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Food handler license requirements by state: NEXT Insurance guide

Kim Mercado image
By Kim Mercado
Aug 12, 2021 min read

Do you own a restaurant or food service business? If so, you know regulations are an important part of the industry. When you don’t fulfill regulatory requirements, it might lead to sick customers and a temporary shutdown that causes you to lose money and reputation while you get the issue sorted out.

To avoid that, you and your employees need to have the correct food handler licenses for your business. This type of permit certifies your training in safe food handling principles. It signals to customers and local authorities that your business follows all health regulations. 

Food handler licenses are generally easy to get online after completing a short training and exam. Many health departments also offer local classes. Fees are low for this type of license, and most food handler cards are valid for at least two to three years.

We’ve put together a helpful list of food handler permit requirements for each state. The list is in alphabetical order and includes links to additional resources for each state.

Topics we’ll cover include:

  • Who needs a food handler license
  • How to get a license in your state
  • Information about how long licenses last and renewals

A few universal things about food handler licenses in the U.S.

Food handler certification vs. food manager certification

Food handler cards, when required, are issued to any employee who handles, prepares, or serves food upon completion of their certification requirements. Usually, food handlers have to take a brief food safety training course and pass an exam on food safety topics to get their card.

Many states require one or more employees at food service establishments to get food manager certification. You can reserve this type of certification for employees in supervisory roles. Typically, it requires more training and knowledge on food safety. 

Employees who have a food manager certification don’t need to have a food handler card as well.

Keep in mind that the terminology for these certifications may vary from state to state or even from county to county. For example, a food handler card may be referred to as a permit, license, or certificate. Common terms for food manager certification include certified food manager training or food protection manager certification.

Cost of food safety certification

Getting a food handler card is very affordable at around $5 to $15. Costs for food manager certification are significantly higher, often around $100 to $150. Some employers assist with payment for food safety certification. 

Online vs. in-person food safety training

In most states, both online and in person certification options are available. Several websites offer online food handler and food manager certification for multiple states, such as ServSafe, Learn2Serve, and StateFoodSafety. 

Government agencies or third-party providers host in-person certification options. Always check with your state and local health departments to find out which certification programs are approved for your area.

Accrediting organizations

If employees at a restaurant or other food service establishment need food safety certification, it may require them to take an accredited course and exam. These are the two largest accredited independent organizations: 

  • ANSI: American National Standards Institute 
  • CFP: Conference for Food Protection

Alabama

In most of Alabama, only supervisors or managers of a food service establishment need a food preparation license. You can get this certification by passing a certified food manager course and an ANSI-accredited food safety certification exam available through local health departments. You must renew your certification every five years.

Note that in Jefferson County and Mobile County, all food service workers need to have a food handlers’ license. Workers in these counties must complete a food handler safety training course available through the local health department. Online course options are available only through StateFoodSafety

While not required by the state, you may decide to have their workers get this license as an employment requirement.

Alaska

All workers in food service establishments in Alaska must get a food worker card within 30 days of employment. 

To get a food handler license, Alaska food workers must complete an examination conducted by the Alaska Department of Health. They can take the exam online or in person. Alaska food worker cards are valid for three years.

In the Municipality of Anchorage, food worker cards issued by the state of Alaska are not valid. Instead, employees must get a food worker card issued by the local government within 21 days of hire. The exam is available online, and Anchorage food handler cards are valid for three years.

Arizona

The Arizona Department of Environmental Health recommends all employees who work with food to get a certification in food safety. But, individual counties can decide whether a food preparation license is a rule or a recommendation.

For example, Maricopa County requires that all applicable employees get a food handler’s certificate and display it in their place of employment. They must pass an ANSI-accredited exam. If they continue in the same line of work, workers need to pass a food handlers renewal exam every three years.

