Ultimate Food Handlers Certification Guide: State by State

Adjoa Kittoe
Marketing Manager
December 13, 2021

Regulations and guidelines in the food industry are hard to keep up with. Restaurant operators and other food service establishment employers come across food safety, food handlers card, and food protection manager certification. Some may find difficulty in discerning which certification their workforce needs.

Although not all states require certification and training, it's best to have your team be equipped with basic food safety knowledge. Having a solid foundation of food safety can avoid sick customers, loss of profit, and permanent shutdowns.

In this article, we will cover each state's requirement or recommendation for food handlers certification and other food licenses. This guide includes additional resources on where you can get specific information on your county or city.

The food handlers card name varies from state to state; some states mind refer to it as the food handlers certification, permit or license, but they are essentially the same process of training and examination.

*States that require every employee to receive certification

Alabama

In Alabama, the food handlers card is recommended in most counties. Supervisors and managers are the only individuals who are mandated to have a food preparation license. Mobile and Jefferson counties only recognize ANSI-accredited certifications. These two counties are the only two that mandate all food service workers to receive their food handlers' licenses. They must complete training courses available through their local health department.

Online courses are only available through StateFoodSafety.

Alaska*

The state of Alaska requires all food service workers to receive food handlers cards within 3 days of employment. Food service workers must complete an examination conducted by the Alaska Department of Health and certification. The certification is valid for three years. However, in the city of Anchorage, food workers are required to receive their food handlers' card issued by the local government within 21 days of hire.

Arizona

Individual counties in the state of Arizona can decide whether a preparation license is required or recommended. The Arizona Department of Environmental Health recommends all employees receive certification.

Arkansas

A food handlers license is highly recommended for frontline employees. Arkansas does not require food service workers to receive their certification. All food service establishments must have at least one supervisor or manager who has completed their food manager certification.

California*

All employees who handle, serve or prepare food are required to get a California Food Handlers Card. must pass a food handlers exam within 3 days of hire and is valid for three years. CFH Cards are not accepted in San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino, but these counties still require food handlers certification.

It is recommended for these counties to contact their local health department for more information on how to retrieve their food handlers license.

Colorado

In the state of Colorado, there is no law that requires food service workers to earn their food handlers' permits. It is up to the establishment to recommend or require their frontline to do so. Although food handlers do not need certification, at least one supervisor or manager must have their food protection manager certification.

Connecticut

In Connecticut, at least one person in management, operations, or administration in a food service establishment, is recommended to be a Qualified Food Operator (QFO). The QFO must be a full-time employee and pass a food safety exam.  Other food service employees are not required to receive their food handlers certification.

Delaware

The state of Delaware requires at least one supervisory employee must be a certified food protection manager. Delaware employers have the liberty to decide if other employees require certification.

Florida*

All food service employees in the state of Florida are required by law to complete the food handlers training course and receive their certification. The course must be through an accredited program approved by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Those in managerial and supervisory roles are required to receive their food manager certification.

Georgia

It is required by law that at least one certified food safety manager be on the premises during all open hours in Georgia. Certification can be completed through a food safety training program approved by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

There is no requirement for all food workers to get a food handlers license. Each establishment has the choice of whether their frontline needs to be certified.

Hawaii

In Hawaii, at least one employee at each food establishment during normal hours of operation must have a food handlers certification. Hawaii's Department of Health offers in-person and online food safety classes at no charge to complete this requirement.

Idaho

In Idaho, a certified food protection manager or another “Person in Charge” (according to Idaho Food Code) can train employees. All other employees are not mandated to receive certification.

It is recommended by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare that employees read Idaho Food Safety and Sanitation Manual and complete the Idaho Food Safety Exam. The Idaho Food Safety Exam is free to take online.

The license expires after 5 years.

Illinois

In the state of Illinois, Any food handler must complete food handler safety training within 30 days of employment. Employees can take any ANSI-accredited food handler permit course. The exceptions are the following:

  • Unpaid volunteers
  • Temporary food establishment employees
  • Employees with valid certification as a food protection manager.

Indiana

At least one employee is mandated to possess a food handlers permit in Indiana. There must be a designated “Person in Charge” on-site at all times while the establishment is open.

Foodservice establishments have three months to instate newly certified food handlers if their current one leaves or has an expired license.

