How Can I Earn a Food Handler's License?

Working in a restaurant, grocery store, concession stand or any public place that serves food entails complying with state and local regulations. Read on to learn about the licensing and training required for food handlers. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Definition of a Food Handler's License

In most cases, the term 'food handler's license' refers to a permit or card required to work with food. Food handlers may be regulated by the state, but regulation is often administered at the county or city level. Requiring a food handler's card or permit is a safeguard for the public that helps the government ensure safe food-handling practices are being followed. Safe food handling helps to reduce the transmission of foodborne illnesses and diseases.

Important Facts About Food Service and Preparation Workers

Median Salary (2014) $18,410
Entry-level Education Less than high school
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Job Outlook (2012-22) 12% growth

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


While some jurisdictions require every person handling food to have a card or permit, it's also common for only one person per establishment to be required to hold a food handler's card or permit. In such cases, food safety and handling is that person's responsibility, even if he or she is not the one directly handling the food.

Since requirements may be set by various agencies, they may vary widely; however, in almost all cases, applicants have to pass a licensing exam to earn their food handler's license. You might also need to complete an approved food handler's course.

Types of Programs

Completing a food handling course is often voluntary and serves as a way to prepare for the food handler's exam. A course covers safe food-handling practices, general food safety regulations, personal hygiene and disease prevention. During the course, you may review handbooks, watch videos and attend lectures. After completing the course, you may take or schedule a licensure exam.

These programs may be offered online or in a classroom and may be available through restaurants, cafeterias or other businesses where food is served. Some colleges, particularly community colleges, also offer food handler programs. You might also seek courses through your state's health department. Usually, it takes a day or less to finish a food-handling course.


Cards or permits may need to be renewed periodically. Renewal is usually mandatory and may entail passing another exam. While renewal periods can vary, you'll typically need to renew your license every 2-3 years.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:

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