If you’re in Arizona, check with your county’s health department for specific permit requirements. They require all counties to accept food handler licenses from accredited training programs, including online courses.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, all food service establishments must have at least one supervisor or manager who has completed certified food manager training. Instruction must come from an accredited program. Managers must renew your certification as required.

The state does not require other food service employees to have a food handlers license. Arkansas’ Department of Health recommends food safety training, but it’s up to individual business owners to require it of staff members.

California

All workers in this state who prepare, store, or serve food must get a California Food Handler Card (CFH Card). Employees must complete a food handler safety training course and pass an exam from an ANSI-accredited organization within 30 days of hire. A CFH Card is valid for three years and can be used in multiple facilities.

CFH Cards are not accepted in Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. But employees in food service establishments are still required to obtain a food handlers permit. If you operate in these counties, contact your local health department to find out how to get a food handlers license either in person or online. 

Colorado

Colorado food service workers do not need to get a food handlers permit. You may choose to have your employees complete a food handler safety training course, but it isn’t required by law. 

While Colorado doesn’t require food handler permits, at least one supervisor or manager must be a certified food protection manager through an ANSI-accredited program.

Connecticut

Connecticut does not require employees who work in kitchens to get food handler permits. Yet, you may want your employees to complete a food safety training program. Training takes place in person or online, such as the ServSafe® food handler certification.

At least one person who owns, operates or manages a food service establishment should be a Qualified Food Operator (QFO). A QFO must be employed full-time (at least 30 hours per week) and pass a test on food safety.

Delaware

Each food service establishment in Delaware must have at least one supervisory employee who is a certified food protection manager. ServSafe® and other accredited food safety training programs offer this certification. 

Other employees don’t need to get a food handlers license. Delaware employers may elect to require them for their staff independently.

Florida

Florida law requires all food service employees to complete a food handler safety training course to learn about food handling and hygiene practices. 

To receive a Florida food handler license, employees must complete a course through an accredited program approved by the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation. This license remains valid for three years. 

Managerial staff members must pass a separate test to become a certified food manager.

Georgia

The state of George doesn’t require all food workers to get a food handler license. You can decide whether you want staff members to get this certification. 

However, by law, every food establishment needs to have a minimum of one certified food safety manager on the premises during all open hours. They must instruct food service employees in proper food handling.

Owners and managers can get this certification by completing a food safety training program approved by the Georgia Department of Public Health. They also need to pass an exam from an accredited organization. 

Hawaii

Hawaii requires at least one employee at each food establishment during normal hours of operation to have a certification from a formal food handler safety training program. You may ask all staff members to get a food handler card to avoid scheduling issues.

The Department of Health offers in-person and online food safety classes at no charge to complete this requirement. Certification from the class is valid for three years.

Idaho

In this state, food workers are not required to get an official food handlers license. A certified food protection manager or another “Person in Charge” who meets the requirements set out in the Idaho Food Code can train workers.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recommends that employees involved in food preparation study the Idaho Food Safety and Sanitation Manual and complete the Idaho Food Safety Exam. You can download this manual as a PDF, and the Idaho Food Safety Exam is free to take online. 

Once an employee passes the test with a score of 75% or higher, they will receive a printable food safety certificate that’s valid for five years. This certification is optional, although you may want employees to have it.

Illinois

Any individual in Illinois who works with unpackaged food, food-contact surfaces, or food equipment and utensils must complete food handler safety training within 30 days of employment. They make exceptions for unpaid volunteers, temporary food establishment employees, and employees who already have a valid certification as a food protection manager

Food handler licenses in Illinois are not issued by the state. Employees can take any ANSI-approved food handler permit course, including online courses. Some local health departments within the state of Illinois provide this training for restaurants. 

Employees will need to complete a food handlers renewal every three years to maintain their certification.

Indiana

In the state of Indiana, there must be at least one employee who possesses a food handler’s permit at each food establishment. This employee doesn’t need to be on the premises during all hours of operation. But, there must be a designated “Person in Charge” on site at all times while the establishment is open. 

