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When you open up a restaurant, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture: what will my restaurant look like? What will we serve? Yet you will soon find that you spend a lot of time focusing on the small details and the red tape, like getting the right licenses and permits to operate in your state.
One prime example is food handlers licenses. While these permits are generally much easier to obtain than other types of business licenses, a failure to have the right certifications for each employee who is required to have one can lead to hefty fines — and a public notice of a health code violation.
To make it easier, we have broken down the requirements for getting a food handlers license in all 50 states. In some places, just one person will need some type of food safety certification. In others, every single person who comes into contact with food will need a license. Read on to learn about the requirements in your state — and how we can help you grow your business.
What Is a Food Handlers License?
A food handlers’ license is a certificate, permit, or card. It may also be referred to as an employee health permit. This license is issued after the person completes a state- approved course and passes a test on how to handle food safety.
This type of license allows a food service employee to prepare and handle food in a restaurant or other business that serves food (such as a food truck). During a health inspection or in the event of an investigation by the local health department, the authorities will request to review the license for everyone who handles and prepares food. If an employee does not have a food handlers permit, then their employer may be subject to steep fines and penalties.
Food handlers licenses are critical to the success of a business. Not only do they help avoid problems with local health authorities, but the courses required to obtain this permit give employees the necessary knowledge to prevent food contamination, foodborne illnesses, and other issues that can harm a restaurant’s reputation — and bottom line.
Getting a Food Handlers License: a State by State Guide
Most states (but not all) require restaurant staff to have some type of food safety certification. Generally, states fall into one of two categories when it comes to this type of licensing: (1) a requirement to have one food safety manager on site at all times; or (2) all employees who handle, prepare, and/or store food must have a food handler’s license.
Certification for a single manager is usually more expensive (around $200) than a food handler’s license for all employees (from $0 to $15). In states without a requirement for a food safety permit, cities and/or counties may have a separate mandate for licensure.
Find your state on the list below to learn more.
The Alabama Department of Public Health requires kitchen managers and head chefs to have a valid certification from an accredited food safety program. This certificate is valid for a period of 5 years. Alternatively, if a certificate is not issued, then the employee must have completed an accredited program within the past 12 months. The fee for this course, offered through ServSafe, is $175. At least one person with a food handling certificate must be present at the restaurant at all times. Certain localities may have stricter rules.
In Alaska, anyone who works with unpackaged foods or food contact surfaces must have a food worker card. To obtain one, an individual must take an online test and pay a $10 fee. These food worker cards are valid throughout the state, other than in Anchorage, where a separate card is required.
Food handler certificates are issued by county health departments in Arizona. To obtain a certificate in Maricopa County, an employee must complete a course and take an exam administered by an accredited provider. The cost is $7.95.
All employees who are involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food must obtain a safe food handling certificate in Arkansas. To do so, employees must take a food safety training course and pass an exam. The fee is $15.
Any staff who prepares, stores, or handles food is required to obtain a California Food Handler’s (CFH) card. To get a card, you must take an approved course and take an exam. The fee for these courses is capped at $15. Some counties may have additional requirements, or may mandate that you obtain a specific card through their health department.
In Colorado, all employees who are involved in the preparation, storage, or handling of food at a food and beverage establishment must obtain a food handling certificate. This requires taking a course and exam through ServSafe for a fee of $15.
Every food establishment in Connecticut must have at least one person in a supervisory position who has taken a course and passed a test on food safety. The fee for this certificate is based on which course is taken, ranging from $150 to $199.
In Delaware, one person on site at the restaurant must be a Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM) at all times. This person is then responsible for training other food handlers, who do not otherwise need a certificate. Individuals can obtain a CFPM license through taking an approved course. The fee for the course varies based on which one is selected.
In Florida, each establishment must have a certified food manager on site at all times. To obtain this certification, an employee must pass a written certification test after taking a course approved by the state. The cost for this course is based on which course and provider is chosen.
All food service establishments in Georgia must have at least one manager on site who has completed an approved food safety certification training program. The cost of these programs varies by the provider and course chosen.
In Hawaii, all businesses that serve prepared food must have at least one employee present who has a certificate in safe food handling. The Hawaii Depart of Health offers classes on food safety free of charge.
Idaho does not require that restaurant employees have a food handler’s permit. However, the state does recommend that all workers take its Food Safety Exam, which is offered free of charge. If a person takes the test, they will receive a food safety certification that is good for a period of 5 years.
The state of Illinois requires any employee who handles, prepares, or otherwise comes into contact with food to have a food handler’s license. Individuals are required to take a course and pass an exam to get this license. There is not a set fee for these courses, but Illinois law requires that there be at least one course for $15 or less.
In Indiana, at least one person per food service establishment must have a food safety certificate, which requires taking an approved course and passing an exam. The cost of this certification varies based on the course chosen.
As in multiple other states, Iowa does not require every person who handles food at a restaurant to have a permit. Instead, an establishment must have one certified food safety manager on site. The cost for a certificate depends on the course.
In Kansas, restaurant employees are not required to have a safe food handling license. However, local governments may require a food handler’s permit. For example, the city of Leavenworth requires food service employees to obtain a food handler card. Individuals can do so by taking a food safety course and exam. The fee for the card is $10.
There is no statewide requirement to have a food handler’s card in Kentucky. However, some counties in Kentucky have their own rules. The Lexington-Fayette Health Department requires anyone involved in serving unpackaged food to have a food handler’s permit. Workers can obtain a permit by taking a course and passing an exam. The fee for a food handler’s card is $23, while a food safety manager certification costs $85.
Louisiana mandates that one person in each food establishment have a food safety certificate. To get a certificate, an owner or supervisor must take an approved 8 hour course, pass an exam, and pay a $25 fee.
