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Calif. food handler card deadline nears

‘Slow roll out’ of enforcement is recommended by inspectors

With the July 1 deadline for California’s food handler card requirement nearing, a state association of county restaurant inspectors has called for a six-month “slow roll out” of enforcement.

New guidelines posted this week by the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health, or CCDEH, recommend that from July 1 through January 1, 2012, enforcement of the law be limited to “education and notification of requirements for compliance.” The group says the time will help it seek a tweak to the legislation to clarify what specific training programs are approved for obtaining food handler cards.

Last year, California lawmakers adopted legislation that requires all restaurant and retail workers involved in food preparation, service or storage to pass a food-safety test to earn a food handlers card. The card is a requirement for hiring and maintaining employment. Under the law, food handlers hired before June 1 must pass an approved food-safety certification exam to earn their card by July 1. Those hired after June 1 will have 30 days from their hiring date to obtain the card.

The CCDEH guidelines are not binding, however, and restaurant operators are encouraged to check with their county health officials to see whether the July 1 deadline will be strictly enforced.

The food handler card legislation impacts millions of workers in California’s estimated 90,000 foodservice establishments, and a delay in enforcement would give employers more time to ensure that the required cards are on file. Once obtained, the cards are valid for three years.

Currently, the approved training providers include the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe California Food Handler program; the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals; and Prometric.

However, Justin Malan, CCDEH executive director, said the law when written did not specify the type of accreditation necessary to determine which programs would be approved.

“Clean up legislation” has been proposed to change the law to specifically require that approved training programs be limited to those accredited by the American National Standards Institute to meet the specific requirements of the law, said Malan.

The three organizations currently approved meet that standard, he added.

Because of the proposed changes, Malan said, “We felt it was unfair to hold people accountable while the requirements for enforcement were unclear.”

Though the CCDEH recommends a “soft roll out,” Malan said, enforcement of the law is up to local county health departments.

“These are guidelines to be followed, we hope, by all,” he said, “But if individual counties decide to do something else, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Daniel Conway, a spokesman for the California Restaurant Association, said members are being encouraged to contact their local health departments to find out what the expectations are for compliance with the law.

“We think the first six months should be an education period,” he said. “But we’re also telling our members to play it safe and contact their county health departments.”

For more information about compliance with the food handler requirements, go to the CRA website.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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