If the only certified food handler at a food establishment leaves or has their employment ended, you have three months to instate a new certified food handler.

To become certified as a food handler, employees must pass an exam administered by an accredited program. They need to provide a copy of their certificate to the food establishment. They also need to fulfill food handler’s renewal requirements to keep their certification from expiring.

Iowa

Food workers in Iowa are not required to have a food handlers license. Iowa food service establishments. 

However, restaurants must have at least one employee with a food protection manager certification. This employee should be a manager, supervisor, or other “Person in Charge” at the establishment. Managers can get this certification by passing an exam from an accredited food handler safety training program.

Kansas

There are no state-wide stipulations for food handler cards in Kansas. However, jurisdictions within the state have their own food safety regulations. Some require or recommend a food handler license. 

For example, in Leavenworth, Kansas, all employees who handle food must have a food handler permit issued by the city. Business owners in Kansas should contact their county or city health department to learn about local requirements. These departments can show you how to get a food handlers license online or in person.

Previously, Wichita, Kansas required all food establishment employees to get a food handler card. That requirement is no longer in place as of September 18, 2018. However, the city offers a free online food handler safety training course for volunteers.

Kentucky

Kentucky doesn’t have a state-wide mandate for workers to get food handler cards. However, there may be different requirements on a county-by-county basis. 

For example, both Lexington-Fayette County and Madison County Health Departments require all employees in food service establishments to have food handler permits. Both counties offer in-person and online course options to receive this certification. 

Ask your local health department to determine if they require a license in your county and how to get a food handlers license.

Louisiana

Louisiana doesn’t require all employees in food establishments to get food handler licenses. Instead, only one owner or employee in each establishment is required to have a food safety certificate

This person must complete a course from an ANSI-approved program (such as the ServSafe food handler course). They’re expected to pass on the knowledge from the food safety curriculum to other employees. You must also purchase a state certificate with a gold seal and post it at the business location.

Maine

Maine doesn’t require all food workers to obtain food handler cards. However, all eating establishments must have a certified food protection manager on staff. 

In order to get this certification, the individual must complete an accredited food safety course and pass an exam approved by the CFP. You must establish a certified food protection manager within 90 days of opening or when the current certified food protection manager ends their employment. 

Maine requires recertification every five years. You must post a valid certificate at the business location.

Maryland

Maryland’s food code doesn’t require all food service employees to have food handlers permits. The state encourages individuals to contact their local health department’s food program to find out whether a certified food manager must be on site. 

For instance, in Montgomery County, food service facilities must have at least one certified food service manager. They must take an online or in-person course. After passing an in-person exam, they need to get a photo identification card from the county’s Health and Human Services Department.

Massachusetts

Food workers in Massachusetts don’t need to get a food preparation license or food handler card. However, the state requires all food service businesses to have a minimum of one full-time manager who is a certified food manager

This person must pass an exam from an accredited food handler safety training program. They need to take the exam every five years to maintain their certification. Completing a training course before the exam is recommended but not required.

Michigan

Michigan doesn’t have a mandate for food workers to get food handler permits. However, the state requires you to employ at least one certified food manager. The only exceptions are vending machine locations and temporary food service establishments.

Michigan employees need to pass an ANSI or CFP accredited exam once every five years to earn a food manager certification. In-person and online classes are available to help prepare for the exam, but they are not necessary for certification.

Minnesota

Food workers in Minnesota are not required to get food handler cards. Food service businesses in this state only need to have one certified food protection manager

To become certified, individuals must complete a training course and pass an approved exam. A food handlers renewal certificate requires four hours of approved training every three years after initial certification.

Local jurisdictions can apply additional requirements for food service licensing. You should contact your local health department to understand local food handler and food manager license requirements.

Mississippi

Mississippi requires all food service establishments to have a certified food protection manager on staff. This individual must pass a test from an accredited food safety training program to get their certification. 

