What Is a Food Handlers Card? (Plus, How to Get One)
If you’re new to the foodservice industry, your manager may require you to earn a food handlers card — also known as a food handlers certificate or permit.
However, you may wonder what exactly a food handler card is or how to get one.
This article explains everything you need to know about food handlers card, including what it is, how to get one, and more.
What is a food handler card and who needs one?
You’re a food handler if you work in a foodservice operation and perform duties that involve storing, preparing, and serving food.
This may include:
- restaurants, from dining to fast food
- nursing homes or other healthcare facilities
- food manufacturing or packaging companies
- bars and pubs that serve food
- schools and colleges
- grocery stores
- convenience stores that serve food like pizza or chicken
A food handlers card is a certificate that you earn after you complete a course on basic food safety principles and pass a final assessment.
The purpose of earning your food handlers card is to arm you with the knowledge to handle food safely at your job.
Safe food handling is crucial to prevent the development and spread of foodborne illnesses.
As such, many states, cities, and counties require that you earn a food handlers card prior to working with food or within a certain period of employment.
There are at least 13 states that require a valid food handlers card, along with dozens of cities and counties.
Learn more about food handler requirements by state here.
The company for which you work may also require that you earn a food handlers card, regardless of your state or local regulation.
Beyond its requirement in certain places, earning your food handler card offers many other benefits in terms of pay, employment, and promotion.
A food handlers card is a certificate that you earn after successfully completing a food handlers course. It demonstrates that you have the knowledge to handle food safely. Depending on where you live and the company for who you work, you may be required to earn one.
How to get a food handler card and cost
Earning your food handlers card is generally an easy and quick process.
There are many companies through which you can earn your food handlers card completely online.
Before choosing a company, however, you should verify that the card they issue is approved by your state or local health department.
For example, some states require that the food handler card be nationally accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Other states like Alaska and Washington, as well as some counties, have their own food handler program and don’t accept food handler cards earned through other programs.
Therefore, it’s always good to check with your manager to ensure the program you choose is valid and accepted by your employer and health department.
Once you determine the right program, simply enroll in the course and get started.
The cost to enroll and earn your food handler card ranges between $7 and $15. Depending on where you live, some health departments charge an additional fee.
Utah, for example, has a $15 health department fee that you must pay on top of the cost to earn your food handlers card.
Once you start the course, you can expect to spend between 70 and 115 minutes (1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 55 minutes) to get a food handlers card.
Food handler courses cover important food safety topics, including:
- personal hygiene and handwashing
- cross-contamination and food allergies
- time and temperature abuse
- cleaning and sanitation
Once you complete the course content, you must earn a passing score — usually 70% or 75% — to earn your food handlers card, which you can then print or download and provide your manager with a copy.
If you lose your food handler card, you can print or download a replacement by logging into the issuing company’s website.
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You can earn your food handlers card online in around two hours or less. Just make sure that the company through which you earn your food handlers card is valid and accepted by your state or local health department.
How long does a food handler card last?
While certificates generally don’t need to be renewed, companies that issue food handler cards expire 2–3 years after the date of issuance.
Therefore, you must renew your food handler card every 2–3 years, which allows you to stay fresh on important food safety practices.
You can find the expiration date of your food handler card on the certificate.
The process of renewing your food handlers certificate is similar to how you first got it.
You can choose to renew with the same company that issued your expiring certificate or try a different company.
The cost to renew is generally the same as the cost you paid to earn it.
Food handler cards generally expire 2–3 years after the date of issuance, so don’t forget to renew them when they expire to remain compliant with the requirements of your health department and employer.
Does a food handlers card transfer states?
Food handler cards are issued based on the state in which you live.
Therefore, if you move to a new state, you may wonder whether the food handler card you earned originally will be valid in the state to which you’re moving.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so simple.
If you live in a state that requires an ANSI-accredited food handler card, you can move to another state with the same requirements without having to earn a new card.
States that require ANSI accreditation include:
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
Other states have specific requirements for the course length, food safety topics covered, and the passing score.
In these instances, you would need to earn a food handler card in the state to which you’re moving.
Other states like Utah, for example, require companies to apply and have their food handler program approved by the state to be valid.
Therefore, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the food handler requirements of the state to which you’re moving.
Depending on the state, you may not be required to have a food handlers card.
Whether your food handler card transfers states depends on the state to which you’re moving.
The bottom line
Many states, cities, and counties, as well as some companies, require that you earn a food handler card before or within a certain period of employment.
Doing so proves to your health department and manager that you are equipped with the knowledge to handle food safely and keep people safe from foodborne illnesses.
To earn your food handler card, simply enroll in and successfully complete an online course accepted by your state or employer.
Food handler cards expire 2–3 years from the date of issuance and don’t always transfer states.
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