Who needs a food handlers license and why it is important for your business

Who needs a food handlers license and why it is important for your business

Matt Crawford
By Matt Crawford
Apr 27, 2021
7 min read

Mishandling and improperly storing food is one of the biggest risks a food service business can face. 

When basic safety protocols aren't followed, it can lead to sick customers and fines from your local health department — not to mention bad publicity and potential lawsuits.

A food handler license can provide the proper training you and your employees need to keep your customers safe and your business running smoothly. A food handler card or certification can also give you a competitive advantage.

What is a food handler license?

A food handler license, also known as a food handler card or food handlers permit, 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 to get a food handler license

Most food handler license programs follow a similar format — you need to 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 in online and in-person formats. 

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. 

Many are available online and can be printed immediately. Some licenses are good forever, while others need to be renewed every few years, depending on the course you take.

Options for food handlers certificate courses

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 different 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 with both online and in-person options. 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 any time after passing the exam by logging into your account.

Who needs a food handler license?

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

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

Other states require that at least one person with a license 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 certified, it's important that you train all employees on proper food handling procedures to avoid any mishaps that could cause someone to get sick.

States have different food safety requirements

Licensing requirements vary by location.

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.

For specific details that apply to your business, check with your local health department. 

It's worth noting that sometimes state and local requirements aren't the same. If your state and local governments have different guidelines, stick with the more stringent regulations to avoid potential penalties.

If you're just getting started, it's important to find out how long you can wait to get licensed before you're in violation of your health department's requirements. In general, food service businesses in most states most obtain a food handler 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 after their hire date each person needs to complete their training and pass the licensing exam.

Benefits of having a food handler license

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

Understanding basic food safety protocols is crucial in keeping 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 that's known for its history of food poisoning.

Plus, a food handler license shows you're serious about your business. 

When people see that you take the health and safety of your customers seriously, they're more likely to work with you. And who doesn't want more opportunities to grow their business?

How Next helps food service businesses thrive

Getting the right insurance for your food business you need is fast and easy with Next. Our general liability, commercial property, workers’ compensation and commercial auto insurance can help protect your food-service business from a variety of risks, including:

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

With Next’s custom pricing, you’ll only pay for the coverage you need, so you aren’t overinsured or underinsured.

Simply complete our online application to see your policy options in less than 10 minutes. Your certificate of insurance will be available as soon as you make your payment. 

Our U.S.-based, licensed insurance professionals are available to help if you have any questions.

Get your instant quote today.

Who needs a food handlers license and why it is important for your 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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