component of a food safety plan for fresh produce. Michigan State University Extension advises that any produce farm that writes and maintains a food safety plan should consider having a rock solid system of traceability in place. A good system of traceability requires that three documents are created with every harvest unit.

1. Container labels

Every aggregation of produce, irrespective of size from a lug to a truckload, needs to be clearly marked to ensure traceability on the farm. Farms that have a system of traceability usually have a product code devised to identify the date of harvest, picking crew, field, crop and variety. This code needs to be on tags of each harvest unit. If all lugs on the same truck or transport unit are from the same field, picking crew, date and variety, there need only be one container label.

2. Harvest logs

A record needs to be kept of each container after it is harvested. Remember that the “container” can be all produce that shares the same date, crew, field and variety. The product code should be what is entered in the log. The record does not need to be on a computer, but it does need to be recorded in an easily accessible log. The record needs to include where the food was sent after it left the farm.

3. Invoice

All fresh produce sold outside of retail sales should be accompanied by an invoice or bill of lading. On this document, the farm’s name and full contact information should be printed. The product code devised by the grower should also be listed for each container that is sold or released. If there was ever a problem with the produce, the buyer could use the bill of lading or invoice to track the offending container back to your farm.

These three little documents hold the key to traceability on any farm. Effective execution of these documents will lead to effective traceability.

If you would like more information on traceability in your operation or your post-harvest facility, contact the Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or at

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