California Food Handler Certification Online

Jun 22, 2020

Overview of California Food Handler Certification

To ensure the health and safety of employees and the public, individuals who work in food service must obtain food handler certification in the state of California. This type of certification is known as a food handler card. Employees at some food service establishments are exempt from this requirement, such as grocery stores, farmers' markets, and public and private school cafeterias, but other food service establishments, such as restaurants, bars, and catering services, must have certified employees.

Certification can be obtained by taking a training course and passing an exam. Both the course and the exam can be done completely online, depending on the organization offering the training. ServSafe, a part of the National Restaurant Association, offers its services completely online for California residents. To make it easily accessible for those who need it, California state law prohibits training courses that cost more than 15 dollars. The actual course can last from an hour to an hour and a half, but individuals can complete it at their own pace.

Requirements for California Food Handler Certification

There are no education or work experience prerequisites for taking a food handler card training course, but California enforces the following rules for food handler certification:

  • The certification must be obtained within 30 days of initial employment
  • Individuals must pass a training course with a minimum grade of 70 percent, but in some areas of California, such as San Diego, the minimum grade is 80 percent
  • Cards are good for 3 years and must be valid at all times during employment


Certain areas of California are exempt from food handler certification because they have their own existing approved food handler card programs. San Bernadino and Riverside are examples of these areas. Additionally, certain positions are exempt, such as those who hold a manager's food safety certification or food handlers who work in temporary facilities.

Course Information

Food handler training courses are designed to teach employees how to safely prepare and handle food and food preparation spaces, as well as any equipment involved. Course topics include how to prevent foodborne illnesses, proper hygiene, cleaning and sanitization, cross-contamination, and temperature control of foods, among others.

Careers That Require Food Handler Certification

Common careers that require food handler certification include food preparation workers, waiters and waitresses, and cooks.

Food Preparation Workers

Food preparation workers work under the supervision of cooks, food service managers, and chefs to assist in preparing food. This can involve a number of responsibilities, such as organizing the necessary equipment, chopping meat, preparing fruits and vegetables, measuring ingredients, and cleaning and sanitizing workspaces and equipment after use. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2019 that the median annual wage for food preparation workers was $24,800. Jobs in the profession are expected to grow by 8% from 2018-2028.

Waiters and Waitresses

Waiters and waitresses serve food and drinks to customers in restaurants. Their daily tasks can range from taking customers' orders, answering menu-related questions, giving customer orders to the kitchen staff, and routinely checking in on customers to ensure they are being cared for and are enjoying their service. They may also take customers' payments, clean tables, and prepare drinks. According to the BLS, the median annual wage in 2019 for waiters and waitresses was $22,890. The number of jobs in this field is expected to grow by 6% between 2018-2028.


Cooks work in restaurants and other foodservice establishments to prepare a wide variety of dishes for customers. They typically work under the supervision of head cooks, chefs, or food service managers. A few daily tasks can include cooking, arranging, and garnishing food, cleaning work areas, and storing food and ingredients. The BLS reports that the annual median wage in 2019 for cooks was $26,360. Positions in this profession are expected to grow by 11% from 2018-2028.

The state of California requires food service employees, such as cooks, servers, and food preparation workers, to hold valid food handler certification. This can be obtained by taking a food handler training course and passing an exam online.

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