Food safety

Everything about food handler's licenses

Licenses, permits, cards, and certifications prove a food handler's proficiency in handling foods and protecting public ...

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Licenses, permits, cards, and certifications prove a food handler's proficiency in handling foods and protecting public safety.

  • Food handlers permits and licenses are awarded to food handlers who have undergone a set of food safety training and passed the examination.
  • Permits and licenses are state-specific, meaning they may only apply to the state where you got them.
  • Manage your team's compliance with food handlers permits with FoodDocs' Food Safety Management System.

One of the biggest causes of foodborne illnesses all over the world is non-compliance with proper food handling practices. Failure to perform the necessary handling techniques to preserve safety can significantly affect your business and the entire food industry. Non-compliance may come from the lack of proper knowledge, skill, and training regarding food safety practices. As such, countries and their states often require employees in a food business to secure food handlers licenses or food cards.

Food managers must train food workers on food safety or provide opportunities for them to learn through training programs. As proof of proficiency and training, food handlers are awarded permits, licenses, or certificates.Different organizations and accredited bodies may provide specific certificates proving that a food handler is proficient in a particular field of food safety. 

In this article, we discuss which permit or license a food handler needs and how you can get them efficiently. Get to know how our HACCP-based Food Safety Management System can help your team manage training employees.



Different types of food cards

Food cards related to food safety proficiency go by different names in the U.S. They may have very little difference and can be used in different ways depending on the state where you secured a food card.

Some of the most common terms for food cards include the following:

  • Food handlers permit
  • Food handlers license
  • Food handlers card

Some organizations also provide food handler certificates, which can serve as proof of proficiency in a particular field of food safety. Food handling licenses, permits, cards, or certificates all have one thing in common - an aspiring food employee must undergo training and pass an examination to secure their food card before they can continue working in food service establishments

Depending on the state you are in, the contents of a training program to secure a permit may vary. Some programs may also have different levels designed for different food safety positions.


training food handlers


What is food handlers license? 


A food handlers license is a written document that serves as proof that a food worker has undergone a food handler training program that is required by a state. In some states in the U.S., a food handlers license is part of the long list of documents you need to secure when operating a food service business. It is sometimes referred to as the food handler card.

This license demonstrates that a food employee is knowledgeable when it comes to proper food handling, preventing foodborne diseases, and properly serving customers without the risk of food poisoning. It shows a food business team's commitment to maintaining compliance with food safety laws.

Some of the U.S. states require only one food handler with food handlers license to be present in every shift, such as in Arkansas. On the other hand, some states require all food handlers to secure a state-issued food handlers card, such as in California.


How to get food handlers license?

As previously mentioned, an employee can secure a food handlers license by enrolling in a related food handler training course and passing its examination. The training program includes the basic food handling practices food workers need in a food service establishment. 


The program may include topics such as the following:

    • Introduction to the basics of food safety
    • Basic environment for a food service establishment
    • Common foodborne illnesses and their sources
    • Basic food handling and hygiene practices

Food handlers licenses are commonly issued by accredited organizations recognized by the health department of the state where your business is located. Organizations may offer different modes of training, including online modules or in-house training. 

Online modules for food safety training are becoming more and more popular recently. These modules offer flexibility as you can take them at any convenient time or pause them when necessary. The final exam may also be taken once ready, as long as you are still within the allowed period.

The best course to take when seeking a food handlers license is to consult with your local health department and inquire about accredited organizations.


Learning for food handlers training


How much is a food handlers license? 

Securing a food handlers license can cost around $5 to $30, with some costing higher than $100 in some states. The price will vary depending on which state you are in and the scope of the program you are aiming for.

Some training programs are offered for free, and you would only need to pay for the examination to get the license, which is the case in New York City. 


Where can I get a food handlers license?

Food handler training programs are more often offered through online courses and will issue a license once completed. You can consult your local health department to determine the most applicable training program for your team that issues a food handlers license.

A food handler must not only undergo training. They must also prepare for the exam. Failure to pass the exam for a limited amount of time can lead a food handler to retake the entire course.

Some local health departments offer the training themselves and can issue the license. Remember that the majority of food handlers licenses in one state will not always apply to another.

Train your food handling team and help them prepare for the exam by using our answers for the food handlers test.


When do you need a food handlers license?

The ideal scenario is for a food handler to secure a license before working in an establishment. If in case a food business also provides food safety training to its food service employees, a food service worker can work for up to 14 days before they get a card.

