What is Food Handling?
Food handling is a process that begins from the time food is grown or raised until it reaches our dinner tables. It includes everything, from harvesting and processing to storing, packaging, transporting, and cooking. This last stage is most important, for it is the safe preparation and handling of food that protects consumers from foodborne diseases.
Food handlers should be trained in sanitation and personal hygiene, storing and cooking food at appropriate temperatures, and other practices necessary for safe food handling. Every food handler must follow certain protocols to prevent food from getting contaminated. For example, it is important to keep the kitchen clean and organized during preparation and cooking; to cook food properly; and prevent cross-contamination.
Proper food handling and preparation practices are essential to ensure your staff and customers' safety. While there are many ways to handle and prepare food safely, here's a guide to the most effective practices.
A Brief Guide to Food Handling
Most foodborne illnesses are caused by improper food handling, preparation, or storage. Therefore, the best way to prevent food from getting contaminated is to practice safe food handling. Here's how-
- Start with clean hands- Ensure your hands are properly washed before beginning any food preparation.
- Keep things clean- Make sure all surfaces, utensils, and ingredients are clean. This includes washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before cutting them, as well as sanitizing any surface that will come into contact with raw meat or poultry.
- Cook foods to the correct temperature- Cooking foods to their recommended internal temperature is crucial to destroy harmful bacteria that could cause illness. Use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature of cooked meats, poultry, fish, and egg dishes and consult a cooking chart for specific temperatures.
- Refrigerate promptly- Bacteria can grow rapidly at warm temperatures, so it's important to refrigerate any perishable foods within two hours of cooking (one hour if the outside temperature is above 90 F). Keep your refrigerator at 40 F or below to prevent bacterial growth.
- Be aware of use-by dates- These dates indicate how long food will stay fresh.
- Reheat properly- Reheat cooked food thoroughly before eating, particularly if it has been refrigerated.
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What is a Food Handlers Card?
A food handler is someone who works at a food facility and performs duties that involve preparing, storing, or serving food.
A food handler card is a certificate that shows a person has completed a food safety course and understands the basic principles of safe food handling. In some states, the law requires that people who work in restaurants and other food service businesses possess a food handlers card.
Most states require food handlers to obtain a food handlers card before or within 30 days of starting work in a restaurant or other food service establishment. Most states in the US also require food handlers to renew their card every few years (typically three years).
Is the Food Handlers Card Mandatory for Work in Arizona?
It is essential for anyone handling food at a food service establishment -- be it a restaurant, bar, or cafe -- to know and practice safe food handling. Everyone (from the cooks and servers, to the bussers and bartenders) must follow necessary protocols to ensure the food they are dishing out is safe.
In the US, under the Food and Drug Administration's Food Code 2017, permit holders or those who operate food establishments must designate someone to take responsibility for maintaining safe food practices, including maintaining the correct temperatures during cooking, holding and cooling. That's why most states require food service workers to have proper food safety training. It is to ensure better public health.
But unfortunately, in Arizona, getting a food handler's certificate isn't a straightforward process. So, how to get a food handlers card in Arizona?
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) does not have a statewide food handler card law. Instead, each county (15 in all) has its own occupational license requirements for food handlers. Every Arizona restaurant owner, however, is encouraged to follow some basic food safety guidelines when hiring employees. Let's look at county-wise food handling laws.
County-wise Food Handling Laws in Arizona
There are 15 counties in the state of Arizona. And as mentioned above, all counties don't require the same certification for food handlers. In fact, the five counties listed below don't require certification at all.
- Apache County
- Cochise County
- Graham County
- Navajo County
- Pima County
But because the requirements are lenient, it doesn't mean that the establishments in these counties are beyond the purview of the law. Food safety is a pressing issue in the US, and the US federal and state authorities require every restaurant and food service establishment to follow the safety guidelines to reduce the burgeoning number of foodborne illnesses (affecting one in six across the country). That's why restaurants are self-vigilant and ensure they have trained staff to avoid mishaps.
The other ten counties in Arizona require employees handling food to be certified in food handler training from an American National Standards Institution (ANSI)-accredited organization.
- Coconino County
- Gila County
- Greenlee County
- La Paz County
- Maricopa County
- Mohave County
- Pinal County
- Santa Cruz County
- Yavapai County
- Yuma County
Most counties require that newly hired staff complete this training within 30 days of starting work. However, it is always worthwhile to check with your local county government to determine local requirements. For example, the below-mentioned counties may or may not be satisfied with ANSI-accredited certificates alone, and may require county-specific food handlers certification too.
- Coconino County- This county requires the Backcountry Food Handlers Training, which is broader than the American National Standards Institution Food Handler Training program. Topics include vector, sanitation, food, and water safety. This training is unique to Coconino County due to the Grand Canyon and river guide training needs. The certificate is valid only for a year.
