Certification Required To Obtain A Food Handlers Permit

May 7th 2016
Image Courtesy of the USDA via Flickr 
Increasingly, a food handler permit is required to handle or serve food in commercial establishments. Even working in proximity to unpackaged food can require the acquisition of a food handler permit. 
California recently passed a law, SB 602, requiring employees who handle food in commercial establishments to complete an approved course, get a passing grade and obtain a food handler card. States such as Washington, Utah, and Nevada also require food workers to pass an approved course in order to obtain a permit.

Who Is a Food Handler? 

A food handler is any person who performs duties that relate to the preparation, storing or serving of food in any food facility. Anyone who works with unpackaged food or works on surfaces where unpackaged food is kept is also considered a food handler. 

How to Get a Food Handler Permit 

Requirements vary slightly from state to state. Any county or state that requires a food handler permit will typically approve certain online food safety courses that train certified food handlers. A test must be taken and passed, and a required minimum score of 70 or 75 percent is common. 
It is important to take courses approved by your local jurisdiction. For example, the Utah Food Handler Permit requires a course that takes approximately 75 minutes to complete. A test is then given, and the test taker gets three opportunities to achieve a test score of at least 75 percent. One fee is charged to cover the course and the Utah Health Department fee. 
It is not usually necessary to read English to get the certification. Most states and counties requiring a food handler permit approve courses that are provided in a number of languages commonly spoken in the area. 
Once the test is passed, an applicant usually receives a food handler card in the mail shortly after. In some cases, the card can be picked up at the local health department.

Varying Requirements 

In California, because Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties have pre-existing food handler requirements, they are not subject to the exact provisions of SB 602. Still, California state law requires every food handler to have an official California Food Handler Card. A new hire is given 30 days from the hiring date to obtain the card. 
However, in the state of Washington, a new hire is given just 14 days to get the food handler permit. Also, Washington only certifies one course offered through its local health departments. Therefore, a course approved in one state may not be accepted in another. Also, if someone moves from one jurisdiction or another, it is usually necessary to obtain a new card issued by that state. Go to the state's health department website to determine if a food handler card is required, and what course and test must be taken to get the card. 

ServSafe Program 

The National Restaurant Association developed its ServSafe food safety program largely in response to SB 602. The ServSafe program has developed both online coursework and printed manuals that facilitate the education of food workers. A number of states approve ServSafe courses offered through private online vendors. 

Food Handler Certification Expiry 

Once you acquire a food handler card, it will usually be valid for a set period of time. For example, in San Diego County, the card expires after three years. In Washington, an original card is good for two years, and a renewal card is good for three years. The card may be renewed by paying a fee and taking a brief exam. The original food handler card and a photo ID must be presented to get the renewal in San Diego County. 
The idea behind the food handler permit is sound. State and local health departments want to ensure workers know how to handle fresh and unpackaged food properly so that it is delivered to consumers in a safe, clean and uncontaminated manner. 

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