Other food workers don’t need to obtain a food handler license. The food protection manager is expected to pass on their knowledge and ensure food preparation operations follow proper safety precautions. 

You may choose to have all their food handlers go through formal training in-person or online.

Missouri

The state of Missouri doesn’t require official training or certification for food handlers and food managers. However, individual counties and cities may have their own requirements restaurants must follow. You should check with your local health department for more information.

In Kansas City, Missouri, for example, food establishments have two options for certification

  • A certified food service operations manager must be on duty during all hours of operation.
  • 80% of the food handler staff can be certified with three-year food handler cards from the Kansas City Health Department. 

Certain counties in Missouri, including Clay County and Jackson County, require all workers involved in food preparation, handling, dispensing, or service to have valid food handler permits.

Montana

In this state, most food workers do not need to get a food handlers’ license. Montana food establishments can choose to have their employees get this certification, but the state doesn’t require it.

However, Montana restaurants and food service businesses must have a certified food protection manager on staff. This must be a “Person in Charge” who has passed an ANSI/CFP-accredited food handler safety training course. 

In-person training programs are available as well as online courses, including StateFoodSafety, Learn2Serve, ServeSafe, and Prometric.

Nebraska

Nebraska doesn’t have a state-wide mandate for food handler licenses. Instead, county health departments decide whether employees need to be certified food handlers to work.

For example, take the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. It requires all employees at food service businesses to have a food manager or food handler permit. Workers can complete a training course in person or online. 

Residents of other counties should check with their local health department for more information about getting a food handlers license if it’s required. 

Nevada

In Nevada, all food establishments must have a “Person in Charge.” They need to show knowledge of proper food safety principles. The state requires passing an accredited food handler safety training course to become a certified food protection manager

There are exceptions to this requirement. Food establishments considered “low risk” by the state — such as most convenience stores and businesses that primarily sell pre-packaged foods — are exempted.

Nevada doesn’t require all food workers to be certified as official food handlers. However, individual areas within the state may require certification, so it’s important to check with the local health department. 

For instance, in the Southern Nevada Health District (which includes Las Vegas), food handler cards are required for everyone employed in or operating a food establishment. Employees must complete certification testing in person. The district requires food handler renewals every year to maintain certification.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire requires most food establishments to have at least one certified food protection manager on the premises at all times while employees are preparing food. That certification is available to those who pass a food safety certification exam from an accredited organization, such as Learn2Serve, ServSafe, or Always Food Safe.

This state permits 15 self-inspecting cities and towns to create their own guidelines for food managers and food handler licenses: Bedford, Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Derry, Dover, Exeter, Keene, Manchester, Merrimack, Nashua, Plaistow, Portsmouth, Rochester, and Salem. 

If you’re in one of these areas, consult with their local health department for additional certification requirements.

New Jersey

New Jersey doesn’t require food handler licenses. However, each food establishment needs a certified food protection manager on staff. 

Because counties and cities in New Jersey can create their own food safety certification requirements, check with local health authorities about requirements. They can help you find out how to get a food handlers license and whether it’s required or recommended.

For example, food handlers permits are required for food workers in Newark, New Jersey. To get a permit, workers and volunteers must pass a course from an approved program and complete a food handlers renewal every three years.

New Mexico

As of April 1, 2019, New Mexico requires all food employees to have a food handler card. This includes workers who handle food, utensils, and food contact surfaces. 

Staff needs to get a certification from an approved food handler safety training program. Each food establishment must have at least one supervisor or manager who is a certified food protection manager.

A few types of food workers are exempt from New Mexico’s food handler card requirements. Those who already have a valid food protection manager certification are exempt. Volunteers at temporary events are exempt, too. 

New York

New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets recommends food handler safety training resources, but there are no official state guidelines for getting food handler licenses. There are only requirements for retail food stores that serve prepared foods.

Cities and counties in New York may create their own requirements for owners and workers at food service establishments. You should consult with your nearest health department about local regulations. 

