California Food Handler Card Law Impacts Restaurant Owners:

Law Requiring Employees to Receive Food Safety Training Went into Effect on July 1, 2011.

A new California law requiring restaurant employees to be trained in food safety practices took effect on July 1, 2011 but immediate compliance with the law may be shortcoming because many restaurant owners are unaware of the new requirements.

Senate Bill 602, known as the California Food Handler Card law, passed last year and mandates that all restaurant employees obtain food safety certification within 30 days after they are hired.  The deadline for compliance silently passed last week and many restaurant owners did not receive any notification that their employees must now be certified in order work.

The law applies to all restaurant employees who are food handlers, which is defined as any person involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food in a food facility.  This includes wait staff, chefs, bussers, bartenders, supervisory personnel, and hosts and hostess who handle food.  Some food service employees are exempt from the new requirement, such as food handlers employed by certified farmers markets, grocery stores, and food booths.

To receive a certification card, employees must go through a food safety online or classroom training and then pass a food handler test.  The training course costs $15 and the certification card is valid for three years after it is issued.

Employers are not required to pay for the employee’s time and expense to take the training unless the restaurant provides in-house training during normal working hours.  When hiring food handlers, employers should check the individual’s certification card and keep a copy of the card on file.

How does this affect your business?

Technically, the deadline for compliance passed on July 1. However, it appears that full enforcement of the law will be postponed because of pending legislation, Senate Bill 303, which would amend Senate Bill 602 and provide both clarification and guidance to restaurant owners and employees about how to comply with the new law.

Due to this pending legislation, it has been recommended that county health departments withhold documenting violations between July 1, 2011 and January 1, 2012.  Instead, enforcement should be limited to education and notification of the requirements for compliance.

At the beginning of next year, county health departments would then begin full enforcement.  However, the punishment for noncompliance is unclear and the level of enforcement is expected to be determined by the end of the year.

Even with enforcement being postponed, restaurant owners should work toward ensuring that all of their food handler employees have or are obtaining their certification cards.

If your company works with employees who handle food, please contact us for more information at

For further details on the law and for a full list of exempt employees, please click here.