Regulations are an important part of the restaurant, catering and food service business. Restaurant owners and employees need to have the correct food handlers card, also called a food handlers license or a food handler certificate, to certify that you’re trained in safe food handling.
How to get a food handlers license
A food handlers license is easy to get online — ServSafe, Learn2Serve and StateFoodSafety provide training and exams. Local health departments also offer classes. Most food handlers cards are valid for at least two to three years.
In many states compliance is mandatory. But even if it’s not, the right food handling safety permit signals to customers and local authorities that your business follows clean health regulations.
Food handler certificate vs food manager certificate: What’s the difference?
Food handlers cards, when required, are issued to any employee who handles, prepares or serves food. Food handlers usually take a brief food safety training course and pass an exam on food safety to get their card.
Food manager certificates usually require more advanced training and knowledge on food safety, and this license is usually for employees in supervisory roles. Many states require one or more employees in restaurants, catering or food service to hold their food manager certificate. Employees who have a food manager license don’t need to have a food handlers card as well.
A food handlers card usually costs around $5 to $15, and a food manager certificate is often around $100 to $150. Restaurant and food business owners usually pay for food safety certification.
Food handlers card requirements in all 50 states
In Jefferson County and Mobile County, all food service workers need 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.
In most of Alabama, only supervisors or managers need a food manager license. Workers must pass a certified food manager course and an ANSI-accredited food safety certification exam through local health departments. Certificates must be renewed every five years.
All workers in food service must get a food worker card within 30 days of employment.
To get a food handlers license, Alaska food workers must complete an online or in-person exam conducted by the Alaska Department of Health. Alaska food worker cards are valid for three years.
In Anchorage, Alaska-issued food worker cards are not valid. Instead, employees must get an Anchorage food handler card issued by the local government within 21 days of hire. The exam is available online, and the permit is valid for three years.
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 license is a rule or a recommendation.
For example, Maricopa County requires that all applicable employees get a food handlers 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.
Check with county health departments for specific permit requirements. They require all counties to accept food handler licenses from accredited training programs, including online courses.
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 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.
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 San Diego county; a unique local permit is required. Contact your local health department to find out how to get a food handlers license either in person or online.
But Colorado food service workers do not need a food handlers permit. Restaurant owners can choose to have employees complete a food handler safety training course, but it isn’t required by law.
Connecticut does not require employees who work in kitchens to have a food handlers permit. But at least one person who owns, operates or manages a food service business 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.
Business owners may want employees to complete a food safety training program for more kitchen safety and better customer relations. Training takes place in person or online, such as the ServSafe food handler certification.
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 a food handlers license. Delaware employers may elect to require them for their staff independently.
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.
The state of George doesn’t require all food workers to get a food handlers card. Employers can decide whether staff members will get this certification.
However, by law, every food establishment needs to have a minimum of one certified food safety manager on 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 requires at least one employee at each restaurant or food business during normal hours to have a certification from a formal food handlers safety training program. Employers can always certify all staff members with a food handlers 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.
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, but restaurant owners and food business owners can opt in.
Any individual in Illinois who works with unpackaged food, food-contact surfaces, or food equipment and utensils must complete food handlers safety training within 30 days of employment. There are exceptions for unpaid volunteers, temporary food establishment employees and employees who already have a valid certification as a food protection manager.
A food handlers license in Illinois is 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.
In the state of Indiana, there must be at least one employee who possesses a food handlers permit at each restaurant or food business. They don’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 business leaves or has their employment ended, employers 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 their manager. They also need to fulfill food handlers card renewal requirements to keep their certification from expiring.
Food workers in Iowa are not required to have a food handlers license.
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.
There are no statewide stipulations for food handlers cards in Kansas. However, jurisdictions within the state have their own food safety regulations. Some require or recommend a food handlers license.
For example, in Leavenworth, Kansas, all employees who handle food must have a food handlers certificate issued by the city. Business owners in Kansas should contact the 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.
Wichita, Kansas does not require food business employees to get a food handlers card, but the city offers a free online food handlers safety training course for volunteers.
Kentucky doesn’t have a statewide mandate for food handlers cards in restaurants or food service. However, some requirements are different county-by-county.
For example, both Lexington-Fayette County and Madison County Health Departments require all employees in food service to have food handlers permits. Both counties offer in-person and online courses to receive this certification.
Ask your local health department if they require a license in your county and how to get a food handlers license.
Louisiana doesn’t require all restaurant employees to get a food handlers card. Instead, only one owner or employee in each location is required to carry a food safety manager 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. Employers must also purchase a state certificate with a gold seal and post it at the business location.
Maine doesn’t require all food workers to obtain food handlers cards. However, all eating establishments must have a certified food protection manager on staff.
To get this certification, the individual must complete an accredited food safety course and pass an exam approved by the Conference for Food Protection (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. Restaurant owners must post a valid certificate at the business location.
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 exam, they need to get a photo identification card from the county’s Health and Human Services Department.
Food workers in Massachusetts don’t need a food preparation license or food handlers card. However, the state requires all food service businesses to have a minimum of one full-time 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 doesn’t have a mandate for food workers to get food handler permits. However, the state requires restaurant owners 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.
Food workers in Minnesota are not required to get food handlers 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. Employers should contact their local health department to understand local food handler and food manager license requirements.
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 handlers certificate. The food protection manager is expected to pass on their knowledge and ensure food preparation operations follow proper safety precautions.
Business owners can choose to have their food handlers train in-person or online.
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. 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.
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.
Nebraska doesn’t have a statewide mandate for food handlers certificates. 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 the requirements of a food handlers license.
In Nevada, all food establishments must have a “Person in Charge” 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.
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 check with your 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 requires most food establishments to have at least one certified food protection manager on 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, ServeSafe 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 doesn’t require a food handlers card. 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 learn 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. 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 requires all food employees to have a food handlers 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’s Department of Agriculture and Markets recommends food handler safety training resources, but there are no official state guidelines for a food handlers license. There are requirements for retail food stores that serve prepared food.
Cities and counties in New York may create their own requirements for owners and workers at food service businesses. Consult with your nearest health department about local regulations.
For example, in New York City, all supervisors in food service 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.
In North Carolina, food workers are not required to obtain food handlers permits. Employers can opt to have their employees complete a training program or get food handlers cards, but the state doesn’t mandate this.
Every food service business 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.
In North Dakota, food service employees are not required to get official food handlers licenses.
Counties and cities can set their own requirements, so employers are encouraged to contact the 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 Public Health Department recommends multiple food handler safety training resources. Course options include Learn2Serve, the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals, StateFoodSafety, and ServSafe food handlers certification.
The state doesn’t mandate food workers in Ohio to get food handler licenses. However, some individual counties implement their own rules. Ask your nearest health department about local guidelines for food handlers certification.
Ohio has some requirements for supervisors and managers in food businesses. 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 restaurant or food busiiness must have manager certification (Level Two food safety training).
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.
All food service workers in the state of Oregon must have a valid food handlers 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 handlers 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 law states that each food service facility must have a minimum of one employee with a food manager certification.
This person can get the 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 handlers licenses. Pennsylvania business owners, however, can require their employees to become certified food handlers.
In Rhode Island, employees at food businesses do not need to be certified as food handlers, but employers may want their teams to be trained as a precaution. Workers who want to boost their employment options can obtain permits for food handlers online.
While food handlers 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.
In South Carolina, each food service business 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 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 handlers safety training and certification for their employees if they choose.
Food businesses in South Dakota don’t need to have their staff members get food handlers certificates. This is an optional training for restaurant owners or food service business owners.
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.
In Tennessee, training for food service staff is up to the employer’s discretion. Food handlers cards aren’t required for any members of a restaurant or food business staff.
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.
All full-time and part-time employees who work with food in the state of Texas must have a food handlers card. Employees need to be certified within 30 days of employment. Physical certificates must remain on site.
In addition, all food service establishments must have a certified food protection manager on-site. Restaurants must display that employee’s certificate.
All employees in Utah who handle, prepare or serve food must have a food handlers card. Staff members must get this certification within 30 days of hire. All Utah food handlers certificates 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. Workers will also take an exam with questions approved by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.
Many county health departments offer in-person training. Online training is available through providers like ServSafe food handlers certification.
In this state, employees in restaurants and other food businesses are not required to get food handlers 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.
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 handlers certificates, on the other hand, are not required statewide 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, the Department of Public Health requires all employees who work in food to have food handlers cards prior to employment.
In Washington, all food workers must have a food handlers card before preparing or serving food to the public. If employers provide 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 card renewal later on.
West Virginia doesn’t have a statewide mandate for food workers to get food handlers 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 handlers 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.
Currently, Wisconsin doesn’t require food service workers to have food handlers cards. Employers can choose to have employees get this certification, but the state doesn’t require it.
Each food business 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 doesn’t require food service workers to have food preparation licenses. Although this type of food handlers safety training is recommended, it’s not mandated by the state.
Food businesses 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.
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