For example, in New York City, all supervisors in food service establishments must be certified in food protection. They must complete a course in food safety and pass a final exam in order to get a food protection certificate.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, food workers are not required to obtain food handler permits. You may opt to have their employees complete a training program or get food handlers cards, but the state doesn’t mandate this.

Every food service establishment must have at least one supervisor or manager who is a certified food protection manager. This certification is available to those who pass a test from an ANSI-accredited program.

North Dakota

In North Dakota, food service employees are not required to get official food handler licenses. 

Counties and cities can set their own requirements, so you’re encouraged to contact your local public health department for requirements. For example, all First District Health Unit food workers must complete an approved food education course.

North Dakota’s Health Department recommends multiple food handler safety training resources. Course options include Learn2Serve, the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals, StateFoodSafety.com, and ServSafe food handler certification.

Ohio

The state doesn’t instruct food workers in Ohio to get food handler licenses. However, individual counties can implement their own rules. Ask your nearest health department about local guidelines for food handler certification.

Ohio has some requirements for supervisors and managers in food establishments. A “Person In Charge” certification (considered a Level One food safety training) is necessary for at least one person on each shift. Also, a minimum of one person at each establishment must have manager certification (Level Two food safety training). 

Oklahoma

This state’s restaurants and food business workers don’t need to get a food handlers license. Oklahoma state policy calls for every food establishment to have a certified food protection manager on-site during hours of operation. 

Oklahoma also allows cities and counties to create their own regulations on food safety training. Check with local health authorities for more information about certification requirements.

For example, the cities of Moore and Norman both require every employee handling food on the job to have a food handler card. Classes to get this certification are available online. Each card is valid for three years.

Oregon

All food service workers in the state of Oregon must have a valid food handler card. Workers need to get this license within 30 days of hire, and it’s valid for three years. Employees who already have a valid food manager training certificate are exempted.

Food handler cards issued in any Oregon county are valid throughout the state. However, cards issued in other states are not valid in Oregon. Workers should get their card from an approved training program. A popular training provider in Oregon is ORfoodhandlers.com.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law states each food service facility must have a minimum of one employee with a food manager certification

This person can get this permit by passing an exam from an ANSI/CFP-approved training program. The certified employee has to be available during all hours of operation. They can only act as the food manager for one location.

This state has no requirements for food handler licenses. Pennsylvania business owners, however, can require their employees to become certified food handlers as an employment requirement.

Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, employees at food establishments do not need to be certified as food handlers. But, you may prefer that your staff members receive formal training. Those who want to boost their chances of employment can obtain permits for food handlers online.

While food handler cards aren’t required, food businesses need to have at least one full-time manager certified in food safety. Businesses with over ten full-time food preparation employees need at least two certified food managers on staff. 

A certified employee must be on site during all food preparation and serving hours. They must renew their certification every three years.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, each food service establishment must have at least one certified food protection manager on staff. This employee must pass a course offered by an ANSI-accredited provider, such as ServSafe, Learn2Serve, Prometric or the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals.

However, with food handler cards, South Carolina doesn’t have any official requirements. Employers may require food handler safety training and certification for their employees if they choose.

South Dakota

Food businesses in South Dakota don’t need to have their staff members get food handler permits. This is an optional training you can choose to have your staff obtain.

South Dakota food service establishments must have a designated person in charge for each work shift. They must also have at least one certified food manager on staff. 

Certification requires passing an eight-hour training program from an approved provider, such as StateFoodSafety, 360training.com, or the Restaurant Division of the South Dakota Retailers Association. Classes are available in person and online.

Tennessee

In Tennessee, training for food service staff is up to the employer’s discretion. That means that food handler cards aren’t required for any members of a restaurant or food establishment’s staff.

However, this state does require that at least one employee at each food service business certified as a food protection manager. You can get certified through a CFP-accredited training program. 

