What are the State Laws Regarding Food Handler's Permits?

May 7th 2016

Image Courtesy of US Department of Agriculture via Flickr

Businesses operating within the food industry have an ethical responsibility to provide their customers with products of reasonably high quality, but are legally bound to provide those products in a manner that complies with various state laws governing health and safety. While the particular wording of these laws will differ from one state to the next, most states do have some laws in place that require at least one employee on the premises to obtain a food handler's permit if foods are prepared or served. This typically only applies to prepared items, rather than manufactured food products. Unless all food served or sold is still in the original manufacturer's packaging, the presence of at least one permit holder will generally be required during all hours of operation. In some states, all workers who handle food will need to complete food safety coursework and obtain food handler's permits.

In addition to state laws, there may also be legal requirements on a city level that must be met by food service businesses. These laws may differ from those set by state legislation, so standard industry practice dictates that business owners and operators abide by the stricter of two differing laws in order to err on the side of caution, safety and legality.

What Are Food Handler's Permits?

Food handler's permits are awarded upon completion of a prescribed course that covers the basic tenets of food safety, proper handling and health standards to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses. In order to obtain food handler's permits, industry workers must complete coursework and pass a final exam through an accredited food safety program approved by the United States government. These classes may be available as online courses or on-site training and typically require one to two days of education, which must be renewed on a regular basis. Depending upon the laws in your state, you may need to renew your food handler's permit every two to five years.

As a general rule, food handler's permits will not transfer from one state to another. The National Restaurant Association Education Foundation does offer ServSafe certification, which is recognized in all 50 states. Workers within the foodservice industry who plan to relocate in the near future or those who work in more than one state may want to consider a program that is recognized nationwide, rather than completing separate coursework for each state in which they plan to work.

Repercussions of Working without Food Handler's Permits

Much like the laws governing food handler's permits, the consequences of non-compliance will vary between states. Failure to comply with laws requiring food safety certification may range from stiff fines and penalties to forced business closure. If you are required to obtain a food handler's permit, it's wise to keep any cards issued after program completion on your person at all times. Restaurants and food service businesses are also advised to keep any permits hanging in a visible location in order to be prepared for inspections carried out by state agencies.

The best and most reliable method of determining the requirements in your state, along with any local requirements, is to contact the health department in your area. The city health department will be able to inform you of municipal licensing or permit requirements and provide you with contact information for the state agency that oversees food handler's permits in your particular state. When you've determined the requirements in your city and state, you'll be able to obtain the permits you need to legally work in the food service industry while gaining the knowledge you need to prevent the spread of bacteria and foodborne illnesses.

Sources:

http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=14

http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm255180.htm

http://www.servsafe.com/home

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