- La Paz County- The Environmental Health Division of the La Paz County Health Department offers a food handler certificate at $15. Failing to obtain and display a certificate while at work may bring forth a fine of $100. Food Handler cards are required for every person who handles or prepares food and handles utensils and equipment, and dishwashing.
- Maricopa County- The Maricopa County Department of Health and Human Services requires one person on staff to be trained as a Certified Food Protection Manager. In addition, all food handlers need to have the Maricopa County food handlers card. The Certified Food Protection Manager must either be physically present during the restaurant's operating hours or reachable by phone.
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What Does Food Safety Training Cover?
Food handler safety training will usually cover personal hygiene, how to prevent cross-contamination, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, food storage, and cooking temperatures. Most training will also address special circumstances like working with children or serving customers with specific dietary needs. Here's a look at some of the topics in detail-
- Basic hygiene- This includes proper handwashing techniques, avoiding cross-contamination, and being aware of potential sources of contamination.
- Time and temperature control- This covers everything -- from chilling refrigerated foods promptly, to ensuring they don't spoil, and cooking all foods to the right internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. They also include food prep processes that mitigate the risk of cross-contamination.
- Foodborne illness- What causes it, how it spreads, and symptoms to watch out for.
- Food allergens- How to identify them and steps that need to be taken to avoid cross-contamination.
- Personal protective equipment- What types of PPE are available, and when should they be used?
- Cleaning and sanitizing- Procedures for properly cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, utensils, and equipment.
- Chemical hazards- Understanding the dangers of using certain chemicals in the kitchen and taking precautions when using them.
- Refuse handling- The proper way to handle garbage and recyclables.
- Pest control in the kitchen- Roaches, rats, and other vermin can contaminate food and spread disease. A filthy kitchen is also a playground for these pests. How to make sure all entry points are sealed up and that food is properly stored, and how to use poison or traps.
- First aid- Knowing what to do in case someone has a minor accident or injury in the kitchen.
- Emergencies- Learning what to do in case of a fire, flood, or power outage.
How to Apply for a Food Handlers Card
There are two ways to get a food handlers card in Arizona. One way is to go through the Arizona Department of Health Services website. You must create an account and log in to complete the application process.
Another way is to go through an American National Standards Institution, or ANSI-accredited training program such as ServSafe (offered by the National Restaurant Association) or Zip FoodHandler (a comprehensive online food handler program). Once you have completed the course or exam, you will receive a card that is valid for three years.
You can either take an ANSI-approved course in person or opt for an online module. Online programs will provide you with a course you can take at your own pace and a certificate of completion that will earn you your food handlers card.
If you take the course online, make sure that your local health department approves it. You can find a list of approved courses on your state or county's website. Once you complete the course, you will receive a certificate of completion that you can then take to your local health department to get your official food handlers card. Online courses like Zipfoodhandler typically teach through easy-to-understand video tutorials and reading material before setting up an online test. ANSI-accredited Zipfoodhandler features all the basics of safe food handling.
Several community colleges, as well as county health departments, offer traditional classroom courses. They usually last several hours and include both lectures and hands-on components. At the end of the course, you have to take a test to receive your food handlers card.
In some cases, if you are already working in the food service industry, your employer may offer training that will allow you to obtain your food handlers card. These courses are often free of cost or discounted, since they also benefit the employer. Before enrolling for an external course, check with your HR department to see if this option is available to you.
Once the training is complete, apply directly to the Arizona Department of Health Services or a specific county if required. But only after receiving your certificate of completion from an accredited provider. To apply, you must provide proof of completion and pay a small processing fee through a debit or credit card. Once your application has been processed and approved, you will receive your food handlers card within 7-10 business days. You will need to keep this card with you at all times when working in the food service industry in Arizona.
How to Renew Your Food Handlers Card
If your food handlers card has expired, you will need to renew it to continue working in a food-related position. The process for renewing your food handlers card will vary depending on the state in which you reside. However, it is a fairly simple process that can be completed online or in person.
To renew your online food handlers card-
1. Visit the website of your state's regulatory agency. In most states, this will be the Department of Health.
2. You will likely need to create an account on the website.
3. Search for the application or renewal form for a food handler's card.
4. You will need to go through a refresher course -- you will be able to access a list of approved course providers.
5. After selecting a course provider and completing the necessary training, complete the form and submit it with any required payment.
5. You should receive your new food handlers card in the mail within a few weeks.
If you prefer to renew your food handlers card in person, you may be able to do so at certain locations, such as county health departments or community colleges. You will generally need to complete a short refresher course before taking the exam and receiving your renewed food handlers card.
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