There are exceptions to this rule if the establishment passes an inspection with no priority item violations. Or, if the business has an employee on staff who can correctly answer any food safety questions, they may be exempted.

Texas

All full-time and part-time employees who work with food in the state of Texas must have a food handler card. Employees need to be certified within 60 days of employment. Physical certificates must remain on site. 

The state accepts food handler permits obtained through multiple accredited online programs, including ServSafe food handler certification.

In addition, all food service establishments must have a certified food protection manager on-site. Restaurants must display that employee’s certificate. 

Utah

All employees in Utah who handle, prepare, or serve food must have a food handler card. Staff members must get this certification within 30 days of hire. All Utah food handler permits are valid for three years. Employees must renew their food handler card no later than seven days after the permit’s expiration date.

Certification for food handlers in Utah involves a minimum of 75 minutes of training. You’ll also take an exam with questions approved by the Utah Department of Health. 

Many county health departments offer in-person training options. Online training is available through providers like ServSafe food handler certification.

Vermont

In this state, employees in restaurants and other food businesses are not required to get food handler licenses. Vermont employers can choose to have their employees complete this training, but the state doesn’t mandate it.

A person in charge at each food service establishment must be able to demonstrate knowledge of food safety. To do this, they can become a food protection manager with certification from an accredited training program. Alternatively, they can correctly answer questions posed by an inspector.

Virginia

In Virginia, all food establishments must have at least one supervisor or manager on staff who is a certified food protection manager. This includes temporary food establishments. Certification must come from a training program accredited by CFP.

Food handler permits, on the other hand, are not required state-wide for food service workers. Check with local health departments to find out if cards are required and, if so, how to get a food handlers license in that county or city. 

For example, in Norfolk, Virginia, the Department of Public Health requires all employees who work in food establishments to have food handlers cards prior to employment.

Washington

In Washington, all food workers must have a food handler permit before handling or serving food to the public. If you provide the food safety training, the employee can work for up to 14 days before getting their card.

Employees can get a Washington food worker card by completing a short training program and passing a corresponding exam. All counties in the state offer online training options

Cards are initially valid for two years. There are options for three-year and five-year food handlers renewal later on.

West Virginia

West Virginia doesn’t have a state-wide mandate for food workers to get food handler cards. However, individual counties can set their own rules for food handler safety training. Most areas require food workers to have some certification.

In Wheeling-Ohio County, the Health Department requires all food service workers to get a food handler card within 30 days of hire. Other counties with similar requirements include (but are not limited to) Monongalia County, Kanawha-Charleston County, and Pocahontas County.

Wisconsin

Currently, Wisconsin doesn’t require food service workers to have food handler cards. You can choose to have your employees get this certification, but the state doesn’t require it.

Each food establishment in Wisconsin needs to have a certified food protection manager on staff. This certification must be renewed every five years. 

There are some exceptions for simple food establishments. Businesses must serve only individual, pre-wrapped foods or foods deemed non-hazardous to the public.

Wyoming

Wyoming doesn’t require food service workers to have food preparation licenses. Although this type of food handler safety training is recommended, it’s not mandated by the state.

Food establishments in Wyoming should have a certified food manager on staff. If one is not present, a person in charge must demonstrate they have food safety knowledge when questioned by an inspector. 

However, some local health departments may not accept this exemption. For example, having a certified food protection manager on staff is mandatory in the Teton Health District. Check your local health department for requirements.

Additional resources

Do you have more questions about food handler cards and other industry regulations? Check out these helpful resources to learn more about insurance and licensing requirements for restaurants and food service businesses:

This information has been provided as a service. It is correct and up-to-date to the best of our knowledge; however, it is in no way intended to offer legal advice and you must always consult with local authorities before you make any business decisions. Regulations and requirements may change at any time.

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Kim Mercado image
By Kim Mercado
Kim Mercado is the managing editor of NEXT's small business blog.
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