Ultimately, a food handler will need to secure a food handler license in most states of the U.S. This will help ensure that the food being prepared in a food business is clean and will not cause foodborne illnesses.

Archive and manage your licenses and business permits with the help of FoodDocs digital Food Safety Management System. Using our smart software, you can minimize the needed space for physical documents. This module is equipped with a smart notification system that will remind you whenever a certificate is about to expire and will need to be renewed.

Learn more about our digital solution at the end of this article.


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What is a food handlers permit?


A food handlers permit is a legal document provided by the local health department as proof that an employee working in the food industry has received adequate food handling training. 

This permit is often location-specific. Unless otherwise stated, an issued permit cannot be used interstate and will only apply where the training program is associated. There is no nationwide recognized permit in the U.S.


How to get a food handlers permit? 

To secure food handlers permit card, an individual must enroll in a food safety program designed for food handling. Local health departments offer training courses that highlight essential topics on food safety. Some of the topics that a food handler must learn from a program are the following:

Training programs are predominantly offered nowadays as online training courses. This mode is convenient as the trainee can learn the program at their pace.

Upon completing the training, the trainee must take an exam to determine if they are ready to work in a food business set-up. The exam can be taken within the specified period in the program. Some permit providers allow a limited number of retakes if in case the trainee fails.

Ensure your business' compliance with food safety regulations by using automatically generated monitoring logs from FoodDocs digital Food Safety Management System. Our logs and checklists contain detailed information on how to perform and monitor food safety tasks.

Learn more and experience our software advantages for free using our 14-day trial.


How long does a food handlers permit last?

The validity of the food handlers permit will depend on the state regulations of your local health department. In general, food handlers permit must be renewed every three years

During this time, a substantial amount of new information and handling practices may be updated. A food handler must take refresher courses and successfully complete the food handlers permit test again for renewal.


Where to get food handlers permit?

Food handlers can obtain their food handlers permit online through local or state health departments and their websites. The health department will provide the instruction that you will need to secure food handlers permit.

Some health departments offer the training programs themselves. If in case they only provide the permit, they will have a list of accredited training providers for your team.


Food processing permit

The Food Processing Permit or License is a document given to establishments that have passed the necessary requirements for operating according to state and federal laws. 

This type of permit is required if your business is involved in manufacturing, packaging, labeling, and storing food directly sold to other businesses. The permit serves as proof that the business operates in a clean environment and is prepared to handle situations such as unwanted allergic reactions. 


Food vendor permit

A Food Vendor Permit is a license that allows food establishments to operate and sell food items to the public. It ensures that the facility has the correct flow of food and environment for food preparation. This permit is necessary for any food business to continue operating.

The local health department issues the permit once they have proven that your business is equipped with the necessary facilities to operate safely. A food safety audit is conducted before the permit is awarded to a food business.

Depending on which state you are in, the process may be different. Some states require the audit to take place days before your operations start.


How much is a food handlers permit?

The price for securing food handlers permit can vary anywhere from being free to around $200. In some cases, the bulk of the payment is for training programs.

In states like California, the cost of one training course is regulated by their law to be at most $15. This is to ensure accessibility for all food businesses. In other states, the cost of training programs may be higher.


Food handlers certificate

In this part of the article we discuss the following:

  1. Where can I get a food handlers certificate?
  2. How much is a food handlers certificate?


A food handlers certificate is solid proof awarded to an individual who has undergone a certain level of training on proper food handling. This certificate is given by an accredited training organization recognized by the state where your food business operates.

Certifications in food handling usually vary in degree and scope. Some training programs provided for certification are designed explicitly for food servers containing basic food-handling practices and knowledge. More advanced certification programs may have courses for implementing a food safety program and strategies for more efficient food safety compliance, which is more suitable for food safety managers.


food handlers knowledge on food safety


Food handler certification programs may include the following topics depending on the level that you plan to take:

A food handler can take multiple levels of food handler certification programs. More advanced programs are available for aspiring food safety managers.

Like any other food handler license, a food handlers certificate will need to be renewed. No exact law or regulation states for the certificate to be renewed. The renewal process is to update the knowledge of food handlers on the most current food safety practices and advances. 

Use our free food safety quiz to prepare for the exam part of your food handler certification program.


Where can I get a food handlers certificate?

Private organizations offer food safety training courses for a food handlers certificate. Choose an accredited certificate provider recognized by the state where your business is operating in. 

