Under existing law, the California Health and Safety Code requires all food handlers to obtain a food handler card that meets certain training and testing requirements.  Effective January 1, 2024, SB 476 requires employers pay for the costs associated with the training and testing, in addition to paying the employee for the time associated with the training and testing.  Here are five key issues California employers must understand about the existing obligations as well as the new requirements under SB 476 for food handlers for 2024 and onward:

1. Employers must pay for the costs and wages for time to obtain a food handler card.

SB 476 requires that as of January 1, 2024, employers must pay for the costs of the food handler card course, as well as pay the employee for the time spent in in the training and time required to take the examination.  The employee must also be relieved of all other work during the time of the training and examination. 

2. Employers cannot condition employment upon having a food handlers card.

In addition, under SB 476, employers may not condition employment for an applicant or an employee on having an existing food handler card.  This requirement left a few open questions for employers, such as: Can employers give preference to employees who already have a card when hiring?  What if an employee has taken the food handler test multiple times but cannot achieve a passing score, can the employer decide not to continue employment with this employee?  Hopefully there will be some clarity provided on these issues by the Legislature. 

Employers are urged to update hiring materials, job ads, and train managers who are in charge of hiring employees to ensure compliance with this requirement that employment cannot be conditioned upon already possessing a food handler card. 

3. Food handler card timing requirements. 

SB 476 does not change the general timing requirement of when a food handler must obtain the card and the time period for which it is valid for.  As a reminder, food handler is required to obtain a food handler card within 30 days after the date of hire, and must maintain the food handler card throughout their employment.  Generally, food handler cards are valid for three years from date of issuance, and carry over to the employee’s new employer if they change employment during this time period. 

4. Food handler testing requirements.

SB 476 does not change the requirements for the training and examination required to obtain a food handler card.  As a reminder, the test must cover specific information set forth in Section 113947.2, and be designed to be completed within approximately two and a half hours.  The examination must consist of at least 40 questions, and in order to pass, the food handler must earn at least a 70% on the examination. 

The training may be offered through an in-person class and examination, or throught a computer or internet based course.  If offered in a computer or internet based course, there needs to be sufficient security to prevent fraud, but this does not require a proctor to be present during a computer or internet based course. 

The requirement to obtain a food handler’s card does not apply to a food handler who is employed by any of the following:

(1) Certified farmer’s markets.

(2) Commissaries.

(3) Grocery stores, except for separately owned food facilities to which this section otherwise applies that are located in the grocery store.

(4) Licensed health care facilities.

(5) Mobile support units.

(6) Public and private school cafeterias.

(7) Restricted food service facilities.

(8) Retail stores in which a majority of sales are from a pharmacy, as defined in Section 4037 of the Business and Professions Code, and venues with snack bar service in which the majority of sales are from admission tickets, but excluding any area in which restaurant-style sit-down service is provided.

(9) A food facility that provides in-house food safety training to all employees involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food if certain conditions are met.

(10) A food facility that is subject to a collective bargaining agreement with its food handlers.

(11) Any city, county, city and county, state, or regional facility used for the confinement of adults or minors, including, but not limited to, a county jail, juvenile hall, camp, ranch, or residential facility.

(12) An elderly nutrition program, administered by the California Department of Aging, pursuant to the Older Americans Act of 1965.

5. Employer’s documentation obligations.

The new law does not change the documentation the employers must maintain about the food handler cards for their employees.  As a reminder, the regulations require each food facility that employs a food handler to maintain records documenting that each food handler employed possesses a valid food handler card, and shall provide those records to the local enforcement officer upon request.