How Long Does a Food Handlers Card Last?
Food handler cards — also called food handler certificates or permits — show that you have successfully completed a training program on essential food safety principles.
Many states, cities, and even some counties require that you have a food handler card to work in foodservice as evidence that you know how to handle and serve food safely.
However, you may wonder whether your food handler card expires or how long it lasts before you renew it.
This article discusses how long a food handlers card last and how to renew your card to stay compliant with your health department.
Does a food handlers card expire?
To get a food handlers card, you must complete a training or educational program, which usually includes a final exam or assessment of your learning.
Although certificates don’t generally have to be renewed, many organizations that issue food handler cards include an expiration date that is 2–3 years after the date of issuance.
This is because states — and sometimes cities, and counties — require that you renew them every 2–3 years to keep you fresh and current on important food safety principles so that you can help keep people safe from foodborne illnesses.
Foodborne illnesses — or food poisoning — are caused by consuming a food or beverage contaminated with a pathogen, such as a bacteria, virus, or parasite.
An estimated 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses each year in the United States (1).
Thus, knowing how to handle and serve food safely is a serious business.
Most states — and sometimes cities and counties — require that you renew your food handlers card every 2–3 years to stay fresh on important food safety practices.
When do you need to renew?
You must renew your food handler card as often as your health department requires — which is usually every 2–3 years.
Depending on the organization that issued your food handlers card, you may have to renew sooner than its expiration date to meet your health department’s requirements.
For example, if your food handler card expires three years from the date of issuance, but your health department requires that you renew every two years, you must renew it every two years to stay compliant.
Check with your manager if you’re unsure how often you must renew your food handlers card.
You can find the expiration date of your food handlers card on the certificate.
You must renew your food handlers card as often as your health department requires — even if it’s before the expiration date listed on your certificate.
How to renew your food handlers card
The process of renewing your food handlers card is similar to how you first got it.
You can choose to renew with the same company that issued your expiring certificate or use a different company.
If you use the same company, you should already have a username and password that you can use to log in and retake the course to renew your food handlers card.
If you can’t remember your login credentials, you can usually request to change your password or have the information emailed to you.
Alternatively, if you want to go with a different organization to renew your food handlers card, simply create an account and enroll in the course on their website.
While some may be longer than others, most food handler courses cover the same food safety topics that you must know to handle and serve food safely.
These topics may include:
- good personal hygiene
- proper handwashing procedures
- time-temperature controls (TCS) for safety foods
- how to avoid cross-contamination and cross-contact
- cleaning and sanitizing
- pest management
Knowing these topics will ensure that you pass your food handler exam when you renew.
Want to earn your food handler card for free?
For a limited time, you can!
You can renew your food handlers card through the same organization that issued your expiring one or through a different organization.
What to do if you lose your food handlers card
In places where food handler cards are required, health inspectors or surveyors will ask to see proof that you and your co-workers have earned a food handler card and that it hasn’t expired.
Thus, you should always keep it with you or have the ability to access it quickly.
But what about if you lost your food handler card?
In the past, organizations only printed and mailed food handler certificates — making them time-consuming and inconvenient to replace.
Today, however, most — if not all — organizations issue digital food handler cards that you can download, print, and email to your manager.
Therefore, you should always be able to access your food handler card by logging into the issuing organization’s website and redownloading or printing it.
While convenient, this too can be a hassle if you forget your login credentials or you can’t find where to go to redownload your certificate.
As such, you should always save your food handlers card as a PDF immediately after you earn it to your desktop or phone — or better yet, in a cloud storage software like Google Drive or iCloud so you can access it from anywhere.
You should also email a PDF copy to your manager and yourself in case you change jobs or are assigned a new manager.
Make it easier to access your food handlers card by saving it in the cloud and emailing your manager and yourself a PDF copy.
The bottom line
Food handler cards or certificates generally expire every 2–3 years.
However, your state, city, or county may require that you renew your food handlers card sooner than the expiration date listed on the certificate.
Renewing your food handlers card helps you stay current and fresh on important food safety principles.
Check with your manager if you’re unsure how often you must renew your food handlers card to stay compliant with your health department.
Save a copy of your food handler card as a PDF to the cloud and email a copy to your manager and yourself so you never lose it and can access it quickly for health inspectors and surveyors.
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