In Maine, at least one person in a food establishment must have a food manager’s certificate. To obtain this certification, an owner or manager must take an approved course and associated exam, and apply with the state. The cost to get a certificate varies based on the cost of the underlying course.
In Maryland, at least one person in a restaurant must have a food service manager certification. To get this type of license, you must take a course and pass an exam from an accredited institution, and then apply for a certificate and pay a $57.75 fee.
In Massachusetts, at least one person at the restaurant must have a food manager’s certificate. This requires taking an approved course and passing an exam. The cost is based on the course selected.
Michigan mandates that at least one person at a restaurant have a food manager certification. Getting this certificate involves taking a course and passing an exam. Once granted, the certificate is good for a period of 5 years. The fee varies based on the course and provider.
In Minnesota, no food handler’s card is required for most employees. Instead, all food establishments must have at least 1 full-time employee who has completed a food manager certification program. The fee for this certification is $35, plus the cost of the approved course and exam.
The state of Mississippi only mandates that one employee have a food manager certification. To obtain this certificate, a person must attend an 8 hour training course and pass an examination on the food safety topics covered. The cost varies based on the course selected.
In Missouri, there is no statewide requirement to have a food handler’s license or a certified food manager. The state does encourage owners and managers to take a food safety course, however, as knowledge of these practices is generally required. Local cities and counties may have additional requirements for employees who handle food.
In Montana, the only rule is that at least one certified food protection manager must be on staff. This certification requires taking an 8 hour training course, which typically costs $180.
Nebraska does not require most workers at a restaurant to have a safe food handling certificate. Instead, one certified food manager must be present during business hours. This certificate requires taking a training course, which may range in cost.
Nevada law requires at least one person on site at a food establishment to have a food protection certification. This involves taking an approved course and passing an exam. The cost varies based on the course selected. In addition, some counties have stricter requirements, including mandating that all food workers have a permit.
In New Hampshire, there is no statewide requirement to obtain food handlers permit or another type of certification. However, there are 15 self-inspecting cities located in the state. These cities may require their own permit or license to work at a restaurant.
New Jersey does not require food handlers permits. However, individual counties may require these licenses. For example, in Bergen County, anyone working in a food establishment is required to get a food handler’s permit.
In New Mexico, anyone who is a food-related employee must have a food handlers card. Courses to obtain this permit are available through approved providers and the state. The cost varies based on the course selected.
New York does not require food handler’s permits. However, at least one person on site must have a food manager’s certification, which is obtained by taking a training course. New York City has additional requirements for individuals who work in the food service industry.
In North Carolina, the only requirement is that restaurants must have a certified food manager on staff. As in other states, getting this certification requires taking a course (cost varies) and passing a test.
The state of North Dakota does not mandate that restaurants have a certified food manager on staff, or that their employees have food handler’s programs. It does recommend that all employees take basic food safety courses, and that at least one person have a food manager certification. Local counties and cities may have further requirements.
In Ohio, food service establishments must have a “person in charge” of food safety (level 1) for the designated person in charge of each shift as well as a certified food manager (level 2). Each of these certificates is obtained by taking an accredited course and filing an application with the state. There is no fee other than the cost of the chosen course.
Oklahoma does not require anyone working in a food service establishment to have a food handlers permit. However, the cities of Norman and Moore require all employees in restaurants to have a food handler card. They offer a training program, which costs $5, for both the course and the card.
In Oregon, all employees who handle food must have a food handler card. Many local health departments offer food safety courses, along with other approved providers. The cost of this card is $10.
In Pennsylvania, the only requirement is that an employee with a food manager certification must be present during business hours. These certificates can be obtained by taking an approved course and passing an exam (fees vary). Local counties may have additional requirements.
Rhode Island mandates that all food service establishments have at least one certified food manager on site during business hours (for establishments with 10 or more full-time employees, two managers are required). This certification can be obtained by taking an approved course and passing the exam with a score of 90% or more. The fee for these courses vary by provider.
In South Carolina, at least one employee on site must be a certified food safety manager. As with other states, getting this certification requires taking an approved course and passing the exam.
South Dakota does not mandate that employees have food handlers permits. Instead, at least one employee on site must have a food service manager certification. This certification involves taking an accredited course and passing the exam with a score of 75 or higher.
Tennessee does not require anyone at a food service business to have a license or certificate. However, it does recommend that the person in charge on a given shift obtain a food safety manager certification.
Texas does not require that food service employees have a food handlers card. However, because many local counties do require a permit, the state has set standards for food safety certifications and has passed a law that requires that a certificate obtained from an approved provider can be used throughout Texas.
The state of Utah requires that all employees who are involved in the service, preparation, or handling of food must have a food handler’s license. THis requires taking a course from an approved provider and paying a $15 fee.
In Vermont, there is no statewide requirement that any food service employee have a food handlers license. However, the state does recommend that the person in charge obtain a food safety manager certification.
Virginia does not mandate food handlers permits for common kitchen employees. It does require that at least one person on staff have a food protection manager certification. This is obtained through an approved provider, after taking a course and passing an exam (fees vary by provider and course).
In Washington, all food workers must have a food handlers card. The training program to obtain this card is only offered through the state. A card costs $10.
West Virginia requires all food workers to obtain a food handlers permit, which is issued by individual county health departments. The requirements for getting a card are different based on the county.
In Wisconsin, no food handlers permit is required. However, at least one person on site must be a certified food safety manager. The state does not issue these certificates. Instead, workers should take a course from an approved provider (fees vary) and then their employer will post their certificate in the workplace. These certificates are valid for a period of 5 years.
Wyoming does not require food handlers licenses. Instead, at least one person on staff must complete an approved food protection manager certification course. The fees for this course and certification vary by provider.
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