How a food handlers license can grow a restaurant/food business

How a food handlers license can grow a restaurant/food business

Matt Crawford
By Matt Crawford
Jul 11, 2023
6 min read

Mishandled and improperly storing food can lead to sick customers and fines from your local health department — not to mention bad publicity and potential lawsuits for your restaurant, catering company, bakery, coffee shop or any kind of food service business. A food handlers license, also called a food handlers card, food handlers certificate, or food handlers permit, can ensure you and your employees are properly trained to keep customers safe and your business running smoothly.

Jump ahead to learn:

What is a food handlers card?

A food handlers card, also known as a food handlers license or food handlers certificate, is a certification that shows local health departments you know how to safely handle and serve food to the public.

Most states require it. Without one you could face fines and other penalties from your local health department.

How do you get a food handlers card?

Most food handlers license programs follow a similar format: You participate in a food safety course and pass a test.

That might sound like a big time commitment, but usually getting a license is fast, easy and inexpensive. 

Courses typically take about two hours to complete and cost less than $20. Many are offered online and in-person. 

Multiple companies offer courses on food safety, and each one is a little different. But they all provide instruction on:

  • Basic food safety
  • Proper food storage practices
  • Appropriate personal hygiene practices
  • Allergens
  • Cross-contamination
  • Proper cleaning procedures

After you take a course, you can typically take the exam up to three times. After that you need to retake the course before you can take the test again.

Once you pass the exam, you'll get your food handlers certificate.

Before you select a course, make sure it's approved in the state where your food service business operates. Some popular options include:

  • Always Food Safe. This company offers several training options for different types of employees. Courses are only available online in video format. The cost for the food handler training is $10. You can print your food handlers certificate as soon as you pass the exam.
  • ServSafe. ServSafe courses are among the most popular food safety classes in the United States both online and in-person. After you successfully complete the food handlers test, you can download and print your e-certificate from the company's website.
  • National Registry of Food Safety Professionals (NRFSP). NRFSP offers self-study, online or in-person training. The online version costs $12.95, and you can print your food handlers certificate anytime after passing the exam by logging into your account.

How long does a food handlers card last?

Some licenses are good forever, while others need to be renewed every few years, depending on the course you take.

Who needs a food handlers license?

Most states require that at least one employee in every food service business has a license. 

Some require all employees who handle food to get a license.

Other states require that at least one person with a license needs to be on duty during business hours, but they don't require all employees to be licensed.

Even if your state or local government doesn't require everyone to get food handlers certification, it's important that you train all employees on proper food handling to avoid any mishaps that could make someone sick.

Licensing requirements vary by state.

For example, New York requires that businesses that handle or prepare food have a licensed food operations supervisor on duty during business hours. But all employees aren't required to have a food handler card. In contrast, California requires any employee who handles food to have a license — and in some cases the state even requires a food manager license.

In general, food service businesses in most states must obtain a food handlers license within 30 to 90 days of opening. If you live in an area that requires all employees to have a license, it's important to know how soon each person needs to complete their training and pass the licensing exam after their hire date.

Sometimes state and local requirements aren't the same. If they have different guidelines, stick with the more stringent regulations to avoid potential penalties. For specific details that apply to your business, check with your local health department. 

Benefits of a food handlers license

Yes, having a food handlers card is generally required by law. But the benefits go beyond avoiding fines and other penalties. 

Understanding basic food safety protocols is crucial to keep your customers healthy, happy and coming back for more. 

A lawsuit related to foodborne illness could be a major setback for your business and it’s caused many businesses to close for good.

After all, no one wants to eat at a restaurant known for its history of food poisoning. A food handlers license shows you're serious about your business.

How NEXT can help your restaurant or food service business

NEXT makes it fast and easy to get the right insurance for your food business, including restaurantscaterersbakeries, and cafes/coffee shops

Our general liabilitycommercial propertyworkers’ compensation and commercial auto insurance coverage can help protect your food business from a variety of risks, including:

  • Foodborne illness
  • Equipment malfunction
  • Property damage
  • Injuries
  • Workplace accidents
  • Temporary business closures
  • Auto accidents 

You only pay for the coverage you need, and you can see your policy options in less than 10 minutes. A certificate of insurance, along with 24/7 access to your policy, is available as soon as you make a payment.

Get a free instant quote with NEXT.

How a food handlers license can grow a restaurant/food business


matt crawford
About the author

Matt Crawford leads NEXT's content team. He's a small business insurance specialist and has worked with business owners throughout his career as a community journalist and content marketer.

You can find him at one of his many favorite local restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area when he's not at work.

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