LAW ALERT: Your Employees May Be Required To Have a Food Handlers Card By July 1, 2011

Before leaving office, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 602 which amended California’s Health and Safety Code to provide that, except in certain circumstances, all “food handlers” must obtain a food handler card on or before July 1, 2011. Before Senate Bill 602, the law generally required an owner or designated employee of a food establishment to successfully pass an approved and accredited food safety certification examination from an accredited certification organization.

Who is a “Food Handler?” The Code defines a “food handler” as “an individual who is involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food in a food facility, other than an individual holding a valid food safety certificate issued pursuant to Health and Safety Code section 113947.3 or an individual involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food in a temporary food facility.”

Who is Not a “Food Handler” for Purposes of the New Food Handler Card Requirement? The Code exempts from the food handler card requirement any employee employed by: a) a certified farmer’s market; b) a commissary; c) a grocery store (except for separately owned food facilities to which the law otherwise applies that are located in the grocery store); d) a licensed health care facility; e) a mobile support unit; f) public and private school facilities; g) restricted food service facilities; h) a retail store in which a majority of sales are from a pharmacy; i) a food facility that is subject to a collective bargaining agreement with its food handlers; and j) a food facility that provides in-house food safety training to all employees involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food IFthe facility uses approved training from another state that has adopted the requirements of Subpart 2-103.11 of the 2001 model Food Code published by the federal FDA, can produce evidence of acceptable training, and the training is provided during normal work hours and at no cost to employees.

What is Required to Obtain a Food Handler Card? Food handler cards will only be issued upon successful completion of an approved food handler training course and test that meet the following requirements: a) provides basic introductory instruction on foodborne illnesses, the relationship between time and food temperature, personal hygiene and food safety, methods to prevent food contamination, and procedures for cleaning and sanitizing equipment and utensils; b) is designed to be completed within 2 ½ hours; and c) the test consists of at least 40 questions regarding the required subjects. The food handler must obtain a minimum score of 70% on the test in order to obtain a food handler card.

The food handler training course and test may be offered through a trainer-led class and test or through self-training and testing. At least one accredited food safety certification test shall be offered online, and at least one training course must be available at no more than $15, including the cost of the food handler card.

What is the Deadline for Compliance? A food handler who is hired prior to June 1, 2011, must obtain a food handler card from a food protection manager certification organization on or before July 1, 2011. Food handlers hired on or after June 1, 2011, must obtain a food handler card within 30 days after the date of hire. Each food handler must maintain a valid food handler card for the duration of his or her employment as a food handler.

Is a Food Handler Card Limited to One Food Facility? No. The food handler card belongs to the employee, not the food establishment and will be recognized appropriately throughout the state. Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties have pre-existing food handler card programs and are exempt from the state mandate. How Long is a Food Handler Card Valid? A food handler card is valid for three years from the date of issuance, regardless of whether the food handler changes employers during that period.

Does an Employer Have to Pay for its Employees to Take the Exam or Obtain the Food Handlers Card? The Code is silent and thus does not require that employers pay for an employee’s time and expense to take the training and test. The only requirement that an employer pay the costs of training is contained in the exception from the food handler card requirement outlined above regarding a food facility that provides in-house food safety training during normal working hours at no cost to employees.

Does an Employer Have to Keep Records? Yes. Each food facility that employs a food handler subject to the law must maintain records documenting that each food handler possesses a valid food handler card and shall provide those records, upon request, to local health department enforcement officers who are responsible for enforcing the new law.


Lizbeth “Beth” West is a shareholder in the Labor and Employment Law Section and Disputes, Trials & Appeals Section at Weintraub Genshlea Chediak. Beth’s practice focuses on counseling employers in all areas of employment law, and defending employers in state and federal court, as well as before administrative agencies. She has extensive experience in defending wage and hour claims, and complex whistle-blowing and retaliation claims. She also provides training services on various employment issues, such as sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. If you have any questions about this Legal Alert or other employment law related questions, please feel free to contact Beth West at (916) 558-6082. For additional articles on employment law issues, please visit Weintraub’s employment law blog at