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California Food Handler Card

Most food workers in the State of California are required to obtain a Food Handler Card. [The California Food Handler Card Law (SB602) and Senate Bill 303 (SB303)] 

Who Needs a Food Handler Card?

Paid employees in a food facility or mobile food facility (catering or produce trucks, carts, etc.) involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food need a valid food handler card. Food handlers must obtain a Food Handler Card within 30 days after the date of hire. 

Exemptions: There are a variety of exemptions where a Food Handler Card will not be required;

  1. Food handlers holding a current & valid Food Protection Manager’s Certificate
  2. Grocery stores, except for separately owned food facilities located inside a grocery store. Employees at these separately owned food facilities must have a card. The term “Grocery store” includes convenience stores     
  3. Public and private school cafeterias
  4. Certified Farmers’ Markets
  5. Commissaries
  6. Retail stores, where a majority of sales are from a pharmacy
  7. Any city, county, city, and county, state, or regional facility used for the confinement of adults or minors, including, but not limited to, a county jail, juvenile hall, camp, ranch, or residential facility.
  8. An elderly nutrition program, administered by the California Department of Aging, pursuant to the Older Americans Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 3001 et seq.), as amended.
  9. Certain food facilities with approved in-house food safety training
  10.    Licensed Health Care Facilities
  11.    Food facilities subject to a collective bargaining agreement 
  12.    Restricted food service facilities
  13.    Mobile Support Units (not to be confused with Mobile Food Facilities that DO require a Food Handler Card)
  14.    Venues with snack bar services in which the majority of sales are from admission tickets (excluding any area in which restaurant-style sit-down service is provided)

How do I get a Food Handler Card?

A food handler must obtain a California Food Handler Card only from an organization with an ANSI ASTM 2659E accredited food handler training program.  

If the Food Handler card is accredited through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), it will be acceptable and it will be recognized throughout the state except for San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego Counties, which have their own food safety programs.  

(Food Protection Manager Organizations will still be able to issue Food Manager Certification Exams for Food Managers, but not food handler cards, unless they also have ANSI ASTM 2659E accreditation).   

The California Food Handler Card is valid for three years from the date of issuance. Food handlers must retake the course and test upon expiration to maintain a valid Food Handler Card. ANSI-accredited Food Handler Card programs can be offered as online courses. 

Important Note:  Food Handler Cards issued by San Bernardino, Riverside, or San Diego Counties, CANNOT  be accepted anywhere but within their own counties unless they carry an ANSI accredited stamp. 

As an Employer, What is my Responsibility?

The law requires employers to maintain records documenting that each food handler employed by the food facility possesses a valid Food Handler Card. The California Food Handler Law does not require employers to pay for the food handler’s training and test. An example of acceptable records would be to maintain copies of the employees’ food handler cards at the food facility. Documented violations will fall into the non-critical (minor) category. Lack of a valid Food Handler Card will not be grounds for the immediate removal of an employee from work. As an Owner or the Person in Charge, at the time of the inspection, you will be asked by your inspector if you are maintaining current and accurate records regarding the status of your employee’s food handler cards. You may be required to submit proof in the form of a current employee work schedule along with a valid copy of their food handler card. 

View specifics of the amended Health and Safety Code.

Food Handler Card Informational Bulletin PDF   

For all other questions regarding the latest on the Food Handler Card Law please call us at 714-433-6000 or the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health