Iowa

Food workers in Iowa are not required to have a food handlers license. Iowa food service establishments.

However, restaurants must have at least one employee with a food protection manager certification. This employee should be a manager, supervisor, or other “Person in Charge” at the establishment. Managers can get this certification by passing an exam from an accredited food handlers safety training program.

Kansas

In Kansas, Jurisdictions within the state have their own food safety regulations. Some require or recommend a food handlers license. Food establishment owners in Kansas should contact their local health department to learn about their requirements.

Kentucky

There are different requirements for each county in the state of Kentucky. Lexington-Fayette and Madison counties require all employees in food service establishments to have food handlers permits.

Louisiana

In Louisiana, one owner or employee in each establishment is required to have a food safety certificate.

This employee is expected to pass on the knowledge from the food safety curriculum to other employees. It is required to purchase a state certificate with a gold seal and post it at the business location.

Maine

In Maine, all food service establishments must have a certified food protection manager on staff.

In order to get this certification, the individual must complete an accredited food safety course and pass an exam approved by the CFP. You must establish a certified food protection manager within 90 days of opening or when the current certified food protection manager ends their employment.

Maine requires recertification every five years. You must post a valid certificate at the business location.

Maryland

Maryland encourages businesses to contact their local health department’s food program to find out whether a certified food manager must be on site.

In Montgomery County, food service establishments must have at least one certified food service manager and receive a photo identification card from the county’s Health and Human Services Department.

Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, it is required for all food service businesses to have a minimum of one full-time manager who is a certified food manager. All other employees are recommended, but not required.

Michigan

In Michigan, employees need to pass an ANSI or CFP accredited exam once every five years.

Minnesota*

Only one individual, in Minnesota, must be a certified food protection manager. Certification involves a mandated training course and ANSI-accredited exam.

There is no requirement for frontline employees to retrieve their food handlers cards.

Mississippi

Mississippi requires all food service establishments to have a certified food protection manager on staff. This individual must pass a test from an accredited food safety training program to get their certification. Other food workers are not required to obtain a food handlers license.

Missouri

There is no official training or certification for food handlers and food managers in Missouri. Individual counties and cities may have their own requirements restaurants must follow.

Clay County and Jackson County, require all workers involved in food preparation, handling, dispensing, or service to have valid food handlers permits. Each establishment should check with its local government.

Montana

In Montana, most counties do not require workers do not need to get a food handlers’ license.

There must be a certified food protection manager on staff. This must be a “Person in Charge” who has passed an ANSI/CFP-accredited food handlers safety training course.

Nebraska

In Nebraska, county health departments decide whether employees need to be certified food handlers to work.

Nevada

All food establishments must have a “Person in Charge" with a food manager certification in Nevada.

However, some food establishments, convenience stores, and businesses that sell pre-packaged foods are exempted. All other food workers are not required to be certified, but individual areas may have different rules. Las Vegas requires all employees to have a food certification, which is renewed annually.

New Hampshire

There must be at least one certified food protection manager on the premises at all times while employees are preparing food.

New Hampshire permits 15 cities and towns to create their own guidelines: Bedford, Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Derry, Dover, Exeter, Keene, Manchester, Merrimack, Nashua, Plaistow, Portsmouth, Rochester, and Salem.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, each food establishment needs a certified food protection manager on staff. All other employees are not required to be certified. However, all food handlers in Newark, are required to go through training and pass the food handlers examination.

New Mexico

All food employees are required to have a food handlers card in New Mexico. Each food establishment must have at least one supervisor or manager who is a certified food protection manager.

Volunteers and temporary workers are exempt from this rule.

New York

New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets recommends food handlers safety training resources, but there are no official state guidelines for getting food handlers licenses. Retail food stores that serve prepared foods are the only establishments required to have a food handlers license.

Individual cities and counties in New York are recommended. to their own requirements for owners and workers at food service establishments.

All supervisors in New York City must have food protection certification. They must complete a course in food safety and pass a final exam in order to get a food protection certificate.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, every food service establishment must have at least one supervisor or manager who is a certified food protection manager through an ANSI-accredited program.

Food workers are not required to obtain food handlers permits.

North Dakota

In North Dakota, food service employees are not required to get official food handlers licenses. Each county can create its own requirements.

Ohio

Individual counties, in Ohio, can implement their own rules, although there is no statewide requirement.

