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What is a Food Handlers Card?

Funny cartoon of a food handler.
How did this guy get a food handlers card? There’s a certificate hanging on his wall.

In this article, I will explain what a food handlers card is, why it’s a good thing, who needs one and what your options are for getting one. It may even be possible to get one for free, or at least to make your boss pay for it. This will be a long article so you can use the links below to jump to the section on this page that you’re looking for.

– The Cheapest Food Handlers Card

– How much does a Food Handlers card cost?

– Why restaurant workers are required to get a food handlers card

– The difference between a Food Handler and a Food Manager

– How to get a Food Handlers Card

A food handlers card is a certificate that is issued by a state, county or city government. The purpose of the card is to certify that a foodservice worker has completed a food safety course and has passed an accredited test.

A food handlers card is sometimes called a food handlers license, a food handlers permit or a food handlers certificate. Another variation is to replace the words “food handler” with the words “food worker” in each of the above examples. But they’re all basically the same thing. The only difference is what it is commonly called in your state or municipality. And, different states and municipalities have different laws regarding who needs one and what the food handler will learn. The official term in most states is a “food handlers certificate”.

The difference between a food handler and a food manager

A food handler is a food service employee who has direct contact with food (and food contact surfaces) but does not have a managerial role in the establishment.

A food manager is the same thing, except for that this person DOES have a managerial role. Usually, the food manager is a supervisor or is the actual general manager of the establishment.

The training requirements for a food manager are much harder than that of a food handler. This is because their responsibilities are much greater. One of the food managers responsibilities is to train the other employees in proper food safety practices. But that training is not counted towards the earning of a food handlers card. The training must be accredited. More on this later.

A “food contact surface” is anything that touches food in a food service establishment. It is the dishes, silverware, prep-equipment, or anything else that food could possibly come into contact with. Obviously, this also includes your hands.

A “food service establishment” is any place that serves prepared food to the public. Restaurants; catering services; daycare centers that serve food; assisted living centers that serve food; school or work cafeterias; food trucks or carts; food stands; meat processors; convenience stores that sell cooked food (like hot dogs) and bakeries. Basically, any permanent place that sells prepared food.

In the rest of this article, I will simply refer to a foodservice establishment as a restaurant and any food service worker as a food handler.

Why restaurant workers are required to get a food handlers card

Lots of people begin working in a restaurant with little or no kitchen experience. Some of them don’t even know the most basic principles of food safety. Many of them think that we cook food just to make it taste better. But the real reason we cook food is to make it safe to eat. What was your first job? Chances are that one of your first jobs was in a restaurant. How old were you when you got that job? Chances are that you were still a teenager or a young adult with very little kitchen experience.

People can die from foodborne illness and many people do every day. Something as simple as slicing tomatoes on the same cutting board that was used to carve a chicken can kill many people. This has already happened, several times. Salmonella is one of the most dangerous types of bacteria and it is present in ALL chicken.

That chicken being carved on the cutting board is destined to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165┬░, which will kill the bacteria and make it safe to eat. But the tomatoes sharing that cutting board may be served raw at the salad bar. Even though it has come into direct contact with the Salmonella infused juices left on the cutting board.

Young children, the elderly, and people with certain diseases are more susceptible to foodborne illness. If one of them consumes those tomatoes, they could become very sick and need to be hospitalized. And they could even die.

And if it’s an especially viral strain of Salmonella and if employees don’t wash their hands properly, it could be a lot worse. The bacteria could be spread throughout the restaurant infecting many people. Now you have an “outbreak” of foodborne illness. And even if nobody dies, the publicity could damage the restaurant so much that it could cause a national chain to become bankrupt. This has already happened several times in recent history – right here in the US.

Many people begin their working careers in a restaurant at a young age. Most young people are new to cooking because their mom or the microwave did most of that for them. So they need to be trained in basic food safety practices to protect the public. That is the purpose of the food handlers card.

How to get a Food Handlers Card

Getting a food handlers card can be a hassle. But fortunately, it lasts for three years before it expires and you need to get a new one (according to most state and local governments). Getting a food handlers card is a four-step process:

1) Take a food safety training course

2) Pass an ANSI accredited test

3) Print your proof of completion certificate

4) File that proof with your health department

After you file your proof of completion certificate with the health department, you will then get your food handlers card. So you will actually have two certificates, the proof of completion certificate and the actual food handlers card.

If you begin working in a different city, county or state then your food handlers card may not be valid anymore. Sometimes there are different rules about food handlers cards in different jurisdictions. It’s important to note that you must follow the rules according to the jurisdiction that you work in, not that you live in.

How to get food safety training and testing for a food handlers card
Most people have lots of options available for training and testing. But a few state and local governments have special requirements that may make it a little harder or limit your options. You can check with your local health department or restaurant association for the exact rules regarding food handlers cards. Or you can ask your employer and other employees where and how they received theirs.

You can take an online course or you can attend a class. Most people choose the online course option as it is much more convenient. If you choose to go this route, there is a very helpful guide below to help you decide which online course to take. There are five major companies who provide food handlers cards and I have outlined the pros and cons of each one.

If you choose to take a class, there are a few ways to find one. Sometimes your employer may hire an instructor to train and test all of their employees at once. This is a good option for the employee because usually, the employer will cover the cost. The downside is that you will have to show up for the class, instead of taking an online course at home when it is most convenient for you.

Here are a few places that you can look for a class in your area for a food handlers card:

– Your state or local health department website

– Your state restaurant association website

– The ServSafe website

– A Google search for “food handlers card classes”

How much does a food handlers card cost?

Unless your employer is paying for it, the online food handlers card courses are almost always the cheapest. Usually, there are two fees that you will have to pay. One for the course/test and another to file with your health department.

The online course and test will usually cost less than $15 unless you live in a jurisdiction with such specific rules that your options are limited. The most expensive online food handlers course/test is ServSafe, but they are the most prestigious. Getting a food handlers card from ServSafe is like going to a fancy Ivy League School for foodservice employees. ServSafe’s online food handlers course and test starts at $15.

The Cheapest Food Handlers Card

The cheapest online course/test is Learn2Serve and it only costs $7. Learn2Serve is also called 360Trainingwhich is their parent company.

Both ServSafe and Learn2Serve are equally valid. One is not better than the other. Be sure to check with their websites or your local health department website to see if their food handlers cards are accepted in your jurisdiction. And prices may be more if you live in certain areas.

Online Food Handlers Cards

There are five major companies that provide online courses and testing for food handlers cards. Each of them is accredited by the ANSI which is necessary for your food handlers card to be valid. They are:

– Learn2Serve (360Training) with prices starting at $7

– PremierFoodSafety with prices starting at $7.95

– eFoodCard with prices starting at $7.99

– StateFoodSafety with prices starting at $8

– ServSafe with prices starting at $15

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