California’s food handler card mandate goes into effect Friday even though legislation that would clarify the law’s requirements is still pending.
Under Senate Bill 602 adopted last year, all restaurant and retail workers involved in food preparation, service or storage must pass a food-safety test to earn a food handlers card.
That includes most restaurant workers, such as cooks, wait staff, bussers, bartenders, host/hostesses, beverage pourers and chefs as well as supervisory personnel, such as the general manager or managers who handle food.
The goal is to ensure all food handlers receive at least basic training in food safety, and the legislation is expected to impact thousands of workers throughout the state’s more than 90,000 foodservice establishments.
Food handlers who currently are employed must obtain their card by July 1. Those employed after July 1 have 30 days from their hire date to become certified.
Foodservice operators must keep records on file — available at time of inspection — indicating that their employees hold valid cards.
Proposed legislation that would tweak the requirement, however, is still working its way through the state legislature. Senate Bill 303 would clarify what specific training programs are approved for obtaining the required food handler cards.
Justin Malan, executive director of the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health, or CCDEH, said Thursday that SB303 is on an urgency track and is scheduled to go before the state Assembly appropriations committee in a few weeks. It has passed the Senate.
Once it receives the expected approval, it would go into effect as soon as it is signed by the governor, he said.
The “clean up bill” would specify that approved training programs be limited to those accredited by the American National Standards Institute.
Meanwhile, the CCDEH earlier this year issued guidelines recommending a “slow roll out” of the food handler card mandate, saying enforcement should be limited to “education and notification of requirements for compliance” until the training aspect is clarified.
Malan emphasized, however, that the CCDEH’s guidelines are not binding and it is up to the discretion of each local jurisdiction to decide how they plan to enforce the food handler requirement.
“I don’t anticipate any restaurants being closed over this issue,” he said. But health inspectors may write up restaurants that are not in compliance.
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.
The training can be done online in both Spanish and English, and it costs $15.
Leslie Huffman, a spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association, or CRA, said she is expecting many health departments to apply a modified enforcement period, which would give operators and employees more time for compliance.
“However, that does not postpone the law’s compliance date of July 1,” she said. The “best advice for operators is to educate your employees and get into compliance as soon as possible.”