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Food Handling Licensure and Credentialing Information

Bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli can sicken and even kill people. To reduce the likelihood and severity of food borne illness outbreaks from unsafe food handling at commercial establishments, states and cities may require food handling licensure or credentialing for workers at restaurants, delis and supermarket meat counters.

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Some food service workers need food handling licenses in order to demonstrate their knowledge of food handling safety techniques.

What Is a Food Handling License?

A food handling license is a credential that demonstrates a food service worker's knowledge of safety and sanitation protocols related to food handling and preparation. It demonstrates knowledge of basic practices to prevent bacterial growth and cross-contamination that can spread food-borne illness when working with wrapped or unwrapped foods and when cleaning food preparation surfaces. It may also be referred to as a permit, certificate, card or certified food handler credential.

Who Needs Food Handling Credentials?

In some states, cities and localities, all commercial food workers, or those who handle unpackaged foods or cut produce, are required to have a food handling license. Other jurisdictions have less stringent requirements; for example, they may require one person with a credential to be on duty during all business hours. Or, they may simply require one employee at a location to have a credential and take responsibility for training other employees, without mandating that a credential holder always be on the premises. Workers who may need food handling licenses include the following:

  • Cooks
  • Restaurant servers
  • Baristas
  • Bakery employees
  • Caterers
  • Deli workers
  • Meat counter clerks

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How Does a Food Worker Get a Food Handling Credential?

Food service workers take a test at a government health department office or private testing center and pay a nominal fee to receive the permit. Some health departments may require examinees to take a class in person or online prior to taking the test. Preparation courses may be offered through commercial testing preparation organizations. New employees have a grace period, usually of a couple of weeks or a month, to get a credential. Food handling permits usually need to be renewed every 3-5 years.

Is There National Credentialing?

Credentials issued by a county or state department of health, pursuant to a statewide regulation, are usually good throughout the state. A few localities may allow people to apply for reciprocal recognition of their existing credentials from other health departments.

Depending on their location, individuals who work in the food industry may be required to get a food handling license. For this, they must have the safety and sanitation knowledge necessary to pass an exam.

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