One in six people in the United States suffer from food-borne illnesses in any given year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's millions of people, and their illnesses are almost always preventable. That's why so many jurisdictions and individual employers insist on food safety certification for restaurant staff. Training and testing are available almost anywhere in the country, to meet that demand.
Food Safety Basics
Food handlers can directly or indirectly cause a food-borne illness. Kitchen and service staff in a restaurant are considered food handlers. A dishwasher or bus person could contaminate a clean plate by handling it with dirty hands. Time and temperature play a large part in food-borne illness, too. It takes a certain population level of bacteria -- such as salmonella or Clostridium perfringens -- to make you ill, and to reach that level the bacteria usually must reproduce at a favorable temperature for at least four hours. Learning to manage food temperatures and keep your hands and work surfaces sanitary takes training.
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has an obvious interest in promoting food safety, and its ServSafe series of training courses for servers, cooks and managers is available across the country. You can get ServSafe training online through the NRA's website or through trainers in most areas of the country. If you're taking a formal training program at your local community or technical college, they'll often include ServSafe training materials and testing in their curriculum. Employers in other parts of the country might not recognize your college by name, but they'll know and respect ServSafe certification.
National Environmental Health Association
The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) has offered training in food safety since a few years after its founding in 1937. The organization offers a total of four food-safety certifications. Its food handler certification is for kitchen and service staff; for managers and supervisors, the NEHA offers a food protection manager certification. Usually your school or employer provides NEHA training, so you don't have to go looking for it. All NEHA instructors have to be certified food safety professionals themselves.
Most states recognize national certifications from ServSafe or the NEHA, but many jurisdictions either operate their own certification programs or maintain a list of approved trainers and training programs. Usually those are state-wide, though some individual cities or counties have training programs of their own. Your state's department of health can usually tell you what training you'll need and where to get it. Bear in mind that your state-approved or state-specific food safety training might not be recognized in other areas, so it's often better to earn a national certification.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Food Safety Differences Between Restaurants Linked and Not Linked to Outbreaks
- ServSafe: About Us
- National Environmental Health Association: About Us
- National Environmental Health Association: NEHA Food Safety Certificate Program Handbook
- ServSafe: ServSafe Food Handler Program
- Washington County, Oregon: Food Handler Certification
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.