California Food Safety

California Food Safety Regulations

california state flagThe Food Safety Program of the Food and Drug Branch enforces food safety regulations and issues CA food handler’s card.  They issue food licenses for food establishments that manufacture and/or serve the following categories of food: shellfish, pet food, retail food, water bottling, and canneries.
Food facilities that prepare, handle, or serve non-prepackaged Time/Temperature Control for Food Safety (TCS) food, except temporary food facilities, shall have an owner or employee who has successfully passed an approved and accredited food safety certification examination.


Food Manager Certification

Strongly suggested. Not mandatory.


Food Handler Certification

Food handlers must obtains a valid California Food Handler’s Card within 30 days of hire from a food establishment except for San Diego County. San Diego County requires food workers to obtain a Food Handler Card within 10 days of beginning work. They must be an ANSI/ASTM-2659 course such as this one provided by Learn2Serve.

Food handler certification exams must be at least 40 questions in length and test takers need to score at least 70% correct in order to pass. Courses should be designed to be completed within two and a half hours and should cover the following topics:

  • Food-borne illness
  • Time and temperatures for safe food handling
  • Personal hygiene
  • Food contamination prevention
  • Cleaning and sanitation
  • Safe kitchen processes
  • Temperature control and cross-contamination


The code mandates that there needs to be at least one course option that costs no more than $15 in order to make food handler certification accessible to all.

Certification Renewal

Food Manager – 5 years; Food Handler – 3 years


Approved Courses

Learn2Serve, Prometric, ServSafe, National Registry of Food Safety Professionals (NRFSP), and 360 Training

Approved Options

Classroom, Online, or Pearson Testing Centers. Please check your local health department for the most up to date information.


Special Notes and Exceptions

Individuals with ServSafe Food Protection Manager license are exempt from obtaining a California Food Handlers Card. Other exceptions include food handlers working at temporary food establishments, individuals who work in specific counties with existing food handling regulations, grocery stores, farmers market, mobile support units, elderly nutrition programs, correctional facilities, school cafeterias, health care clinics, and commissaries. 

The counties listed below have their own Food handler’s requirements in place. If you reside or plan on working in any of these counties, please click the links provided for more information on local level health department requirements.

Riverside County Food Handlers Requirements

San Diego County Food Handlers Requirements

San Bernadino County Food Handlers Requirements


Additional Resources

For additional information, visit California Department of Health resources:

Food Safety Program

Retail Food Code

Food Handler’s Study Guide

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