How to Get Your California Food Handlers Card

Food worker holding California food handlers card

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million people get sick after eating contaminated food in the United States every year. Of that number, approximately 3,000 people are in California.

As a food worker, you play a critical role in keeping food safe from contamination. And you’re not alone. As of May 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated there were 1.7 million food handlers and managers in California. That accounts for almost 10% of all working Californians!

To help prevent food contamination, California requires many food workers to get a food handlers card soon after you’re hired. A food handler card is a certificate you receive after you complete an approved food handler training course and pass the test.

When is a food handler card required?

In general, if you work with food, California state law requires you to get a food handlers card within 30 days of your hire date.

There are some exceptions to this rule. You don’t need to get your food handlers if you were hired to work at a convenience store, school cafeteria, licensed healthcare facility, certified farmer’s market, or a facility intended to confine adults or minors such as a county jail.

You also don’t need a food handlers card if you were hired to work at a grocery store — even if you spend most of your time in the deli, meat and seafood counter, or bakery.

However, if you work in a restaurant located inside a grocery store, you do need a food handler card. Likewise, if you work in any place preparing or serving food (other than the exceptions mentioned above), you need to get a food handlers card.

What is ANSI accreditation?

The California Retail Food Code requires that your food handlers card come from an ANSI-accredited training provider. So what exactly does that mean, and how do you know if a provider is accredited?

ANSI stands for American National Standards Institute. This organization has a national accreditation board that assesses training programs in a variety of industries, including food service. When a program meets the board’s standards, it is accredited, meaning ANSI officially recognizes that the program meets its standards.

When you search for a California food handler card online, you’ll get several results from different companies, including StateFoodSafety, eFoodHandlers, ServSafe, and Premier Food Safety. Each company with an ANSI-accredited food handler training program will say so on their website. Just look for the blue ANSI logo or the words “ANSI accredited.”

You can also see a list of accredited providers on the ANSI website. As of October 2020, there were 22 accredited providers of a California food handlers card.

Food handlers card vs food manager certification

Another common question new food workers may have is whether they need to get a food handlers card or food manager certification. Both of these programs are required in California, so it’s easy to get a little confused.

You should get a food handlers card if you were hired for a non-managerial role. That means your job description is simply to do the work assigned to you — you don’t have to assign work to other people or manage their schedules.

The process for earning a food handlers card is much simpler than getting a manager certification. All you have to do is complete a training portion, pass the test, and you’ll get your card!

Get a food manager certification if you have a managerial role. That means you are responsible for other employees. Your job duties may include making job assignments and managing employees’ schedules. California law requires every food establishment to employ at least one certified manager.

Becoming a certified food manager is a bit more complicated than getting a food handlers card. It also tends to be more expensive. Training isn’t required, but we recommend doing some sort of review before you take the certification exam. The manager exam goes over similar concepts as the food handler test, but in greater detail. It also has to be proctored, which means a professional test proctor has to watch you take the exam to ensure no cheating occurs.

If you’re not sure what your job responsibilities will be, ask the person who hired you. They should be able to clarify whether you should get a food handlers card or food manager certification.

Where can I get a food handlers card in California?

By this point, you already know that California law requires you to get your food handler card from an ANSI-accredited provider. Now we’ll dive into some more details.

Getting a food handlers card for the first time vs renewing a card

A California food handler card is valid for three years. That means every three years, you’ll need to retake the training and renew your card.

Whether you’re getting a food handler card for the first time or you just need to renew, the basic process for getting your card is the same:

  1. Find an approved training program.
  2. Complete the training and pass the test.
  3. Get your card from the provider.

When you train with StateFoodSafety, we’ll send you a reminder to renew about a month before your card expires. If you work in a county that allows discounts on food safety training, we’ll also send you a discount code for the renewal, just to thank you for choosing us.

Counties with unique training requirements

There are three counties in California that have different training requirements than the rest of the state. If you work in Riverside County, San Bernardino County, or San Diego County, you must get a food handlers card for that specific county.

Food handler cards issued by the state of California aren’t valid within those three counties. If you started your food service career in Santa Clara County, for example, and then moved to Riverside, you would need to get a new food handlers card for Riverside County.

By the same token, food handler cards issued by one of these three counties aren’t valid outside of those counties. So if you started working in Riverside County and then moved to Santa Clara, you would need to get a new food handlers card for the state of California.

The process of earning a card is the same no matter where you are. Simply look for a food handler training program that’s approved for your area, complete the training and pass the test, and you’ll get your certificate!

If you’re looking for a food handlers card in a county with unique training requirements, StateFoodSafety can help. In fact, we are the only training provider approved by Riverside and San Bernardino counties:

In conclusion, the California Retail Food Code requires the majority of food workers to get a food handlers card within 30 days of your hire date. You can get a California food handlers card from any ANSI-accredited provider.

If you work in Riverside County, San Bernardino County, or San Diego County, make sure you get a food handler card that’s approved for that specific area. Those counties have unique training requirements from the rest of the state, and state-issued cards aren’t valid there.

Get your food handlers card today from StateFoodSafety!

— Jessica Pettit

Updated: October 27, 2020 — 2:16 pm
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