Friday, September 16, 2011

California’s Food Handler Card Law

In California’s food industry, the Food Handler Card certificate – introduced by SB 602 a year ago and refined by SB 303 (chaptered Sep. 6th, 2011) – allows workers to demonstrate to food facility owners that they are knowledgeable with regard to health and safety regulations on safe and proper food handling. In turn, the same Food Handler Card certificate lets food facility owners inform their customers, patrons, and inspection agents that their employees adhere to proper food handling procedures. Taken as a whole, the newly instituted system should increase confidence, benefiting workers, owners, and consumers alike.

In the food industry, like in any other, training certificates that include an examination help entities identify the capabilities of a particular individual, and that the individual has achieved specific desired learning outcomes as a result of their training. Additionally, since the Food Handler Card certificate is based on an American National Standard and some specific state of California requirements, legislators, facility owners, certificate issuers, and workers can be assured of the quality and integrity of the certificate program requirements. To this end, the American National Standards Institute Certificate Accreditation Program, known as ANSI-CAP, accredits certificate issuers based on their adherence to the requirements set forth in the ASTM International E2659-09 standard, assuring that organizations wanting to become ANSI-accredited Food Handler Card certificate issuers meet the national standard.

The standard provides guidance to certificate issuers for developing and administering quality certificate programs and to stakeholders for determining the quality of certificate programs,” including “requirements for both the entity issuing the certificate and requirements for the specific certificate programs for which it issues certificates.” These requirements are then combined with section 113947.2 of the California Health and Safety Code, which outlines the required elements of knowledge that the Food Handler Card certificate test must assess.

Taken together, the combined effects of the ASTM International E2659-09 standard, the ANSI-CAP accreditation process, and the California Health and Safety Code result in a single, newly formulated approach to food handler training certificates that replaces many similarly intentioned programs, streamlining and simplifying the entire process by placing a unified and consistent set of requirements upon food handlers.

How Does California’s Food Handler Card Law Help Food Handlers?


The most tangible benefit derived from the Food Handler Card certificate by individual food handlers is the assurance it offers to a current employer of their abilities and/or to future employers of their value in relation to other potential applicants.

Food handlers also benefit from the standardization aspect of the new law. Since the examination requirements and content are standardized across California, food handlers, knowing exactly what material they need to learn, are able to better prepare themselves. Lastly, the instructional course, taken prior to the certificate exam, is notably broad in its scope, addressing issues that any particular food handler will encounter over the course of their work.

How Does California’s Food Handler Card Law Help Consumers?


Consumers benefit from the Food Handler Card certificate because it will help to assure safer preparation and handling of their food, leading to less foodborne illness and greater confidence. As the food industry is in large part a service industry, the interests of owners and consumers are closely aligned; a satisfied customer base benefits business owners as it encourages increased use of food facilities, coming around full circle to benefit those working in food facilities.

How Does California’s Food Handler Card Law Help Food Facility Owners?


Owners of food facilities benefit from the Food Handler Card certificate through the assurance that the food served in their establishments is being prepared by workers aware of the nuances of the relevant portions of the California Health and Safety Code. Predominately and most demonstrably, comparable certificate programs in other states have resulted in reduced amounts of foodborne illnesses. A study conducted in Florida showed a 79% decrease in reported cases of foodborne illnesses over the past decade (PDF link) after the enactment of a similar program. The reduction of foodborne illnesses is in and of itself reason enough to embrace the initiative, but more knowledgeable food handling does more than simply prevent the worst-case scenario of food contamination. Owners of food facilities are likely to benefit in other ways, including reduced product spoilage and higher quality end-products.

Furthermore, since the new law amends the California Health and Safety Code, requiring food handlers to perpetually have a certificate issued by an ANSI-accredited organization to remain employed, compliance is now part of inspection criteria, with noncompliance resulting in negative repercussions.

How It All Adds Up


Widespread education for food handlers and the subsequent rigorous process leading to the issuance of Food Handler Card certificates, combined with enforcement, will benefit the food industry as a whole. Consumers visiting restaurants will enjoy a safer experience, and food facility owners and workers will experience improved public perception and increased usage of their services. For more information, consult your local county officials as well as these sources: