What is Food Safety Certification?
Food safety certification is a process that ensures food products are safe for human consumption. Certification programs frequently audit food service facilities to confirm that they are adhering to safe food handling practices and maintaining a clean and safe environment. Food safety certification can also involve testing food products for contaminants such as bacteria, chemicals, or other substances that could cause foodborne illnesses.
There are different agencies that offer food safety training in America. The two most common ones are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There are also private certification companies that offer food safety certification courses.
There are several prominent food safety programs in the United States, including the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) program, and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program. All of them have different requirements and standards that foodservice businesses must meet in order to obtain certification. The GAP program is focused on ensuring that fruits and vegetables are grown safely, while the FSMA program is focused on preventing foodborne illnesses by implementing strict safety standards throughout the entire food production chain. The HACCP program is a voluntary certification program that focuses on identifying and controlling potential hazards at critical points in the food production process.
The Importance of Food Safety Certification
In today's time, when social media has become paramount, one bad review online has the potential to ruin a business's reputation instantly. For any business that sells food products, food safety certification demonstrates to its customers that the establishment takes food safety seriously and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure customers' safety.
Global Food Safety Resource points out that "food safety certification conveys to consumers and the marketplace, as well as to employees and key stakeholders, that a food sector business has successfully met the requirements of a national or internationally recognized best practice approach."
Certification also allows restaurants to exhibit their commitment to food safety through marketing material and advertising, which can help attract new business. Being certified means that a restaurant is subject to regular inspection by food safety auditors. This helps identify potential hazards and correct them before they result in an unfortunate incident.
Prevention of Foodborne Illness -- Certification ensures that restaurants have taken proper food safety training to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.
Compliance with Local, State and Federal Regulations -- Most jurisdictions have laws and regulations governing food safety, and restaurants must comply with an order to operate legally. Certification shows that a restaurant is up-to-date on all applicable laws and regulations. Certification can also help you qualify for certain government programs, such as funding food safety research or education initiatives.
Peace of Mind for the Restaurateur -- Owning and operating a restaurant can be stressful enough, without worrying about whether or not the establishment is following proper food safety protocols. Certification provides peace of mind that everything is being done correctly.
Improved Employee Training -- Properly trained employees are essential for any business, especially in the food service industry, where even small mistakes can have serious consequences. Getting certified requires employees to undergo comprehensive training on food safety issues, giving them the skills and knowledge necessary to do their jobs safely and effectively.
A food safety-certified restaurant is less likely to experience an outbreak of foodborne illness as it adheres to best practices for preventing contamination. If an incident does occur, the certification may help limit liability. Certification helps you obtain liability insurance for your restaurant, which can protect you in case of a lawsuit related to food safety.
Ensuring food safety can be costly and time-consuming for producers
Producers can use food safety certification to demonstrate their commitment to safety and quality
Why do Businesses Need Food Safety Certification?
In September 2022, an E. coli outbreak was reported in six states, with 97 people infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 43 people were hospitalized, and 10 developed a serious condition (hemolytic uremic syndrome) that can cause kidney failure. Until late September, a specific food hadn't been confirmed as the source of the outbreak, but many who fell ill reported having sandwiches at Wendy's that contained romaine lettuce. Cases were reported from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. As a precautionary measure, Wendy's removed romaine lettuce from outlets in those regions.
There's a close link between public health and food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 48 million people experience one or another form of food poisoning in the United States each year. Food poisoning is a result of consuming food that carries dangerous germs or toxins. Some food safety facts are alarming. For example, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that norovirus (found in unclean or undercooked shellfish, greens and vegetables, and fresh fruits) is one of the most common causes of illness. CDC reports that about 50% of all foodborne illness outbreaks are caused by norovirus. Then there's also Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus (Staph), and others that can severely compromise public health.
Food service setups like restaurants, care facilities, and universities are the primary setting for such foodborne outbreaks. Infected servers and chefs can spread germs and toxins very efficiently through improper food handling, but the virus can also spread through surfaces and utensils. For any food business, it is therefore critical to ensure that its products are good quality, its surroundings and surfaces are hygienic and sanitized, and that its knives and chopping boards are thoroughly washed. The food safety training imparted to food handlers should cover all these aspects. After all, safe food is the only way to limit the outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.
Food safety is one of the major concerns for customers when dining out, and for good reason. Every year, there are multiple food recalls owing to contamination. This can be incredibly damaging to a restaurant's reputation and even lead to lawsuits. However, a food safety certification shows that a restaurant takes this issue seriously and has adopted necessary steps to reduce contamination risk, as Wendy's did. Such a move will be an assurance to customers and help avoid negative publicity.
The Process of Securing Food Safety Certification
If you work at a food service establishment or handle food as part of your job in the United States, you must obtain a food handler's certificate. There are many ways to obtain this certification, but the most common one is to take an accredited course and pass an exam.
Several agencies offer accreditation for food handler certificate programs. The diversity of food handler certification requirements throughout the country has made it difficult for the food industry to address these requirements effectively. To address it, the Conference for Food Protection, in conjunction with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), developed a national standard in 2006 to help state and local health care officials and food handlers understand the rules regarding food safety.
ANSI is a private, non-profit organization that develops voluntary consensus standards for products, services, systems, and personnel in the United States. ANSI accreditation for food handler certificates means that the certificate has been reviewed and approved by ANSI according to their standards. This accreditation assures consumers and businesses that the certificate meets certain minimum requirements.
The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) is another agency that offers accreditation. Others include the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and ServSafe. Each of these has different requirements for certification, so it is important to check with the specific agency to know whether a food safety program meets their standards.
Numerous companies offer accredited food handler courses, and most can be completed online. These typically take two to four hours to complete, and upon completion, you receive a certificate that's valid for three years. Some states may also require you to take a brief refresher course every three years to keep your certification current.
However, like every other educational course, it is better to follow a step-wise guide to ensure that you have done your due diligence-
- The first step is to determine which state you plan to work in. Each state has different requirements, and it's important to determine the specific requirements for each.
- The next step is to find a food safety program that meets these requirements. It could be an online or in-person course.
- After completing the food safety course, you must pass an exam to receive your certification. In some cases, the exam may be included with the course fee, but in other cases it may be an additional cost.
- Once you have passed the final exam and received your certificate, it is important to keep it up to date by renewing it every few years.
The Requirements for Food Safety Certification
Food establishments in the United States need to meet several requirements in order to get certified.
- All food businesses must register with the FDA.
- They must develop and implement a written food safety plan that includes standard operating procedures for cleaning and sanitizing, and measures to prevent cross-contamination.
- They must maintain food handling and preparation records and make these available to the FDA upon request.
- They must have supervisors with accredited certification in food handling.
Most states in the US have their own food handler certification requirements. However, there are no specific prerequisites for obtaining the basic food handlers' certification. But individuals wishing to obtain certification may find it beneficial to have completed a food safety program or to have work experience in the food industry. Additionally, some states or jurisdictions may require every staff to be certified to work in certain food-related businesses, such as restaurants.
But there are specialized courses as well. For example, the Las Vegas - Nevada Food Safety Manager Certification Exam has a Food Manager Training Course. It provides aspirants with foundational knowledge of the FDA Food Code. Designed especially for professionals with experience in the food service industry, the course is meant for owners of food establishments, food managers, person-in-charge (PIC), chefs, cooks, or any employee in a supervisory role.
The importance of imparting food safety education to food handlers in your business cannot be overstated. To that end, the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) started a mixed methods sequential study. The program at the Las Vegas SNHD helps establishments better understand and improve food safety culture. Run from 2020 to 2025, SNHD focuses on several aspects, like utilizing focus groups and running surveys to collect data directly from retail food handlers and management. It invites retail food establishments to use this data to create a bank of resources, and disseminate these findings through their community.
In the event of a foodborne illness outbreak, producers who are not certified may be held liable
Food safety certification can help producers demonstrate their commitment to safety and compliance
Different types of food safety certification available
Zip Foodhandler- Accepted in most US states, from New York and Iowa to Illinois, California, and Nebraska (with Washington an exception), the Zipfoodhandler food safety program thoroughly trains any individual interested in safe food handling practices. Zipfoodhandler Features seven easy chapters that teach you the right way to handle food safely. This ANSI-certified professional food safety program can be done online and costs $7.95.
ServSafe Advantage- Administered by the National Restaurant Association, ServSafe offers many food safety programs for food managers, handlers, and others. The Food Handler Program delivers consistent food safety training to employees of food service establishments. It is available in both modules- pre-recorded online and instructor-led training. The online course and assessment, available at $15, is a comprehensive solution available 24X7. In addition, it allows you to buy supplementary learning material to help reinforce real-world lessons in your operation.
The Benefits of Having Food Safety Certification
With the number of food recalls reported in the news, consumers are more aware of the hazards of food contamination and consciously want to know the safe food handling practices businesses follow. Food safety certification can therefore be very useful for food service businesses -- food manufacturing units, restaurants, or other outlets dealing in food products. Certification proves that the restaurant is committed to providing safe and clean food to customers. Food safety card holders ensure better public and environmental health. In addition, there are other benefits-
- Improved public image- Food safety certification can help improve a restaurant's public image, making it more attractive to potential customers.
- Access to government contracts- Many government contracts require that restaurants have food safety certification to be considered for work.
- Lower insurance rates- Restaurants with food safety certification can be eligible for lower insurance, saving a business money.
- Better mental health for owners and employees- Owners and employees of certified restaurants know that they are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of their customers. It helps reduce unnecessary stress and preserves mental peace.
- Compliance with health department regulations- Certified restaurants may find it easier to comply with health department regulations since they already have systems and procedures to meet requirements.
- Reduced risk of closure- Uncertified restaurants are at risk of being shut down by the department of health if they do not meet certain standards. However, certified businesses are less likely to be shuttered because they meet required standards.
- Increased Revenue- Certification can also lead to an increase in revenue, because customers are more likely to visit a certified restaurant, knowing that its food will be safe.
When a business takes pains to obtain food safety certification, it can unearth valuable feedback about areas where there's a scope to improve food handling procedures. Ultimately, food safety certification can help build trust and confidence with customers concerned about the safety of the food they eat, and increase profits for the establishment.
The high cost of food safety certification can be a barrier to entry for small producers
Producers should advocate for greater transparency and affordability in the food safety certification process