Food handler certificate providers offer online training courses for food service employees. The advantage of using this mode is that you can take the courses conveniently. You can undergo the training program at home and pause the courses according to your time.

Similarly, the dedicated examination can be taken within the allotted time. Check out our detailed article's list of top food safety training and certificate providers.


How much is a food handlers certificate?

The cost of a food handlers certificate ranges from less than $15 to a few hundred, around $200. The price would depend on the scope of the included training and the materials provided. 

More advanced food safety training for a certification program costs more as the topics are more complicated.


Which food license do you need?

Food licenses are essential documents when you are running a food business. Both federal and state health departments will require specific licenses as proof that your food business is operating under the applicable laws of the country and state you are in.

Food licenses can be for the business itself and food handlers working in the food business. Here are some food licenses needed to comply with major food safety requirements:

  1. Employer identification number
  2. Sales tax license
  3. Food handlers card or permit
  4. Building permit
  5. Food service license
  6. Business registration license
  7. Resale permit

More specific licenses may be required depending on which state you are operating in. If you are running a moving food business, such as a food truck, you must secure permits to enter and sell food at your planned locations.


How often should a food handlers card renewal be done?

On average, a food handlers card must be renewed every three years. Some states, such as Washington, require food handlers to renew their first food worker card after two years. After the first renewal, the card is then valid for three years.

Renewal of food handlers cards aims to update the current information that a food handler has. Most health departments' suggested time is enough to gather new information for more efficient and higher-output training. 

The renewal process involves refresher courses and new programs related to the target position of a program. The food handler must then pass another examination on renewing the food handler's card.


How can FoodDocs help in managing food permits and licenses?

Permits, licenses, and certifications are integral parts of any food business operation. In fact, they can be considered prerequisites to operating in the food industry. The majority of countries and states will not allow food handlers to operate without a food license. 

Securing a license shows your commitment to food safety as an employee. After getting a license, food handlers must uphold what they have learned and always comply with food safety regulations.

To help you manage food safety and consistently train food handlers every day, use FoodDocs digital Food Safety Management System.

Using our system, you can get the following benefits for organizing training and certifications:

  • Get a team management module to store digital copies of food handlers permits and certificates. This module is integrated with our smart notification system. Insert the validity period of each certificate, and our system will remind you when they need to be renewed. With this feature, you can stay updated with the necessary permits and certifications for your food handlers.
  • You will also get automatically generated monitoring logs based on the most relevant operations in your business. These logs and checklists come with detailed instructions to guide food handlers on properly performing food safety tasks. Managers can also use this feature for onboarding and training food workers. 


Cooking temperature log FoodDocs

Example of monitoring log with detailed instructions on FoodDocs


  • Manage specific roles and tasks by assigning them to specific employees. Our system allows managers to assign role-specific tasks to help employees focus on their responsibilities. You can easily verify task completions through our food safety app.

Our digital Food Safety Management System only requires 15 minutes of your time, and you can implement it as soon as you finish. Switching to a digital platform has never been this easy!

In addition to training features, our software can also help you manage operations more efficiently with the following features:

  • Get an overview of your everyday food safety operations using our real-time dashboard. Save at least 20% of your time from supervising your team and start managing them remotely. With this feature, you can also immediately identify areas that need attention.
  • Save and organize all food safety-related documents in one place with the cloud storage provided for your team.



Food safety system set up from FoodDocs


Powered by artificial intelligence and a machine learning program, our system can offer smart solutions to help you maintain food safety compliance

You can further customize all monitoring logs and checklists to fit your operations further. 

Start your food safety compliance journey with us using our free 14-day trial now.




Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do you still need clarification about which food permit and license you need? Check out some of the most frequently asked food handlers permit questions and our answers.


How much is a food handlers permit?

On average, food handlers permit, including the training program, costs around $15 up to $200, depending on your location and the scope of the training.


Can you get food handlers permit online?

Yes! Most courses for food handlers permits are now offered online. This includes modules and study guides that can be viewed and studied at your own time. Sometimes, the permit is also issued online for convenience, but you can request a printed permit.


How do you get a food handlers permit?

You can get a food handlers permit by registering under your local health department or an accredited organization, which will then direct you to a food handler training requirement that you have to finish. Upon completion, you will need to pass a proficiency exam which will determine if you are well-equipped with the necessary food safety knowledge.


How do I obtain a food handlers license?

A local health department issues food handlers license to food workers who have undergone the required training hours and passed an exam.



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