There are some requirements for supervisors and managers in food establishments. A “Person In Charge” certification is necessary for at least one person on each shift. One person at each establishment must have manager certification.

Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, food service employees are not required to have food handlers licenses. However, state policy calls for every food establishment to have at least one certified food protection manager on-site during hours of operation. Certain cities, like Moore and Norman both, require every frontline worker to have a food handlers card. Each county is able to create its regulations on food safety training.

Oregon*

Each food employee is required to earn a food handlers certification within  30 days of hire. Only individuals who have a food management certificate are exempt. Food handlers cards issued in other states are not valid in Oregon, however, Oregon-issued cards are valid in all other states.

Pennsylvania

Each food service establishment must have at least one employee with a food manager certification. This employee must be available during all hours of operation.

No other food handlers are required to be trained or certified. Individual establishments are recommended to require their employees to become certified food handlers as an employment requirement.

Rhode Island

Food service employees do not need to be certified as a food handlers in Rhode Island. It is recommended for employees to have their certification, as it increases their chances of employment.

At least one full-time manager or supervisor is required to have a food management certification on-site during business hours. Food service establishments with over 10 full-time food preparation employees must have two certified food managers on staff and must be on-site during all serving hours.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, Every food service establishment must have at least one employee with a food manager certification.  There are no other food handlers requirements. Each establishment can choose whether or not employees are required to go through food handlers safety training.

South Dakota

In South Dakota, There must have at least one manager on staff with food management certification, as well as one person in charge during all hours of operation.

Certification for managers includes an 8-hour training program and a passed exam.

There is no law stating that food service frontline workers are required to have their food handlers certification. It is recommended that food handlers go through training, but not mandated.

Tennessee

In Tennessee, food handlers cards aren’t required for any frontline worker of a food establishment. However, there must be at least one employee certified as a food protection manager through a CFP-accredited program.

Some expectations to this rule:

  • The establishment must pass an inspection with no high-level violations
  • The establishment must have an employee who can correctly answer any food safety questions during the inspection

Texas*

All food handlers are required to receive their food handlers card/certification within 60 days of employment in the state of Texas. This certification must be on-site and easily accessed during inspections. There must also have at least one food protection manager on-site during operation hours.

Utah*

All Utah food service employees are required to receive their food handlers certification within 30 days of hire and are valid for three years. Renewals must occur no later than 7 days after the expiration date.

To receive certification, employees must go through 75-minutes of training and an exam approved by the Department of Health.

Vermont

A person in charge at each food service establishment, in Vermont, must be able to demonstrate knowledge of food safety. To do this, they can become a food protection manager with certification from an accredited training program. Alternatively, they can correctly answer questions posed by an inspector.

Employees in restaurants and other food businesses are not required to get food handlers licenses. Vermont employers can choose to have their employees complete this training, but the state doesn’t mandate it.

Virginia

In Virginia, all food establishments must have at least one supervisor or manager on staff who is a certified food protection manager. This includes temporary food establishments. Certification must come from a training program accredited by CFP.

Food handlers permits, on the other hand, are not required state-wide for food service workers. Check with local health departments to find out if cards are required and, if so, how to get a food handlers license in that county or city.

For example, in Norfolk, Virginia, the Department of Public Health requires all employees who work in food establishments to have food handlers cards prior to employment.

Washington*

In the state of Washington, all food service employees are required to receive their food handlers card before handling or serving food. Employers who provide food safety training can have their frontline work for up to 2 weeks before getting their certification.

West Virginia

Most areas require food workers to have some certification, however, there is no state-wide requirement in West Virginia. The Health Department in Wheeling, Monongalia, Pocahontas counties requires all food service workers to get a food handlers card within 30 days of hire.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, each food establishment in Wisconsin must have one manager on staff with their food protection certification. Other food handlers are not required to receive their certification.

Businesses that serve pre-wrapped foods are not required to have any certification.

Wyoming

In Wyoming, each food establishment must have at least one certified food manager on staff. If this manager is not present, a designated person in charge must be able to pass food safety knowledge during an inspection.

There are some counties that require a certified food manager on staff at all times. It is best to check in with local health departments for your specific county.

Please note, the information above is a guide that changes as policies and regulations change. It is best practice to check with your local health departments for specifics on your county or city.